Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beyond the Margins: Version 2.0

Beyond the Margins, the group blog where I've been moonlighting since January, just got a reboot this weekend. It's like Terminator 2, but with a better search engine. And fewer Terminators.

So what's different?
  • The site has a new look and is easier to search, with more content available from the home page. The latest post is displayed in the left column as always, but in the center column is a list of recent posts from the past week, making the latest stuff more accessible.
  • You can use the category links that run along the top of the site to look for posts about specific topics, like agents, literary criticism, and author interviews.
  • You can do a keyword search or do a search by BTM author
  • The archives are easier to use and we've expanded our selection of links to other writer-and publishing-centric websites and blogs.
  • We have Twitter feeds, so you can check out the latest BTM gossip. 
  • BTM's classic Pub Crawl feature continues with listings of new and upcoming books published by local, national, and international authors.
We're psyched about the new features and updated appearance, and hope you are as well.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vestal McIntyre Reads at the Muse and the Marketplace

On May 1st I did a little pro bono videography for Grub Street at this year's Muse and the Marketplace. I shot a ten minute video of Vestal McIntyre, winner of Grub Street's national book prize in fiction, reading a selection of his work during the conference's tasty lunch break. Grub Street's Chris Castellani introduces.

It's posted on Vimeo, but you don't have to go there, when you can watch it here:

Vestal McIntyre reading at the Muse and the Marketplace from Grub Street on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Yorker 2010 Summer Fiction Issue

In preparing to write about the New Yorker's annual summer fiction issue, it's hard to miss all the other blogs who beat me to it and have decided to be entirely more profound, funny, and intelligent on the subject. The subject being the theme of this year's fiction issue, which is 20 writers under 40. Said writers include ZZ Packer (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere), Joshua Ferris (Then We Came To The End), Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything Is Illuminated), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun), Gary Shteyngart (Absurdistan), Wells Tower (Everything Ravaged and Everything Burned), Daniel Alarcon (Lost City Radio), and C. E. Morgan (All The Living).

Over at the Rumpus, Steve Almond writes to fellow writers, mainly all those who didn't make The New Yorker's cut, about how he feels being one writer over 40, who "no longer worr(ies) about being the Next Big Thing. Those days are over. What I worry about is the essential internal struggle – which is against self-doubt and distraction and envy." It's a list, Almond points out, that by its existence generates another unmentioned list. That of writers that didn't make the list.

The Gawker provides handy guidelines for how to complain about New Yorker's 20 under 40 list without looking jealous and bitter, with guidelines like:
  • DON'T pick on specific writers who you hate. DO pretend you don't even read new fiction. Sample: "Jonathan Safran Foer? He's a writer, you say? Hmm. I'll definitely check him out, when I finish rereading Box Man."
  • DON'T accuse the magazine of favoritism or "affirmative action." DO make up authors and wonder vaguely why they're not on the list. Sample: "That's odd—I was sure Suzanne Jeffersontonian would be here. Oh well."
  • DON'T call it "unsurprising" or "boring." DO pretend you didn't even know about the list. Sample: "Oh, The New Yorker? It's a magazine, right? They publish fiction?"
The Guardian reminds us of authors who made earlier New Yorker lists, including up and comers like David Foster Wallace, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Jeffrey Eugenides. They discuss pro and cons of the age angle, pointing out that "some acclaimed American writers just missed out by dint of age; Dave Eggers is 40, Aleksandar Hemon 45, Colson Whitehead 40." "36-year-old Philipp Meyer, whose debut novel American Rust was published last year, said it was 'enormously validating' to be chosen by the New Yorker – though he admitted that such an exercise 'seems very useful when you're the one picked, but if you are not picked, you need to ignore it completely.'"

Sounds like New York Magazine actually read the issue's eight representative stories, with a headline that proclaims "Why do they hate love?" Turns out "five of the eight stories are cynical about love." Foer's story, "hints at some midlife discord." Meyer's story concerns "A husband whose wife basically hates him contemplates cheating while awaiting doctor's word on their comatose teenage son." The breakdown of Rivka Galchen's story goes thusly: "After she's suddenly abandoned by her husband, a pregnant woman discovers that he kept a secret blog: 'I-Can't-Stand-My-Wife-Dot-Blogspot-Dot-Com.'" A sad story never scared me.

HTMLGiant gives the skinny on each author's age.

Lambda Literary parses the authors and their writing for any gay themes or connections.

The Observer tells us Farrar, Straus and Giroux has announced that they'll be publishing a paperback anthology, 20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker, due out in December, will collect the previously unpublished stories that each of the twenty writers submitted.

From the business end of things comes Crane's New York Business with a breakdown of the 20 under 40 authors by agent. William Morris Endeavor Entertainment represents five of the authors, including ZZ Packer and Salvatore Scibona. The Wylie Agency is next with three authors, including Wells Tower. Among the independent agents, Denise Shannon is the biggest winner with two authors, Gary Shteyngart and Karen Russell.

Okay, bottom line with anything like this, any splashy list or publicity stunt, is that it's still all about the writing. I'm always just happy that the New Yorker still gives a shit about stories and fiction in general enough to publish at the very least one new short story every week. So there. I've yet to read any of the stories, so I'm not weighing in yet. There are brief q and as with each author, although that may only be available online.

Bonus: Can't get enough summer lit? Then head on over to Oprah to check out her 2010 summer reading list.

Monday, June 14, 2010

As If Each Word Is My Last

Imagine having your writing censored. Imagine not being allowed to write what you want without fear of imprisonment. Imagine living underground, off the grid, just because you write what you need to say. I can't imagine that. I can write whatever I want, whenever I feel like it. But the above scenario was the all-too real life expereince of Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas under the brutal thumb of Castro in 1960's and 70's Cuba.

Javier Bardem portrayed Arenas in Julian Schnabel's masterful Before Night Falls. Watching this movie made me realize just how fortunate I am that I can think and do (relatively) anything I want as a writer. I am not a journalist imprisoned in Iran or North Korea for writing the truth. I am not a Russian novelist who had to flee to another country to have my full manuscripts published.

At one point in Before Night Falls, Arenas is imprisoned on trumped up charges of molesting two teenage boys, among other outrageous lies (Arenas was also gay at a time in Cuba when sexual freedom was cracked down upon as hard as freedom of thought). When the other inmates learn that Arenas is an infamous writer, they enlist him to help them with any writing tasks they might have, including composing love letters, paying him in the riches of soap and cigarettes. In this way Arenas becomes emboldened to continue his own writing, finding a fellow inmate who can smuggle his new manuscript, in rolled, plastic-covered page-by-page increments, out of the prison to a publisher in France. In sending this beautiful heart to prison, the Cuban government inadvertantly allowed Arenas to continue writing.

Before Night Falls is a standard bio pic, but one that brings you uniquely and vividly into a time, place, and personality that is hard to forget.

And I keep thinking, what if I lived in a country where I was threatened by its government for the simple act of writing what was in my head? What would I write in this Orwellian situation? Would I be working on my little novels? My little stories? Would I stop writing entirely? Or would I write in secret, smuggling out my blood words to other countries? Self censorship is the only kind I've been exposed to. I've had nothing but encouragement from friends, family, and other writers. I've got nothing to complain about. Nothing. Regardless, I try to appreciate my situation and write like my life depends on it; as if each word is my last. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Review: The Awful Possibilities, by Christian TeBordo

Planning a vacation this year? Want to go to someplace unique? Try the locales featured in the stories from Christian TeBordo’s new collection, The Awful Possibilities, out now from Featherproof Books. TeBordo’s stories are populated by characters that are often not what they initially seem, sometimes even to themselves. And the familiar locations of apartment buildings, lonely snow-covered highways, congested intersections, graveyards, and motel rooms (oh, fear the motel rooms) may not be the kind you’re used to.

Throughout The Awful Possibilities, TeBordo plays with subtle time and point of view shifts that bring out a surprising depth to what could be, at first glance, sensationalistic or exploitative themes. Some of his stories exist amid a landscape where even the smallest action has a reaction. Where tables are turned, where prisoners become keepers, where memories are real, imagined, or continuously reconditioned into new realities.

In “Moldering,” a man thinks and speaks like he’s living in the 1940s. His wife tells him to go out and get a new wallet, as his old one is moldering away in his pocket. The man heads out into the night, sure in his quest to look for his friend, the wallet maker. By the time he finds his friend, it’s clear that the wallet maker is no maker of leather items and is instead a drug dealer who lives in contemporary America. They are not actually friends, but acquaintances who knew each other back in high school. The man eventually gets his wallet, and a matching handbag for his wife. But how and why I’ll leave for the discerning reading to discover.

In “Rules and Regulations,” a father describes his list of rules for successful child rearing, which include restraining as a form of discipline and avoiding losing control. The final rule he tells us about is Do not let the child discipline you. From here the story shifts fifteen or twenty years later, as his two now grown children, a boy and a girl, recipients of said rules, have their own rules for disciplining their now invalid father. The boy is the disciplinarian, and the girl writes in her diary the new rules. But is she really a sister, and are there really two children, or just one who wishes he had a sister?

In what is arguably the centerpiece of this collection, the “Champion of Forgetting,” a girl is kidnapped by a band of rogue kidney thieves and forced to witness, study, and eventually participate in the practice of kidney stealing. Her kidnappers condition her to forget even her own name. As told from this girl’s close point of view, sometimes she’s “me” and sometimes “this girl.” The narrative stutters forward, then slinks back, and it’s up to the reader to put together the compartmentalized memory of this girl into a story. It turns into the horror landscape of a traumatized young mind exposed to, and forever altered by, her keepers. Eventually left on her own in a motel room, she knows only how to continue to be a nameless kidney thief.

Many of the stories peel back moments when characters are in extremis: arguments that, to an outsider, might appear random but to the participants are intense, baroque, personal. "SS Attacks!" deals with a misunderstood school shooting. In “Oh, Little So-and-So,” a man tries to help a little girl who appears to be lost, randomly trying to direct traffic in the middle of an intersection. She leads him to a cemetery, where he ends up helping dig a grave, possibly his own. Not all the stories traffic in extreme themes. "Took and Lost" and "I Can Only Hope That He Still Believes In Redemption," both deal with an item stolen from a man on the street, each with an entirely different outcome.

Each story is bookended with a post card that depicts a seemingly normal American scene—a shopping mall, a trailer park, a motel room, a ‘50s burlesque review. The scenes have been altered to include oil slick skulls and black drippings that could represent, in a more colorful world, blood. These are effective interpretations of TeBordo’s stories—life seen from those moments that play out below the surface of normal or classic America, barely containing primal emotions. Maybe TeBordo is simply reinterpreting America, albeit a different and often uncomfortable one. But then who’s to say what’s normal in comparison?

TeBordo chooses situations that, if you experienced them in your own life, you might question the very stuff of reality. These stories stay with you, gnaw away at your memory and beg to be reread. Some end in such a way that left me wanting a bit more resolution. But this may be TeBordo’s way of tweaking the form to give the feeling that each story continues on when you’re done reading, with or without you. And the way to continue with these stories is to reread them.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Best Action Sequence Ever

Do you have a great action scene in your work in progress? Have you always wanted to write a chase scene but never knew how to work it into your novel about struggling Cape Cod strawberry farmers from the 1700s? Well, listen up. Agent Nathan Bransford has a contest going. He's looking for "the most compelling chase and/or action and/or suspenseful sequence. It may be something you have written for the purpose of the contest or from a work in progress."

It needs to be 500 words or less. You pop it into a comment over at his blog, and on June 3rd (that's tomorrow) he'll read and choose the winner. Best Action Sequence Ever. What's the prize?

"The winner will receive:
- Their choice of a query critique, partial critique, or 10 minute phone conversation/consultation/dish session
- The pride of knowing you suspensed the heck out of me and your fellow readers.
Runners up will receive a query critique or other agreed-up on prize."

Sweet. I'm combing my back pages to find a short gem that moves. How about you? He's got some guidelines and rules to follow, so check those out before you post your action comment. Good luck!