Category: Creative Writing

Frequently Asked Questions

…so my first blog entry in almost two months just happens to come right as I need to be writing my final paper of the semester (topic: Would The Master and Margarita still be considered magical realism if the narrator weren’t so gosh darned cheeky?) – totally coincidence.  Definitely totally.

One of the most frequently asked questions in the writing community (right behind “Q: How do you deal with writer’s block? A: By continuing to write.” and “Q: How did you come up with that idea? A: By combining something that happened to me, something that happened to a friend, and something I read.”) is “Where should I send my stuff?”

So, where should you?

There’s a big complicated collection of answers to that question.  One of the most common answers is that you should read a lot of publications and find one that suits your voice, but to be completely honest with you, that’s just not feasible anymore.  Some venues have undergone massive shifts in the kinds of stories/essays they’ve published in the past few years.  With the dawning of online-only publications, there’s also way too many quality places putting out good writing to keep up with.

A better answer, and a more practical one, is to find a group of writers who you feel like you have a similar voice to and then see where they’ve been published.  Again, this has its drawbacks–if you’ve found their voice by chance, they’re probably in one of the higher prestige venues, which you shouldn’t limit yourself to.  While you can always shoot for the stars, everything I’ve heard about the top tier places indicates that if you don’t have a guiding advocate pushing your stuff on top of the sludge pile, your chances are slim to none.

So – it’s easy to make a list of places you’d love to see your work.  You can send your pieces off to Tin HouseThe New YorkerThe AtlanticMcSweeney’s, ZoetropeThe Paris Review, etc.  But once you run out of those places, where should you turn next?

To help answer that question, I’ve compiled a spreadsheet with data from the last ten years of the Best American Short Stories series.  I’ve listed each story, where it was published originally, and which year it appeared in BASS.  The big names are there, of course, but there are a lot of smaller journals that I hadn’t been aware of previously.  I’m sharing my work to help anyone else out there asking the question of where to submit, because while I don’t believe there’s one good answer to that question, I do think that this list is as good as any place to start.

So without further ado, here it is – 2005-2014 BASS Data.

And in list format, all the venues featured with links to their sites (Note, some of them are featured WAY MORE than others! [The New Yorker alone makes up 44/201 stories.] See the spreadsheet for details.):

a Public Space
Agni
American Short Fiction
Antioch Review
Atlantic Fiction for Kindle
Atlantic Monthly
Bellevue Literary Review
Black Warrior Review
Boulevard
Callaloo
Cincinnati Review
Commentary
Conjunctions
Crazyhorse
Daedalus
Ecotone
Esquire
Fantasy and Science Fiction
Fiction
Fifth Wednesday Journal
Five Points
Gettysburg Review
Glimmer Train
Granta
Harper’s Magazine
Harvard Review
Hobart
Hudson Review
Idaho Review
Image
Iowa Review
Kenyon Review
Lake Effect
McSweeney’s
Missouri Review

Narrative Magazine
New England Review
New Ohio Review
New Yorker

Ninth Letter
One Story
Orion
Paris Review

Ploughshares
Polphony
Post Road
Salon.com
Santa Monica Review
Sewannee Review

Shenandoah
Southern Review
Subtropics
Swink
Threepenny Review
Tin House
TriQuarterly
Virginia Quarterly Review
West Branch
Yale Review
Zoetrope
ZYZZYVA

(I started this project several years ago.  Knowing now that the bulk of my publications would be nonfiction, I probably should’ve done the Essays series instead, but hey, that can be a project for later this summer.)

One final note is that I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’re better off finding theme issues and theme publications – it seems like there’d be less competition that way.  As examples, Orion is focused on writing related to nature, Bellevue Literary Review publishes pieces relating to healthcare, Image wants Judeo-Christian-related work, and Callaloo seeks writings borne out of the African Diaspora.  Tin House and several others frequently do themed issues, as well.  There’s also the time factor to consider – a lot of these are published by graduate students, so consider when is best to try to get a graduate student to read something.  On one hand, they’re busy at the end of the semester, on the other hand, if they’ve had a dearth of quality submissions, the end of the semester might see their expectations lowered.

I would like to point out that there are places out there not on this list that I hold in high esteem, but making a list of those would be way too amorphous of a project.  If you want a taste of them, though, check out the fiction I’ve put up at /r/contemporaryshortform.

So, yeah.  Hope that helps.

Rebuttal to Your Assertion That the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Mascot Is As Offensive As the Washington Redskins’

I wrote the following piece back when the whole Redskins ordeal was in the news and sent it in to McSweeney’s.  They promptly rejected it, and I don’t think it’s the kind of piece that really fits anywhere else, especially now that the topic has faded from the news.  This would be a cautionary tale against writing stuff that is time limited without it being solicited or that only works in one venue.  So, for your reading pleasure:

Rebuttal to Your Assertion That the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Mascot Is As Offensive As the Washington Redskins

Look, I get what you’re trying to do here.  By drawing a comparison between the Pittsburgh Pirates’ mascot and the Washington Redskins’, you’re making a point that the criticism against the latter’s mascot is uncalled for.  I understand your point, but the basis of fact you’re relying on to make this argument are flimsy at best.

First of all, no one can disagree with your assertion that, like the Native Americans, pirates as a people have had their lifestyle oppressed and assimilated.  I believe you used the phrase, “in danger of being hunted into extinction,” which I felt was verging on the overly dramatic, but I’ll let that slide for now.  The problem with this line of reasoning is twofold: One, the distinction of whether or not a person is a pirate is determined by a criminal act.  The act of piracy, of stealing other people’s property in a maritime setting.  Two, which is a continuation of point one, piracy is a choice.  The child of two pirates is not, by nature, a pirate, as opposed to the child of two Native American people.

I’m confident that research is fairly conclusive in this matter.

There’s another point I must concede.  When asked why there were no representatives of the pirate community expressing outrage over Pittsburgh’s use of their image as a baseball mascot, you stated that you believed there would be if the majority of pirates were not busy trying to make a living in remote locations without access to the tools necessary to make their voices heard.  I admit, I was especially touched when you implored us to think of what their reaction might be if those poor, isolated pirates were to see the outrageous imagery we invoke in their name not only on the baseball field but also on our cereal boxes and in our children’s Halloween costumes.  However, since our conversation I’ve had the opportunity to do some research and have learned that modern pirates often make use of cell phones and GPS, which leads me to believe that if they wanted to express indignation at the Pirates’ mascot they could.  Furthermore, I feel that your addendum that the pirate population should be especially ashamed given the performance of the baseball team in the past few years was absolutely uncalled for.  Sure, 2010 was bad, but last year more than made up for it and this year is on track as well.

For a moment, I was uncertain at the end of your oration whether or not your suggestion, to take up a collection for the production of an advertisement campaign similar to the one the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation launched to change the Redskins’ mascot, was in earnest or not.  It was made clear to me, though, when your closing statement used your comparison between the Pirates and the Redskins to argue that we can’t change one human-based mascot without opening the door for all human-based mascots, and eventually all mascots in general, to be considered offensive, and it’s here that I really have to draw fault with your logic.  I can’t say for certain whether or not that eventually, like you predict, there will be people who regularly travel faster than the speed of sound and are enraged that the Seattle Supersonics used a Sasquatch mascot, equating them with some sort of primitive mythological creature, but I am fairly certain that by the time those people exist, the Supersonics will be a minor footnote in the sport’s history.

I sympathize with how painful it must be for a group of people to point out that the mascot of a team you’ve followed and celebrated for most of your life is offensive and degrading to a group of people.  I know that your reaction to this, to compare the supposed suffering of a group of criminals with that of a people whose entire civilization was almost completely wiped out by the diseases and imperialism brought over from a foreign land, a people who still face discrimination and oppression today, is an emotional reaction that will surely pass once you’ve had time to think about it.

That said, fuck the Redskins.  Go Cowboys.

Length of Form?

So following up with my last entry about being a good reader, I had an essay about what it means to be a good reviewer published in Full Stop.  I was expecting to have some sort of dialogue pop up around the piece, but it didn’t – I wonder if that’s a lack of readers or a statement of consensus.

As a sort of continuation of this train of thought, I’m moving now from how to write book reviews to when to write book reviews and other short pieces.  I said no to a solicited book review for the first time this week, and for a good reason, but I couldn’t help but think about the fact that a year or two ago I wouldn’t have even considered turning down any chance to have writing in print, no matter the circumstances.  This line of thinking pushes me to spend time worrying about what I should be writing.

Of course, honesty check – if I spent as much time writing each week as I ambitiously plan to on Monday mornings, I wouldn’t really have to choose.  Such is life.

This summer I had planned on spending a lot of time on a long-form project with the hopes of having an almost-complete book draft done before I started the MFA program.  Given I have about a month and a half left, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.  Instead, I’ve completed a variety of short-form pieces: a couple of book reviews, a couple of essays, and an academic presentation/article/amoeba.  I think individually each of those pieces was absolutely worth it, but the amount of time they’ve taken, theoretically, from my long-form project was probably not worth it.  I say theoretically because that’s not really true.  I write short-form pieces faster because I can hold the whole scope in my head and because there’s a quicker pay-off.  Delayed gratification and marshmallows and all of the nonsense.

I think there’s a lot of people at this place in their writing careers – at least, that’s what it seems to me watching others on Twitter and other sites.  I think you have two choices, and both are difficult.  You can throw yourself into a long-form project that may or may not get published and probably end up having to find a day job anyway.  Or, you can pump out short-form pieces and attach yourself to various sites and publications as a reader, an editor, or a regular contributor and hope this eventually leads to a paying gig.  (Here I am disregarding the infinite complexities of also being a spouse, a friend, a parent, a family member, a student, a teacher, or whatever other roles you take on “outside” of your writing life [outside in quotes because all of it is inextricably linked and tugging on each other].)

Obviously they’re not mutually exclusive (There’s tons of people who start off doing regular short-form work as writers and editors then break through with a novel.  Thinking here of The Rumpus contributor Cheryl Strayed and editor Roxanne Gay, as well as journalists like Caroline Knapp) and obviously some people will tend toward having the skills of one or the other, but it’s a crappy choice to make because it’s so easy to fail at both.  It’s also crappy because it feels like, for me at least, that if I worked just a little harder it wouldn’t be a choice at all, that I could write enough short-form to continue contributing, write enough of my long-form project to keep moving at a decent pace, and contribute to social media and other sites enough to stay semi-networked in.

And maybe that’s true or maybe it isn’t, but I guess it does no good to worry about it, or write entire blog entries about it, but here we are.

Outside Content:  Speaking of delayed gratification and marshmallows, did you know that the infamous marshmallow experiment not only correlated their choices regarding the marshmallows with their performance as young children in school, but also showed significant differences in their brain activity as adults more than 40 years after the experiment?  Scary.

Hey on the subject of brain activity, read this rousing op-ed from my former VAMPY teacher, Tracy Inman.

Also, sorry for the lack of English subtitles, but this video is beautiful.  A child realizes the eating animals means killing them, and decides he wants to eat potatoes instead.  I think if more people really thought it through, they would make similar choices.  Not all of the time, but enough to make a difference.

Finally, in the midst of all my anxiety over teaching for the first time, I had to go and read something like this.  Although, in truth, I’m more worried about not being able to be fair when someone comes teary-eyed about a paper.

Secondary Income, Continuation

I had a few conversations/emails about my last blog entry, which was unusual, so I’d like to expound on the subject a bit more.

In my last blog entry I discussed being our household’s secondary income.  I focused primarily on looking at what benefits our household gains by having me working primarily from home and with flexible hours.  I did this in the context of the occasional feelings of guilt I had experienced over being the secondary income, especially in the wake of the decision to spend three more years in graduate school pursuing an MFA.  Ultimately, by being aware of the benefits we gain and by being aware of what we value and want out of life, I’ve overcome that guilt for the most part.

Something I didn’t clarify, which I’d like to do, is that I’m not thinking about this in terms of gender norms.  When I say that I occasionally felt guilt about our disproportionate income, instead I meant guilt over not contributing equally to our finances as half of a 30ish-year-old couple.  It’s also a little more than that – there’s the guilt of knowing that if Carolina has any feelings about dissatisfaction with her particular job or a desire to go back to school, that she is obligated to place those feelings on hold (to a certain extent) for the seven years that will make up me finishing my BA and getting my MA and now MFA.  So, inequality over finances, inequality over opportunities and freedom.

Another thing that I didn’t really explore (but did mention) is the idea of transitioning from IT to academia, and more specifically transitioning from the expected salary path of IT versus academic work (especially in light of having had ~5 years of IT experience for the former and choosing to go through ~7 years of grad school for the latter).  This transition is something that I’ve more than accepted, though.  As I mentioned in the last post, happiness has a cost associated with it, and with that in mind, I’m well in the black.

I first went to undergrad at 16.  I wasn’t ready for it, I didn’t do well, I was dealing with other stuff in my life that stopped me from really taking advantage of my time there.  The same goes for my second and third years, at 18 and 19 respectively.  It wasn’t until I had grown up a little and went back to school that I was able to experience the joy that learning and being a part of a learning community can bring.  Growing up, I loved school, and it wasn’t until school became about things other than learning in upper middle and high school that I started having problems (for more on this, see “A Gifted Education”).

There’s a lot of factors at play, though.  I remember reading a discussion about the executive that quit his job and started the Cambodian Children’s Fund.  Someone in the discussion pointed out that if the guy really wanted to do the most good for the nonprofit, he could’ve stayed at his job as an executive and made more money with which to fund the organization’s efforts.  I see similar thoughts from people who want to pursue the most lucrative careers in order to retire early–essentially, people who view a job or a career as little more than a paycheck.  The truth, of course, is something a little bit deeper.  Journey, outweighing the end goal and all that.  There’s also an element of trying to live in the present, as we can’t account for the future.

In the end, I guess you could sum up this thought exercise with me having done a post-mortem analysis of my transition into academia as part of my decision to sign up for three more years of grad school, and I’ve found the pros vastly outweighing the cons.

Outside Reading/Further Thoughts: Last year when CNBC ignited a firestorm among angry bloggers by putting University Professor at the top of a clickbait slideshow entitled “The 10 Least Stressful Jobs for 2013,” (not directly linking as it’s got no substance) people were quick to point out how being expected to love your job came at a cost.  I won’t point out any specifics, but you should peruse some of them.  I guess I’m hurting the cause, in my case.  Doubly so, as I also write stuff that gets published without being paid for it.  That’s a discussion for later, as I haven’t entirely wrapped my head around how I feel about it.  Here’s an article that covers some of it, though.

 

Appeal to Season

Things are moving, plodding along surely and steadily.

Thesis officially accepted by the grad college, meaning I’m guaranteed to be allowed to wear a robe and shake someone’s hand awkwardly in a few weeks.  Also means I don’t want to think about that project again for quite a while.

Another book review published, this time Shane Jones’s Crystal Eaters.  Good, weird book.  Cool publisher.  One of the most entertaining author Twitter accounts around (hey, we can’t all be Elizabeth McCracken).

I’ve found gainful part-time employment for the summer (continuing work in the writing center) and for the fall (teaching two sections of first-year composition).  The latter is vaguely terrifying.  Not the actual teaching; I’m comfortable and confident with that.  However, the fact that someone would entrust me with a room full of people expecting me to be able to impart some kind of knowledge to them is fairly disconcerting.  I’m kind of pumped up about it.  After all, the primary reason I went into graduate school was because I knew I wanted to teach writing as I tried to make it as a writer.  It’s exciting to see a plan come together/fruition.

Also this fall, I begin the MFA program at Texas State.  I’ll be taking Ben Fountain‘s workshop, which I’m amazingly pumped about.  It’s crazy that the guy got called a late blooming genius by Malcolm Gladwell and ended up living up to that reputation with his book (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk).  I went ahead and read his novel and will go through his short stories soon.  I don’t think reading someone you’re going to be taking a class from is really that important (I definitely don’t think it made a difference when I took a workshop from David Lipsky [who is about to be played by Jesse Eisenberg, what the hell?]), but to me it’s the equivalent of Googling everyone you interact with people on your panel at a conference or something.  A combination of curiosity and wanting to know what to expect.  I’ll also be taking a lit class about James Joyce and a Form and Theory class from the fantastic Debra Monroe, who is pretty much the reason Texas State made it onto my radar in the first place.  I’ve read every book she’s published; you should too (especially her memoir).

New tangent.  It’s kind of funny: I feel pretty guilty about this blog entry being so unfocused, but the guilt of not having updated in a month has outweighed the crime of not having much to say.  When I started this blog, I told myself that in order to be successful and garner readers I needed to focus on things outside of myself.  Doesn’t quite seem like I’m ready for that.  Sometimes there’s a lot of external stimuli that give me things to ramble on about, sometimes there’s not.  Most weeks I write a little bit, read a little bit, submit a little bit, get rejected a little bit.  Figuring out the balance of what interesting things to keep in the work I hope to get published versus this blog is not easy.

Current projects: A recurring column pitch about writing mixtapes for literary characters. An essay about the unbelievable integration of advertising into NASCAR.  A journalistic look at “get paid to” sites like Swagbucks and using it as a launching point to talk about our relationship with free stuff in the digital world.  I’m not sure about anything.

Externalities:

I was really disappointed in the Latin Times for throwing up two prewritten clickbait articles with Gabo’s writings within a half hour of the announcement of his death.  I don’t have a link to go with that besides the link to the clickbait, and that would kind of defeat the point of whining about it.

Real life often steals good plot ideas from fiction.  See rival college A&M planting maroon flowers in Austin and a professor getting suspended over his daughter’s Game of Thrones t-shirt,

To go on about Shane Jones and workshops for a minute, I loved his essay about taking a workshop with Lydia Davis.

Finally, a repainting of M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs as a battle against demons.

In Like a Lion

Four days into March and things are a little crazy in my slice of reality.

Yesterday I accepted an offer of admission into Texas State University’s MFA program for fiction.  Kind of.  The application allowed me to send a short story and a nonfiction piece, and people have written nonfiction for their thesis, but my curriculum and such will primarily be aimed at fiction.  Not that there’s a huge difference in how I write the two genres, other than the fact that my nonfiction actually gets published every now and then.  I’m still figuring out the whole working thing while in school (lecturer vs. TA / convenience vs. experience and pay), and I’m still having moments of existential crisis about graduating again at age 32, but overall I’m super excited.

On Friday, I had a piece published in Full Stop about Kentucky Route Zero – a beautiful video game featuring my home state (which I’ve discussed in this blog before).  I’m very happy about the essay because the pictures from the game are so pretty and work well with the writing, and it’s the first thing I’ve gotten to publish either about Kentucky or about video games.

On Thursday, I sent my complete thesis to my committee.  At this point, my advisor has approved it.  The committee has three weeks to read and respond to it, then I make changes, then I defend the thesis in April 2nd.  Let me tell you how much I love the language of “defending a thesis.”  It’s so valiant.  A much better use of violent metaphors than the whole cancer thing.

On the topic of my thesis – it turned out different than I expected.  I’m pretty proud of it.  It’s longer than I expected.  I put more real work into than I expected.  I purposefully chose a topic that I was only moderately excited by, because I figured a small level of detachment would help me stay sane and help me be objective during the revision process, and I’m happy with that decision.  There were days when making myself work on it was painful, of course, but overall my individual thesis is something I’m happy with, much to my surprise.  I still have doubts about the thesis process overall.  In my case, I’m going to present some of my research at the International Society for the Study of Narrative‘s 2014 conference in Boston in a couple of weeks, and then after that, I’m not sure anything will ever happen with my thesis again.  My sample size was tiny and I wasn’t in direct conversation with contemporary scholars.  There’s just not a lot to really work with, despite it being a 90 page document.  That said, I have no intention of giving up on academic writing as I transition into a creative degree program.  I still have several shorter pieces that I continue to think about and work on, including one that’s going to be workshopped at the Rhetoric Society of America‘s Research Network program in May.

I am breathing a lot easier since finishing my thesis.  I have no more deadlines (besides the one for Guernica I missed yesterday).  I want to read Ulysses and make big progress on writing a book and drink a lot of coffee.  Like, enough to kill a small animal.

Outside content:

Just a few good articles this time.
When May I Shoot a Student?
When Elite Parents Dominate Volunteers, Children Lose
How Neil Gaiman Took the Road to En-Dor
The Problem with Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist
Notes from Freedom County
and, finally, a blog entry that features my own hometown of Paducah, Kentucky: Jesus Guns