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Monday, October 31, 2016

Today I Am Thinking About the Late, Great #GracePaley: #Shortstory #Genius

Here's a memory of mine published over The Story Prize Blog about Grace Paley. What a writer.

Paley offers this advice for you today:

  1.  Have a low overhead
  2. Get a spouse/bf/gf/lover who has some regard for you work
  3. Learn to tell the truth all the time
  4. Watch out for being trendy
  5. Work, work, work
  6. As you work, you'll get better or worse. If you get worse, get out of the business
Watch this amazing video about her (which didn't know existed) called GRACE, so you can see her chewing gum for yourself.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Something #Original For You: Experimental Animals: A Reality #Fiction by Thalia Field

I know that this is story month here at LROD, but I've come across something so new and original (a reality fiction) that I felt I had to post it today. Thalia Field's Experimental Animals is a book about humans and our treatment of animals. Karen Joy Fowler (author of the best-seller We Are Completely Beside Ourselves) calls it “A beautiful and thought-provoking collage of a tale of rescued history and a sobering tribute to some of its victims.”

The experimental novel revolves around a moment in modern science when a choice was made to base human research on the bodies of animals. As you all know, I'm a medical writer by (paid) trade, getting my start when HIV/AIDS was a nascent topic of scientific study (but mostly because my friends were dying), so I am fascinated by this topic, as will you be. Here's what she has to say about the book:

When did you first start writing this novel?  I've been working on this book in fits and starts for 20 years. I had no idea where it would lead me, and no idea how it would be in its final form until long into my later drafts.

How is this novel different ( the same) as your other writing? What makes them fit into the category of “experimental” Experimental Animals shares some genetic material with my last book, Bird Lovers, Backyard. Both involve history of science and a range of narrative forms, a combination of fiction and non-fiction. I think my work is innovative in that I don't rely on previous styles or forms with each project... in other words, each book, every piece, finds its own "way of being" that is pretty unique.

How many revisions did you write? The first draft that felt like it even approached what would be the whole book was over 800 pages long! It wasn't in the form the book finished in, and it didn't have the same focus. Over the course of a few more years I worked very hard on shaping and cutting and forming the final manuscript, at about 1/4 of the length. It was devastating to get rid of so much amazing material, but... for the sake of the novel's success as a novel, it had to happen.

Who read your drafts? A select group of writer-friends read drafts once it was in a readable form, in other words, pretty close to what I was willing to show and send out. It's a lot of work to ask someone to read a draft and give feedback, so I tend to limit that request until I'm desperate, and also until I really know what I'm asking that reader for in particular.

Did you use an agent? If not, why not? I have no agent. No agent will take me, it seems.

How long did it take to find a publisher or the collection? This book took a few years, which is about my average. My work is deemed difficult, and since each book is unique and different, it seems like it takes awhile to find the perfect publisher. But I've lucked out with Solid Objects, they are amazing and have incredible literary insight and follow-through.

What is your worst rejection story? I have so many...from horrible rejection letters telling me "you must not know anything about literature"* to the harsh rejection by editors who cite their marketing departments. Horrible.

What is your best rejection story? I'm not sure what's the difference between worst and best... It's always pretty hard to hear someone hates your work. I guess sometimes people try to be kind, but...not really. There's a weird amnesia that seems to overtake they forget what it feels like to put work out there...

Where were you when you received the offer for the book to be published? Aww... I was teaching at the Vermont Studio Center... what a great day!

Has your philosophy on getting published changed? I think small presses are the best, especially for literature. They give an artist time to develop an audience, and they don't rely on marketing departments to make their decisions for them.

What words of advice would you give to a writer on the journey toward story and story collection publication?  I always try to remind my students that you can't base a life's work on any one book, or story, and that it's impossible to know where one is heading next. Getting published is important, but going only for name-brand status is not. The smallest publishers are so often the ones doing work that eventually goes into the mainstream. It's worth always considering the smaller presses.

*Thalia Field is a professor of Literary Arts at Brown University.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Allegra Hyde on Her #Debut #Story Collection, Of This World

Allegra Hyde is the winner of the 2016 John Simmons Short Fiction Award. Her debut story collection, OF THIS NEW WORLD (University of Iowa Press), is our feature today. She is young, fresh, and ready for you to buy a copy of her book, which offers a menagerie of utopias: real, imagined, and otherwise.
Q. What was your process for putting together this collection? 
A. Of This New World emerged organically from my longtime fascination with utopian communities. I’ve always been drawn to groups of people seeking to live out an ideal—groups like the Shakers or the hippie communes of sixties. No matter how well planned these utopian endeavors are, conflicts inevitably emerge. This is ripe territory for a fiction writer! Of This New World starts with a retelling of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden and ends in a Mars colony. The collection includes stories told using conventions of science fiction, historical fiction, realism, absurdism, and other modes, but every story offers a different way of considering the utopian experience.

Q. How long did it take from start to finish to complete the collection? 
A. I wrote “Free Love,” a story about an uprooted flower child, back in 2009. The story was later published in the Bellevue Literary Review—my first appearance in a print journal—and this publication gave me the confidence to keep going. The rest of the stories emerged in the subsequent years, the last one being written in the spring of 2015. I received the news that Of This New World would be published in January 2016.

Q. Who read your drafts? 
A. My husband, Alex McElroy, is also a writer. We met in the MFA program at Arizona State University, so you could say our relationship was born from a fiction workshop. For better or worse, we work closely as writing partners: exchanging draft after draft of our stories. Alex has read my book, Of This New World, more times than either of us can count.

Q. Did you use an agent? If not, why not? 
A. I didn’t use an agent. Conventional literary wisdom seems to be that agents avoid short story collections, so I decided to go the contest route. There are actually quite a few contests out there, including the Iowa Short Fiction Award series run by University of Iowa Press, which I ended up winning.

Q. What is your best rejection story? 
A. A few years ago, I wrote a deeply personal story called “Bury Me.” I showed it to a professor who suggested several literary journals as possible homes for the story, though he said specifically that The Missouri Review probably wouldn’t be interested. After unsuccessfully submitting “Bury Me” to numerous journals and contests, I started to believe the story would never go anywhere. On a whim, I submitted to The Missouri Review. Several months later, I received an acceptance letter from TMR’s editors. Even better: the story was later selected for inclusion in The Pushcart Prize anthology.

Q Where were you when you received the offer for the book to be published? 
A. I was actually living in Bulgaria when I received an email from Jim McCoy of University of Iowa Press. He wanted me to give him a call, but I had to wait about six hours for our time zones to align. Those were a long six hours!  

Q. What words of advice would you give to a writer on the journey toward publication?  
A. I must turn to Anne Lamott for this one: “I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.” 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

My Life As An Animal by Laurie Stone

Here's the first interview in our new series this month, which I'm calling: October 2016 is Short Story Month. Laurie Stone has a lot to say about her new short story collection, My Life as an Animal (Triquarterly Books), which is due out this week (October 15th). Plus as a bonus, you can read a story excerpt from the collection here.

WR: When did you first start writing the stories in My Life as an Animal?
Laurie: They developed from a writing practice I began ten years ago when I met Richard Toon at an artist colony. We got to know each other by trading stories, and we still write at a café every day when we are together. We pick a subject, work in our notebooks for 30 minutes, then read aloud to each other. We agreed when we started that each piece would be a scene or a meditative essay. No diary or journal entries, no reviewing the day, no summary or analysis. We practice narrative techniques—dialogue, a sense of place, sensual detail, and most importantly shaping a narrative voice that thinks in two time frames. Something happens, the narrator reports a response at the time it happened, and the narrator also weighs in on the incident now—at the time of the telling—whether the look back is five minutes later or 20 years later. Animal developed from this practice.

WR: How are stories different from (the same) as your other writing?
Laurie: Pretty much everything I write these days is a story. The pieces in this book and elsewhere are dramatic narratives. I am not especially interested in things that happened because they happened. I am interested in whatever I find sexy, scary, surprising, strangely ordinary, or ordinarily strange. My work incorporates elements of fiction (scenes, dialogue, the build-up of dramatic revelations, etc.), memoir (some of the stuff happened in some form or other), criticism (my narrators enjoy thinking about art and politics), and nonfiction (some of the reporting is journalistically verifiable).

WR: When did you feel it was a collection?
Laurie: The stories are linked, and they have the same narrator, so it’s not a collection in the standard sense. If you think of a novel as bowl, and you throw it against a wall, the shards are these stories.

WR: How many revisions did you write?
Laurie: Hundreds. Stories emerge slowly for me, and I work at the level at the sentence, no prewriting or planning. Something has to happen while I am thinking about language.
WR: Who reads your drafts?
Laurie: This is a good question. I think you have to protect your work from people who tell you to make it better by writing like them. I want to know if something is alive or dead. Richard makes great suggestions, also my sister and another friend who are not writers but have learned to read experimental, hybrid, and fragmented pieces.
WR: What is your worst rejection story? 
Laurie: I'm curious why you ask this question, and I am going to answer in a way you may not like. Every life is filled with disappointment and rejection.  This is not a special category for writers, and to make it a special category disrespects other kinds of disappointment. You have to love what you do.  The value of writing has to come from that. I need recognition from the world. I want to be part of the public conversation, and that means a lot of the time someone says to me, "No thanks," or "Get lost." At this stage of my life, I think about whether they are right and I need to make the story better.
WR: Actually, I quite like your answer. LROD was started in 2007, and a lot has changed in the literary world since then, and a lot has stayed the same, too. Writers seem to accept disappointment and rejection more easily as part of the gigthanks in part to the ongoing discussions here and elsewhere. It's a learning process, isn't it? But, changing the subject, what advice would you give a writer wanting to publish a story collection?
Laurie: Believe in the short form if that is how your mind works. If an agent or editor tells you to shape something for commercial ends, leave that person. I used to make a living as a writer. I don’t anymore. I don’t know how you are going to support yourself while you write stories, but find a way. I have a follow-up to this book called The Love of Strangers. It is even more fragmented and hybrid than Animal. I’ll let you know if anyone bites. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

A #Literary Tribute: 13 Amazing #ShortStory #Collections Being Published in October

Dan Wickett co-founder of Dzanc Books posted on his FB page that there are 13 stories being published this month, including Pretend I'm Your Friend.  Many of them, as you see, are small press books, where interesting experiments are taking place. I am, therefore, declaring it Short Story Collection Month here at LROD. I will get some of these books featured here with author interviews in the Victory Over Rejection label, as many as I can. Perhaps you will take part in the month and buy a few to read and give as gifts, as 'tis almost the season.

Here is a list of books, authors, and publishing companies: