My Favorite Reads of 2014

As usual, my favorite reads were published predominantly by small presses, written by writers unafraid of taking chances with their work:

I bookended the year with collections by the innovative Robert Vaughan: Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (blurbed, reviewed on Goodreads) and Addicts & Basements, also reviewed on Goodreads.

Every Kiss a War by Leesa Cross-Smith, just a beautiful collection, I blurbed and reviewed on Goodreads and interviewed Leesa here on this blog!

I also read and blurbed Nancy Stohlman’s book Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories. Nancy is another original who performs her stories live as well as she writes them.

I read Avital Gad-Cykman’s chapbook recently released from Matter Press: Life In, Life Out, and reviewed it on Goodreads and interviewed Avital right here on this blog.

If I Would Leave Myself Behind: Stories by Lauren Becker, which I also talked about here.

Understories by Tim Horvath, which is terrific and I gave five stars to on Goodreads.

I read two Gay Degani books in 2014, her collection, Pomegranate Stories and her novel What Came Before, which I blurbed and reviewed on Goodreads. I also interviewed Gay right here and she has lots of smart things to say about writing in general.

Bald New World by Peter Tieryas, reviewed on Goodreads. This book was recently nominated for the Folio Prize in the UK.

Bones of an Inland Sea by Mary Akers, reviewed on Goodreads.

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller, reviewed on Goodreads.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay, reviewed on Goodreads.

My Mother Was An Upright Piano by the talented and versatile writer of flash as well as longer works, Tania Hershman, reviewed on Goodreads.

Girl with Ears & Demon with Limp by Edward J. Rathke, reviewed on Goodreads.

Doll Palace by Sara Lippmann, this book was one of my favorite short story collections of 2014 and one of my favorites, ever…reviewed at The Lit Pub.

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro, a great inspiration in 2014 and mentioned in various posts on this blog.

I reread The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (who incidentally drafted the novel in four weeks according to this article in The Guardian).

Understudies by Ravi Mangla, reviewed on Goodreads.

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Don’t Tease the Elephants by Jen Knox. blurbed and reviewed on Goodreads.

Quarry Light by Claudia Smith Chen, reviewed at The Lit Pub.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. A fascinating, harrowing read.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life by Twyla Tharp, another inspiring read, also mentioned a time or two on this very blog.

Smokelong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years 2003-2013, a book I contributed to and reviewed on Goodreads.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, reviewed on Goodreads. I loved this book so much I read it twice.

Good things galore!

I know. I’m sorry I’ve left this blog untended. I had surgery Sept. 12th and I’m in recuperation mode. Recuperation mode is really nice at first until one starts to go seriously stir crazy. But I’m doing well and getting stronger every day and I really, really, don’t want anything to do with hospitals for a long time to come.

Doll PalaceOk, enough about that. I have good things to report. First, my review of Sara Lippmann’s fantastic short story collection, DOLL PALACE, is now up at The Lit Pub blog. Here’s an excerpt:

“These are stories filled with talk, conversations, recitations, memories, flirtations (often dangerous ones) and hard-won epiphanies I think what I love best about these stories though is their refusal to dot every i. There are no simple answers and lessons aren’t always learned. A deft writer, Lippmann displays control over her narratives even as she achieves a certain wildness and strangeness that both fascinates and feels entirely true. I love the fearlessness of these stories (see “Target Girl” and “Everyone Has Your Best Interests at Heart” and “Babydollz” and “Talisman”among others).”

One cool aspect of recommending books at The Lit Pub blog is that you’re asked to suggest other books readers might enjoy (that are similar in some way to the book you’re recommending), and I was happy to suggest Pia Ehrhardt’s Famous Fathers and Other Stories, Emma Straub’s Other People We Married, Amy Hempel’s Tumble Home, and Rachel Sherman’s The First Hurt. (I noticed later that Rachel Sherman actually wrote a blurb for Sara’s book, which is perfect.)

So. Just get this book. The stories are superb and Sara Lippmann is a terrific writer and human being. One of the kindest people I know in the lit world or any world. And oh, Dock Street Press is exceptional.

The other good news I have is that my short story, “The Wide and Lonely World” has been accepted! I was solicited to send something and did and hadn’t heard back for awhile so assumed they didn’t want the story (writers, you know the feeling), but yay, they liked it a lot and I’ll post a link and more info when the story’s up. I’m delighted. This is a story I messed with for so long, not quite knowing why it wasn’t working for me, until one day I gave myself the challenge of cutting it by 50%. Crazy! So I cut it from 5,000 words to 2,500, which required huge objectivity and mercilessness, but I did it, and the story is much better for the cutting I do believe.

And! I was surprised and thrilled that Blue Fifth Review nominated my story, “The Blue of Milk” for Best of the Net 2014. It’s a story I really liked but felt shy about sending out into the world. I’m very honored and cheered by Sam Rasnake and Michelle Elvy’s confidence in and support of the story. I posted it here awhile back.

Lastly, the website for the new MFA program that I’ll be teaching flash fiction for will be up and running soon and I’ll post a link to it here when it is. I’m VERY excited about this and proud to be a part of it. More to come!

Reading & Books I'm Looking Forward To Reading

Doll PalaceSomehow I’ve been given the tremendous honor of reading an advance copy of Sara Lippmann’s forthcoming collection from Dock Street Press, DOLL PALACE. I’ve only just started, but, people, all I can say is…oh man. And here is just a sampling from the story, “The Last Resort”:

That was all it took. Phil rose up from the heat and left the water and ran for his son. His soles slapped the concrete. His body shook in the wintry air. He did not notice the cold. He ran. He drew in his elbows. He bowed his head. Like this, he ran, far away from the young one who touched the edge of his lip, the girl in the whirlpool making waves, the sweet flesh of a child whom he could almost hear whisper I love you.

I hope to write a full review when I’m finished. Releasing in September, the collection may be pre-ordered now from Dock Street Press.

if i would leave myself behindOh, Lauren Becker’s novella & story collection, IF I WOULD LEAVE MYSELF BEHIND, has just released from Chicago publisher, Curbside Splendor. I’m a fan of her writing and this book is right at the top of my ridiculously bloated to-read list.

Ethel Rohan has a short memoir out from e-book publisher Shebooks, OUT OF DUBLIN, that I’m eager to read. I’ve always admired Ethel’s fierce, brave, honest work.out of dublin

the book of laneyFurther out, I am so excited that my talented friend, Myfanwy Collins, has a new novel forthcoming in March, 2015, THE BOOK OF LANEY, from YA publisher, Lacewing Books–an imprint of Engine Books which published Myfanwy’s novel, ECHOLOCATION. This one promises to be just as stunning. UPDATE: THE BOOK OF LANEY IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER FROM LACEWING BOOKS!!!

And Lindsay Hunter’s book, UGLY GIRLS, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. Lindsay Hunter is that combination of brilliant and prolific that astounds me. And I’ve read her story “Summer Massacre” in the latest Denver Quarterly about a hundred times (okay, three times) and it’s beautiful and I’ll stop now before I start speaking in tongues.

And wow, aren’t all these covers gorgeous?

Writing and Fear – SHAKEN

I read something this morning that was so much YES for me it drove me to actually update this dusty old blog.

Dawn Raffel talks about fear and writing, what keeps us from the page, in this short piece, “Writing Well Will Cost You,” at the Jaded Ibis Productions site:

“Writing well is a destabilizing act. A comfort read reinforces the readers’ and writer’s mutually agreed-upon ideas of how the world works, and it has its place; it’s entertainment. But literature challenges our fondest beliefs — about the world, about other people, about ourselves. It is mind-altering. Its creation transforms the writer, however subtly, and every revision is a revision of the writer’s intellect, the writer’s memory, the writer’s relationship to self.”

You can read the rest of her article here: “Writing Well Will Cost You”

Speaking of fear, I’ve actually written some things, sent them out, and had them published in 2013. This one, “Come Loose and Fly Away” in the new SalonZine, felt scary to write and send out to the world. It’s harder and darker than most of the stuff I write, but I’m glad I wrote it and thankful to Sara Lippmann, who solicited the work, for publishing it. The whole issue is so strong. Here is what Sara & Nita Noveno said about the theme of SHAKEN that they chose for the issue:

The original idea for this issue of SalonZine came soon after the 2011 earthquake in Japan, a magnitude 9, and the fourth largest earthquake in the world since 1900. This past year, the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy, the Connecticut school shootings, and other seemingly endless gun-related tragedies have shaken us to the core. In our unsettling world lives change in an instant, only to become irrevocably defined by that which cleaves. How does one come out of such terrible loss? How do we deal with the worst? The unexpected? The inevitable?
The writers and poets in this issue respond to these questions. Their prose and poetry address things, people, and events that move us, make the ground beneath us tremble, the heart in our cages quake. They excavate the fault lines of before and after.
We’re honored to share their findings with you.

Anyway, go read. There’s powerful, unsettling work there from Len Kuntz, Rae Bryant, Erika Dreifus, Michael Cooperman and more.

Some good things to start 2012….

There’s a terrific interview with Molly Gaudry at Used Furniture Review. She says, among other smart, insightful things, “I think there’s only one single thing that can help get a person ahead — genuine sincerity. All one has to do is truly love what this little pocket of the publishing world has to offer, and express that love by taking advantage of all available possibilities. And the best thing about it is anyone, absolutely anyone, can do so at any time. That is the strength of the “indie lit” scene.”

Sara Lippmann has a great story you should read at Connotation Press called Body Scan.

This essay by Pico Iyer at the New York Times Sunday Review: The Joy of Quiet. One of my resolutions for 2012 is to pursue more quiet in my life. To shut down and go inward, more. So, amen, to everything in this article.

Just learned that the Stripped anthology (edited by Nicole Monaghan) is out and it includes a story of mine. The anthology has an interesting premise: “Stripped is a collection with a twist. Yes, the fiction contained herein includes works from some of the best-known names in flash fiction as well as the work of emerging writers, but the bylines have been removed so you can’t tell who wrote what. What’s more, the stories hinge largely on gender roles – but with the authors’ identities stripped from their stories, editor Nicole Monaghan has created a bit of a guessing game. Did a woman, for example, write that piece about ambivalence toward motherhood? Or was it a man? More to the point, does it really matter? Or is there something bigger going on when men and women stretch their minds and imagine what it might be like to be the other?” There are numerous wonderful writers included. The book can be ordered from Amazon

Today I received my first acceptance for the year, a reprint for an anthology: Midwest Gothic Stories, edited by Jodee Stanley and Brian Kornell. There will be stories in there from Don Chaon, Mike Czyzniejewski and Cathy Day (who will also be doing a panel, along with the anthology editors, on Midwest Gothic Fiction at the upcoming AWP). The best description I’ve seen of what “Midwest Gothic” is can found on their blog here: What is Midwest Gothic?

Another resolution for this year is to pursue health. Well, I feel as though I’m always pursuing health in some form or another, but 2011 sucked health-wise and I felt as if I needed to do something a little drastic. So I’ve embarked on a 21 day “vegan cleanse” which involves: no coffee, no alcohol, no sugar, no wheat products, no (of course) animal products, no meat, no dairy. Ha, what’s left? Actually there’s a lot left. So I’m starting every day with green tea instead of coffee, which may turn out to be the hardest change of all. We’ll see how this goes. Right now, I have a headache.

Into and Out of the Wild–My final post at Necessary Fiction

Necessary Fiction.