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bookslut August 19 2014, 12:52

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We posted yesterday's interview with Catherine Lacey at a weird time, mostly because I'm a procrastinator and there are secret and mysterious server issues to which you are not privy, so today I'm just going to underline that you should read it. Hi, hello? You should read it, and you should do so knowing that it was conducted and published before I knew the New Yorker had glowingly reviewed Nobody Is Ever Missing, Catherine's debut novel, around which the interview centers. Sure, this glowing New Yorker review took place last Thursday, so maybe I should have caught it, but what do you think this is? I'm not a slave to the New Yorker, except sometimes. (To be fair, the review is also about 60% plot summary, which, I don't know, come on, guys.)

More importantly: read the brilliant Grantland piece about the Ferguson race riots—this is 2014—and then possibly read the Vanity Fair unique-perspective post about the "paramilitary posturing" there.

misssnarks August 19 2014, 12:50

Baker's Dozen: On Hard-to-Sell Genres


This question was posed yesterday:

Would it be not a very good idea to enter the contest with a YA dystopian because of market saturation? I know agents are shying away from it in general, and I imagine that would impact your and Jodi's choices, too.

I took the question directly to our auction agents, and here is the consensus:

Yes, dystopian is a (very) hard sell.  Yes, your dystopian will need to float miles above the rest to get someone to sniff in its general direction.


Why?  Because you never know.  And this puts the onus on Jodi and me to do the culling.  (Oh, the pressure!)  So, yes, we are going to be super picky about dystopian entries.  (I told the agents that we'll only choose one if it makes us both faint...)

And oh, this is painful.  Because dystopian is my true love.  You know this.

Anyway, this applies to any genre that happens to be a hard sell right now.  ENTER IT ANYWAY.  Jodi and I will make the calls.

bookslut August 18 2014, 21:54

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What We're Reading
Brian Nicholson

The Verificationist

This novel takes the setting of a pancake house as an occasion to ruminate on pancakes, their place in the heart of a man, and how the comfort they promise gives way to the disgusting way they feel in a gut before they're digested. This logic gets followed, in the mind of a psychologist narrator undergoing a breakdown, and as the book does not stop for chapter breaks I followed along with every step and felt the same insane and giddy out-­of-­body experience being described, as these feelings that seem so rooted in the body's urges were deconstructed. I laughed out loud in delight and in the end felt older, as the stuff of childhood was made to seem deeply unappealing so as to necessitate major life changes.

bookslut August 18 2014, 21:54

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aliceinwater.jpgImage: Illustration by Sir John Tenniel for Alice in Wonderland.

An Interview with Catherine Lacey

I first heard (about) Catherine Lacey when she was on Brad Listi's Otherppl (née Other People) podcast, and I guess I sort of developed a crush on her. She talked about the sort of things that give people (the media) pause (being from Mississippi, selling her eggs, moving to New Zealand to work on a farm somewhat randomly), but she talked about them as if they were no big deal—as if she didn't necessarily consider her life and the choices she's made in it potential click bait—or even just material—and that was, I'm sad/weirded out to say, refreshing. She seemed to strike a balance between examining the ambiguity of the world and reacting to it, in particularly click-baity issues of gender (which we talk about) and in issues of art (which we also talk about); it made me want to read her debut novel, Nobody Is Ever Missing. I won't retread ground covered in the review in the August issue of Bookslut, but I thought the book was challenging and exciting and original, which felt like a great excuse for me to talk to her about female travel narratives, nervous breakdowns, and the aforementioned ambiguity.

One of the things I thought was most interesting about the book was the way you dealt with gender. It's certainly a factor in Elyria's interactions—the lone female hitchhiker warnings are the most obvious example of this—but I think a lot of (feminist) writers would have made a lot more of that angle. Did you set out to do anything particular with gender, or was this a byproduct? Had/Have you read the periodic calls for more (and less cliché) female road/travel literature, and do you feel like you're contributing to fixing that, whether you're actively trying to or not?

Catherine Lacey: I didn't intend to write specifically about gender or to contribute a female protagonist to the road trip narrative; however, I am very much aware of how women are hyper-perceived, misrepresented, and manipulated every goddamn day, and I can't leave that part of myself in bed while I get up to write. So now that I'm long past writing Nobody and I can back up and have a good look at it, I do hope it can adequately answer what Vanessa Veselka calls for in that American Reader essay, though it's not for me to decide.

Also, I didn't read the Veselka essay until after I'd gone on many-a solo trip and written this book, but this paragraph in particular feels ultra-relevant:

...my choice to leave home and hitchhike was certainly no stupider or more dangerous than signing onto a whaling ship in the 1850s, 'stealing' a slave and taking him across state lines, burning through relationships following some sketchy dude around the US, or accepting rides from drunk people while on hallucinogens. These tales are fictions, yes, but they deeply affect how we see people on the road. And the shadow cast by these narratives—one that valorizes existential curiosity, adventure, individuality, and surliness—does not fall over women. In a country with the richest road narratives in the modern world, women have none. Sure, there is the crazy she-murderer and the occasional Daisy Duke, but beyond that, zip.

Elyria's being female doesn't feel fundamental, though, even as the people she meets are trying to file her under gender-normative labels, most frequently "potential rape victim" or "wife."

I did an interview with Sasha Frere-Jones a few weeks ago, and he said he thought the character could have been a 50-year-old man instead of a 28-year-old woman and the story wouldn't even have to change much. This wasn't a goal while I was writing it, but I tend to agree. I don't really know if this helps, hurts, or does nothing to the role gender plays in the story.

I don't really know, either. When the people Elyria meets stereotype her, she tends to go along with it, or silently accept it and just move on; it's like it just rolls off her, the hey-you're-a-woman stuff, which highlights another thing I really liked: the intense interiority, the disconnect between the subject and the people around her trying to get her to share that interiority with them. Um...what am I getting at? I think: Was it hard to resist conclusiveness, decision, definition? Is ambiguity a priority for you?

Books that lack ambiguity or mystery bore me. People who avoid confronting ambiguity are even worse and are to be avoided at all costs or challenged relentlessly. Unless a person has deluded herself with one of the many worldviews that preach hard realities and absolutes, then she best get comfortable with ambiguity. For some, the concept of ambiguity is something they want to avoid in literature or film or music or their relationships or their day-to-day existence—I emphatically do not write for those people, unless they are open to challenging their relationship to ambiguity.

This reminds me of your piece for BuzzFeed about being psychologized through your characters—you try to delineate which parts of Elyria are you and which parts are her and end up concluding that it's impossible to do. It's all ambiguous boths and neithers, and with Elyria that's so frustrating; everyone wants to crack her code, and she's like, "There's no code!"

Elyria seems to believe that no one can oppress or categorize her more than she can oppress and categorize herself. She has an independence that has grown to the point of hermetically sealing her off from the rest of the world. In a way, this has led her into a struggle with the amount of instability in her life. No one has a code that can be cracked for someone else to understand them, yet we still attempt to understand others and be understood by others. Writing a character that rails against this idea is a good way to explore that concept.

I've read you (and reviewers) describe Nobody as a "story about a woman's mental dissolve," but do you see her as "crazy"? She makes a lot of sense to me. Well, she both makes a lot of sense and doesn't make sense. The desire for her husband to shoot her with a "microscopic bullet that would make [her] make sense again, a bullet that could send the proper wants through her body"—that makes sense.

I don't believe Elyria is crazy, but I do think it's clear she's going through a kind of dissolve, which isn't quite the same thing. The word "crazy" [would] separate her from the everyday person, and I don't think [hers is] such a rare experience—to feel completely adrift, to want more solitude than is actually healthy. Though Elyria is resourceful and scrappy and fearless in a deeply fearful way, she lacks the ability to take care of herself or console herself or loosen her strong hold on dread. She doesn't really know how to turn off the faucet of dread that we all sometimes wash our hands in.

I know plenty of intelligent people with irrational fears. Or smart people with deep anxieties. Probably everyone knows people like that. I think Elyria is kind of like this. Recognizable, but missing something.

The Veselka essay, again, makes an interesting point:

A man on the road is caught in the act of a becoming. A woman on the road has something seriously wrong with her.

I think Elyria is actually in the act of becoming, though we don't see her fully transform.

She's also always drawing a distinction between what is "regular" or "usual" and something else, so she ends up defining herself by what she's not—it's very slippery. Do you find the sense of there being a "normal" or "regular" way to be valid at all, or is it a (dangerous) delusion? Does Elyria believe that's where "meaning" is, in the "normal" she can't access?

I’m not entirely sure, but at some point in the narrative Elyria notices or wonders if other people might not experience the world in the feverish, unbearable way that she does. She thinks that makes her different or weird—which is a state that I think we all slip into sometimes. We wonder, Am I wrong? Am I doing life correctly? I think lots of people have moments (or long moments) during which we ask ourselves these questions. Most of us come back to the realization that everyone goes through times like these, despite the fact that we can't confirm for 100% sure that other people are sharing our experiences. But I wasn't trying to show the complete arc of this very human experience. I just wanted to dig into the uncomfortable part, to break down that state as fully as possible so I could better understand it.

Did you find yourself looking to other books for examples or help?

The one book that probably had the biggest effect on the structure was Alice in Wonderland. I read it on a solo camping trip while a tropical storm walloped my tent. I was writing the first draft and it was as if someone had just handed me the structure to the book I was already writing. Woman goes on journey, meets a lot of people, is kind of changed and kind of just the same. I used it like a map.

It reminded me most obviously of The Stranger or Leaving the Atocha Station. Which I fucking love, but a lot of women emphatically do not like Ben Lerner.

I read Leaving the Atocha Station after I was done writing Nobody, and I loved it so much and saw why it had been recommended to me. The same thing happened with Renata Adler's Pitch Dark and Speedboat.

I don't know about these emphatic non-Lerner women. I see a lot of similarities between Lerner and Adler and Jenny Offill and Thomas Bernhard and Plath—all writers I love. States of unravelment (I may have made this word up) are somewhat ungendered (maybe this one, too). If you're having a hard time with the frailty of existence (and in some ways all breakdowns, "dissolves," or unravelments are about exactly that), then it doesn't matter what gender you identify with. It may change the experience a little, but the bone of it is the same.

misssnarks August 18 2014, 11:42



This will be our FIFTH BAKER'S DOZEN AGENT AUCTION (and probably our last)!  Here's everything you need to know for now:


October 28 and 30 -- Adult fiction (all genres except erotica and erotic romance)

November 4 and 6 -- Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction (all genres)


Now, there will be lots of other dates nestled in there as well, such as our logline critique rounds (3 of them), winner notification dates, and so on.  But the above dates are THE BIG ONES.  So mark your calendars!


The Baker's Dozen Agent Auction is MSFV's biggest event of the year. 60 250-word entries, hand-picked by Jodi Meadows and Authoress, will be placed on the auction block for agents to bid on (with requests for pages, up to a full manuscript request). It bears the name "Baker's Dozen" because the original auction in 2010 included 13 agents--a baker's dozen.

There is a $15 entry fee.  (Note: this is an increase from the last couple of years.)  Please understand that this is the only MSFV event with an entry fee--because it is, hands down, the most time-intensive to plan, set up, and run.

Amazingly, we've got 19 AGENTS SIGNED UP for this year's auction!  This is an all-time record, and assures us of a high level of professional competitiveness and behind-the-scenes trash talking (my favorite part).  Hooray for excited agents!

Spread the word! Take a moment to share this link on your blog.  Or swipe the info and include a link back here.  The bidding is always fast and furious (I seriously have to clear my calendar that morning); too much fun to risk missing.

If you're new to the Baker's Dozen, you can learn more by perusing past contests.  Just click on the "Baker's Dozen" tag in the archives (on the side bar).

Oh, and now's your chance to ask questions and get generally chatty in the comment box.  No question is too stupid (well, unless 5 people have already asked the same thing, in which case it's a matter of YOU ARE NOT PAYING ATTENTION), so ask away.

Oh, and if you're asking about NA?  So far, at least one of our participating agents is accepting it, so all NA authors are invited to submit to the ADULT ROUND, with NA included in your genre designation.

makinglight August 17 2014, 09:26

MidAmericon 2


Today in London, the right to host the 2016 World Science Fiction convention was granted to the group bidding to hold it in Kansas City, Missouri. Their Worldcon will happen 40 years after MidAmericon, the only previous Worldcon held there.

MidAmericon 2, the 74th World Science Fiction Convention
August 17-21, 2016, in Kansas City, Missouri

Guests of Honor:
Kinuko Y. Craft
Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Tamora Pierce
Michael Swanwick

Pat Cadigan

The original MidAmericon, the 34th World Science Fiction Convention, was held September 2-6, 1976. It was my first Worldcon. I was seventeen years old. I can't begin to list all the things that happened there that would affect the rest of my life. Some of them I was present for. Some I discovered only years later.

Among the people I met for the first time at MidAmericon: Paul Williams, whose later importance in our lives I have yet to manage to write about. In brief, Paul is the person who, in 1983, discerned that the two of us needed to be science fiction editors in New York City, instructed us in the steps necessary to accomplish that, and activated his remarkable network in support of making it happen. If we had never known Paul we would be living substantially different lives.

Another person I met for the first time at MidAmericon: The great science fiction editor Terry Carr, my and Teresa's role model in so many things. Terry's entire life was the canonical demo of how "fan" isn't the larval form of "professional" but a co-existing state. He died in 1987, age 50. We're still pissed at him about that.

Among the things that happened at MidAmericon: The scrappy, inexperienced, only slightly-organized science-fiction fans of Phoenix, Arizona, with whom I was socially affiliated despite not having lived there since May, 1975, unexpectedly defeated the long-established Los Angeles group in the site selection for the 1978 Worldcon. Which we promptly announced would be named "Iguanacon II." (There was never, except in an obscure work of fanzine fiction, an "Iguanacon I.") Setting in motion a tremendous cascade of events and connections, some good, some dreadful. We should never have tried to run a Worldcon. We pulled it off.

Among the people I didn't meet at MidAmericon: Tom Doherty, then the new publisher of Ace Books. It was Tom's first worldcon as well.

Among the people who weren't at MidAmericon: The young Teresa Nielsen, who I knew through an APA of which we were both members. She had planned to attend but was waylaid by illness. We met in person, in Phoenix, just a few weeks later anyway. By then we were both members of the fledgling committee to actually run the 1978 Worldcon. We didn't become Patrick-and-Teresa until a year and a half later, in the final epic pre-Iguanacon months of drama, bloodshed, heroism and betrayal. I think it was sometime after the Catalog of Ships but before the defeat of Achilles. Memory is treacherous. You'll have to ask someone else.

Here in the endlessly strange future, I can't begin to tell you how honored Teresa and I are to be among the guests of honor at a World Science Fiction Convention. And I can't possibly express how appropriate it feels that this should be happening at a Worldcon in Kansas City. From both of us, thank you to the lovely KC people who invited us. We're looking forward to it more than we can begin to say.

misssnarks August 15 2014, 17:07

Friday Fricassee


Hello, all!

It's hard to believe that the Baker's Dozen Frenzy-ness is stirring up already.  I've had a FABULOUS response from the agents this week (Seriously! Best response ever!), and I'll be posting the Very First Baker's Dozen Informational Post next week.

Really!  Next week!  Tell your friends.

So, last Friday I announced that I was taking a writing hiatus.  I'm pleased to report that I've survived my first non-writing week.

It's funny how we forget what non-writing life feels like.  When we write, it's woven through the fabric of everything our days bring.  We plot in the shower, think through dialogue while we're driving to work, snap up twenty minutes here and forty minutes there to squeeze in a few hundred extra words, fashion the rest of our day around our sacred Writing Time.  And when all of that is gone, well, there are a lot of holes.

A. Lot. Of. Holes.

(But, hey.  At least they're not plot holes.)

Here are some highlights from my week:


In fact, on Tuesday I took 2 classes--one in the morning and one at night, with the rest of the day sandwiched between.  During the evening class, we had several brand new students, and my teacher asked me--ME--to lead the line from the corner when it was time to do chasés across the floor, so they could watch me go first.  YOU DON'T KNOW HOW UTTERLY WEIRD THIS MOMENT WAS.  Yet it filled me with a tremendous sense of self-confidence, and I didn't balk.  What makes this all the more satisfying is that chasés have been my nemesis for months.  I've overthought them to the point where I haven't been able to do them properly.  Yet there I was, leading the class across the floor.

On Thursday evening, only 2 of us showed up for class, so our teacher decided to lean toward "intermediate" (instead of "beginner"), to get us ready to move up to the next level.  It was amazing being pushed to do all those wonderful new things, with so much attention from the teacher.  Yeah, I made a lot of mistakes.  But it didn't matter, because I WAS BEING ENCOURAGED TO PUSH BEYOND MY LIMITATIONS.  And it was exhilarating.


Wednesday is a weird day of the week to have a special date, but my sweetheart and I managed to squeak out a wonderful sushi dinner to celebrate each other.  And I'll admit it felt nice to not have to angst about not having gotten X amount of work done that day (I am so horrible about feeling like I can't let go and have fun if I didn't have a productive writing day).  And Mr. A didn't ask, "So, how was writing today?"  (Oh, blessed relief!  For both of us!)  AND the sushi was fabulous.  I could subsist on sushi and chocolate.  With Chardonnay.


I deep-cleaned my closet.  Unclogged my clogged-for-months bathroom sink.  Mended a dress.  In short, I looked away from my laptop at the little world around me, and engaged.

It's not that I never accomplish anything else when I'm writing--I do.  But writing trumps ALMOST EVERYTHING when I'm elbow-deep in a project.  And with nothing to trump them, other tasks rose to the surface and grabbed my attention.  (Imagine that.)

Mind you, the week hasn't been all happy fairies and cupcakes.  Sometimes I cried.  Sometimes I stared out the window and felt completely empty.  Sometimes I asked God what it is, exactly, that I'm supposed to be doing with my life.

You know.  Those moments.

But overall?  I've had a tremendous week.  And I'm so thankful (if not a tad surprised).

Admittedly, one of my writerly friends is going through the same thing right now (voluntary hiatus), and having someone to walk through this with has helped a lot.  She cries sometimes, too.  She's filling her days with surprising Other Things, too.  Strangest part?  We made the decision ON THE SAME DAY to take a writing hiatus--and we weren't aware that the other had done so.  If that isn't serendipity at its finest, I don't what is.

Okay.  That's my check-in.  What about you?  How do you readjust your life when you take a writing break?  How do things feel different for you during those times?  And--most importantly, perhaps--how did you find your way back to writing?

Do share.  More than ever, I need to reach into the void and find your voices waiting there.
bookslut August 15 2014, 15:30

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keh_sadhappy21.jpgImage: The caption on this one reads: "'Guernica' is a painting by Pablo Picasso depicting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Here I have made it a happy birthday party complete with pony rides!" No.

It's my birthday today! I was going to write a poem called "It's my birthday today" and post it here, but then I didn't want to anymore, so I didn't. It's my birthday today, and I do not have to share my grapes with anyone.

That was going to be in the poem.

Weekend Recommended Reading

-I do not want much of a present, anyway, this year.
After all I am alive only by accident.

-If your girlfriend's birthday is also today, but she isn't Sylvia Plath, you could get her Birthday Stories (edited by *~*~*Murakami*~*~*), either as a standalone, we-haven't-been-dating-that-long gesture or as a cute thematic extra to go with the KitchenAid mixer or cashmere sweater or whatever it is people get each other. People like getting books because it makes them think you think they're smart. I have gotten this book before; "The Birthday Present" by Andrea Lee is in it:

Flavio hadn’t meant to inspire action when he suggested that Ariel give her husband Roberto una fanciulla—a young girl—for his fifty-fifth birthday. He’d meant only to irritate, as usual. Flavio is Roberto’s best friend, a sixty-year-old Calabrian film producer who five or six years ago gave up trying to seduce Ariel, and settled for the alternative intimacy of tormenting her subtly whenever they meet. Ariel is a tall, fresh-faced woman of thirty-seven, an officer’s child who grew up on Army based around the world, and whose classic American beauty has an air of crisp serviceability that—she is well aware—is a major flaw. […]

-Do not get your girlfriend "a young girl." Even if she asks!

-Today is also Napoleon's birthday. Don't forget that, in addition to being a short megalomaniacal tyrant, he also wrote a romance novel:

Hicks, a historian at the Fondation Napoleon in Paris, spent years trying to piece together the manuscript and says some of the leaves were wrongly ­identified because Napoleon's handwriting, rich in blots and crossings out, was so diabolical.

In "diabolical" handwriting.

bookslut August 14 2014, 12:05

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jaromirfunke_reflections.jpgImage: "Glass and Reflections" (1929) by Jaromír Funke

Today's theme is self-reflexive and calmly disorienting short pieces featuring Czech characters and meditations on storytelling, w/r/t memory and the passage of time. As with the inexorable crumble from present to memory to oblivion, there is nothing you can do about it. I've just read two:

1) "The Marvel of Biographical Bookkeeping" by the German writer Francis Nenik is what I would call "formally innovative" if language weren't being slowly co-opted by meaninglessness. What I will say is that this is a confounding little book that humanizes the fade into artistic obscurity in a way that is both heart-breaking and very smart, and bonus points for a) smudging the distinction between fiction and non-, b) what seems like a tricky bit of translation magic (see: "formally innovative") by Katy Derbyshire, and c) design-wise, a balance of beauty and cuteness. It's pocket-sized, 64 pages, and published by the Berlin-based company Readux, who make great-looking little books of individual stories/essays/novellas/uncategorizables, often in translation. You can find them in bookstores in New York and Chicago (and the LRB Bookshop, and other places), on the Readux website, or as eBooks.

2) In the Australian journal Seizure today, "The Record" by Vijay Khurana:

Grygory Vrevca was dead for three years, from when Mina was four until she entered school. Ana Vrevca waited until she thought her daughter was old enough to understand the concept of death, then told her that Grygory had exsanguinated after falling through a window. She did this not because she thought it would be better for the child to have an image of a dead and honest father than of a living criminal one, but because she had read it in so many stories that she assumed it was expected of prisoners’ wives to kill off their husbands. On Mina’s first day of school, however, Grygory came suddenly and violently back to life. Within hours, Mina had achieved notoriety as the daughter of one of her country’s most infamous criminals. ‘Your father,’ her teacher asked or perhaps stated as he read the roll, ‘is the famous bank robber?’ Mina didn’t know if it had been a question or not. She had an instinctive feeling that this was the first test of her school life, and whether or not she passed would set a precedent more powerful than any adult could explain. She nodded.

Sometimes, when you're writing about things like this, it's easy to forget that they have a lot of humor in them, in addition to weighty and significant thematic concerns, and that is, in fact, part of what the story's about, memory being an unstable platform on which to base things. There's some formal innovation in there, too.

makinglight August 14 2014, 08:06

Gatherings of Light: Worldcon and Amsterdam


This post is intended to index and expand on the currently planned Gatherings of Light. I'll be editing it as more information becomes available/more decisions are made.

Please note, by the way, that lurkers are expressly welcome to come to these gatherings! You may be urged to de-lurk, but only because we will probably turn out to like you, and want to hear more from you. And you're totally allowed to say "commenting is just not my thing", or "I'll think about that" and stay in lurkerdom.

  1. Thursday 14 August, Worldcon, 7:30 PM, meeting at the tree in the Fan Village
    We will meet and decide on a place to go from there, departing at about 8:00. actually, we've kidnapped a table by the tree. Come to the fan lounge.I will then post the location here, and anyone available later is welcome to join us. (special thanks to iamnothing for getting this ball rolling)
  2. Saturday 16 August, Worldcon, 7:30 PM (tentative)
    There may be a second gathering on Saturday evening. This is not yet certain. Discussions about whether this should go ahead in this thread or the Making Light at Worldcon thread. Updates here if we make a decision.
  3. Sunday 31 August, Amsterdam, 1 PM, Proeflokaal de Prael
    For the Continental crowd, a gathering before Patrick and Teresa hop the pond. The location is a tasting room/pub attached to a local brewery, right near Centraal Station. Please comment in this thread if you're coming so I can update them with numbers.
bookslut August 13 2014, 14:53

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westvirginiapostcard.jpgImage: I've been there! The postcard is from this Etsy store.

There's a new writer's residency in Fayetteville, West Virginia, which is, as we say, "just up the road" from the scenic New River Gorge Bridge, which is what's depicted on this here postcard and the West Virginia state quarter. (I mention that because yesterday I was talking to my Australian boyfriend about the bridge and tried to use its being on the state quarter as shorthand for its relevance; I soon realized that meant nothing to him, had to explain what the state quarter program was, and then had to explain what a quarter was. Do not take it for granted that the state quarter program is really bizarre. Also that not many countries have 25-cent coins.) I would not do this writer's residency because I am from West Virginia and don't care to participate in initiatives designed to make me appreciate it—you don't tell me!, etc.—and because I cannot recall a time when I have yearned for the "natural beauty" and fresh-aired calm of the out-of-doors, which would be its chief draws. However, I could see someone really doing great work there; it really is beautiful and not distracting, and I do agree that West Virginia is underrepresented in literature, though I think the issue is much more complicated than "The stereotypes are tired," which is what the people who started the residency ultimately want to espouse with the project.

(Scott McClanahan, also from West Virginia, gets it right a lot of the time; I did an interview with him a few weeks ago for Dazed Digital.)

Anyway, you can decide for yourselves! Check it out; it's free room and no steaks, but that will give you more opportunity to sample the local cuisine. And there's a fucking great pizza place in that town.

bookslut August 12 2014, 19:48

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In August's issue of Bookslut, Jenny McPhee writes about Dangerous Women, an anthology of original fiction edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. The women in Martin’s Game of Thrones certainly need a lot of strength to navigate a world that works against them. But in their search for power, they either resort to manipulation or to male patterns. It is rather unfortunate that the demand for more heroines, for more strong female characters in movies, TV shows and books has resulted in characters that are all about showing that women can be just as ruthless as their male counterparts. Ideally, fictional or non-fictional “dangerous women” would translate into “women who disrupt the status quo, the patriarchy.”

When I was first invited into the anthology entitled Dangerous Women it was then known by a different title — Femme Fatales. Which has a particular and rather negative connotation. Various dictionaries describe such a person as a seductive woman who will ultimately bring disaster to any man who gets involved with her or a woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations. It’s a very noir attitude summed up by generations of male detectives stating — “From the minute she walked in I could tell the dame was trouble.” And I confess I wrote that story though the woman in question is a revolutionary and a freedom fighter so she damages the man in pursuit of a good cause.

Melinda Snodgrass, "Deadlier Than the Male" | Tor/Forge Blog

It’s not surprising that the first choice for a title was Femmes Fatales. For a long time, la femme fatale was the only type of woman who would spell out “danger.” Not just for one man, as the narrow view of the men writing them might suggest, but also for traditional gender roles and therefore, for what’s at the heart of the patriarchal, heteronormative system: the nuclear family.

Of the three types of noir women, the femme fatale represents the most direct attack on traditional womanhood and the nuclear family. She refuses to play the role of devoted wife and loving mother that mainstream society prescribes for women. She finds marriage to be confining, loveless, sexless, and dull, and she uses all of her cunning and sexual attractiveness to gain her independence. As Janey Place points out, "She is not often won over and pacified by love for the hero, as is the strong heroine of the forties who is significantly less sexual than the film noir woman." She remains fiercely independent even when faced with her own destruction. And in spite of her inevitable death, she leaves behind the image of a strong, exciting, and unrepentant woman who defies the control of men and rejects the institution of the family.

John Blaser, “The Femme Fatale” in No Place For a Woman: The Family in Film Noir | Film Noir Studies

Among the writers featured in Dangerous Women is also Megan Abbott, who is no stranger to such characters. In the Black Magic issue of Spolia, the “queenpin of noir,” as Jenny McPhee calls her, writes about a 17th century witch trial that creates fertile ground for questions on female power. An excerpt from Sometimes My Arms Bend Back can be read here, and here Megan Abbott talks about her relation to the supernatural.

Watching the HBO documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, one could not shake off the feeling that the trial of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich was a modern witch trial. One expected words like “Devil worshippers” to be uttered at any moment. Catechism: Poems For Pussy Riot is a collection of poems in honor of the group. For more on Pussy Riot, in their own words, there’s also Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer for Freedom, published by The Feminist Press.

For a reminder that all the privileges (fragile as they are) girls and women enjoy today have been the result of girls and women before them causing trouble, we should take a journey back into history with Carol Dyhouse and her Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women.

Girl Trouble should be accompanied by Warriors Don’t Cry, the memoir of Melba Patillo Beals and by I Am Malala, the story of Malala Yousafzai. As Carol Dyhouse says, “education is the ground-rock for progress for women.”

misssnarks August 12 2014, 11:17

Another Success Story!


Funny how these stories tend to arrive in small clusters.  Here's another one, straight from the author's fingers:

When I originally submitted the first few lines to your site for the Are You Hooked? entry, it wasn't just the first few lines. Those were the ONLY lines I had written. (Yeah, I know, bad author.) I had just gone through a round of over a hundred rejections for my first novel, a fantasy that was doomed thanks to all my own rookie mistakes. So, as a way to lick my own wounds, I decided to try my hand at something a little younger. Something for the kiddos. And I wrote it up and sent it in. Then, thanks to the feedback I got in the comments, I decided to keep on writing.

Just a few weeks after this, you contacted me to let me know that an agent was actually interested in my book. Say what?!?? I hadn't even queried anybody, in fact, the book wasn't even ready yet. Jeepers, those must have been some very catching first few lines! (TBH, the very first line of the book is almost the only thing that has stayed intact from that day until now.) So I feverishly finished the book and sent it to my critique partners. Meanwhile, I attended an online writing conference, WriteOnCon, and decided to get even more feedback on the book, so I submitted basically the same opener I'd put up on your site over there.

And, low and behold, more agents contacted me. Now, armed with the confidence I got from my experience, I started going back and forth with a few of them, and eventually decided to sign with Marietta B. Zacker of the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency. After several more revisions and many months of sending it to editors, we finally got an offer from David Gale at Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. Now, The Troubles of Johnny Cannon will publish on October 14, just a couple of months away! And it all started because of the feedback I got on your site.

So, thank you!

Isaiah Campbell
bookslut August 11 2014, 21:41

No subject


I tell whoever will listen that problem is capitalism and white men and that incrementalism is a crock: all the problems of our society are constitutive and that nothing short of total systemic overhaul—revolutionary change—will remedy them, so isn’t now the time to buy a gun, to take up arms against an oppressive government, because that’s what Karl Marx said, after all, to rally the proletariat so we can rise to the historical inevitably that will be the total destruction of class?

And then, like you, the next day, I hop in my used Honda Civic Hybrid, drive to Whole Foods to buy the good Chilean organic blueberries and donate—as we do every year—$5 to public radio, stopping to complain about how the arts are still under attack in America, thanks to the goddamn Republicans in Congress. Though neither of us really likes Obama. Or party politics at all. Mostly we’re just prone to screeds that elicit laughter and raised eyebrows. And then we go home. Even though we deeply believe what we believe...

I write this to you because I wonder if we can ever overcome what we are: prototypical comfortable liberals with radical pretensions. Or, as David Brooks called your generation after it settled down and had kids: bourgeois bohemians. I want to be a revolutionary, but I love Amazon Prime.

Rachel Wilkinson on feeling radical and acting not, for Identity Theory.

bookslut August 11 2014, 12:52

No subject


flack_joliemadame.jpgImage: "Jolie Madame" (1973) by Audrey Flack

I read a book as a PDF on my computer this weekend, which is a very unpleasant experience that I don't recommend. I've been waffling on the issue of eReader purchase for awhile; I've read one book on a Kindle, and it (the Kindle, not the book) was intoxicatingly good. So fast! So light! So not inspiring of any to-underline-or-not-to-underline dilemma!

I feel guilty about this—yes, there are other eReaders, but they are more expensive, and I don't know how to buy electronics, someone help me. To be fair (and transparent), I mostly want one so that I can read for free—out-of-copyrights and review copies—so it's not necessarily a gateway purchase to more monetary support for anyone, Amazon or mainstream publishing houses or already-very-wealthy authors or struggling self-published authors or totally worthy independent presses/bookstores. That's right—screw all of you! I'm hoarding my money so that I can one day buy a bicycle that doesn't have a mud-guard attached to it with packing tape! And, like, pay my student loans!

I think the reason people are getting so defensive about that letter from Amazon is that, amidst what the New York Times very sassily pointed out was "fresh" and a creepily Orwellian misinterpretation of Orwell, it also pokes at some valid points. There are huge benefits to eBooks, the main ones being ease of access and cost-effectiveness of production and consumption. It's great when a poor person can afford to buy a new book that all the smart-ass reviewers (who got it for free) are raving about. It's one thing to lecture upper-middle class douchebags about parting with their precious pennies to support publishing via $25 for a new hardcover; it's another to be like, "Hey, I know you're eating toast for dinner AGAIN...but that's why you need to treat yourself! With my $25 hardcover! If you buy it for $9.99 from Amazon, I mean, thanks so much, like, I really appreciate it, but did you know publishing is dying? Love ya, mean it!" $25 is a lot of money. $19.99 is a lot of money. $14.99 is a lot of money. Conscious consumerism is good, but it's also sometimes unrealistic to pressure individuals with it when there are large entities who should be feeling way more fucking pressure. I mean, Walmart, blah blah blah. I don't mean to sound like someone who lives in Europe, but maybe the government could help.

ANYWAY: I'm sorry, I buried the lede. The book I read this weekend was a novella called Family Heirlooms by a Brazilian writer, Zulmira Ribeiro Tavares.

1) This woman's name is Zulmira. Hi?

2) The book is great, even if you have to read it on your computer, and it inspires no dilemmas, because it only comes as an eBook that you can buy directly from Frisch & Co. for $2.99. (Frisch & Co, in case you're wondering, is a very cool eBook company that does English-language translations of contemporary literature, founded by one of the co-founders of Open Letter.)

3) Zulmira is a bad ass.

At this point in her growing intimacy with LIFE...Maria Bráulia Munhoz was naturally no longer the silly little twit she had been as a newly-wed. And so when [her husband] said to her (increasingly about everything and nothing) that a judge passes judgment secundum aequitatem, according to what he feels is right, she would lower her head modestly as usual—but not as a sign of respect, as her husband presumed, rather of dissembling—because the Latin sounded to her (despite the care the judge took each time to translate it straight away, for his wife's enlightenment) to have a strangely lascivious quality to it; because around that time the curtain of Maria Bráulia's tar-black nights was already beginning to crackle with what would soon be the great fire that was spreading across hours and hours of her existence, in which it was already possible to make out, lit up in the bright and joyful colours of those flames, the delightful person of the jeweller, Marcel de Souza Armand.

I mean, what a paragraph. The whole thing is like that. So cutting! So funny! So timely with a recurring metaphor! Portuguese->English translators, posthaste!

bookslut August 8 2014, 18:23

No subject


What We're Reading
Kendall Poe

The House on Mango Street

The book I give the most, regardless the occasion or the recipient, is The House on Mango Street. After a recent count, I know that I have given it to five people, once insisting that the intended reader take it straight from my own shelf. To endorse a book with such zeal, as if it were my own, makes me sometimes feel like a middle school English teacher whose unabated enthusiasm leaves listeners skeptical or picking at their hangnails. I don’t make rapturous claims, but simply say that in the summer, in the shade of a porch or next to a body of water, this enchanting novel can make an afternoon pass exactly as you want. It’s hard to determine in which genre Sandra Cisneros’s collection of forty­five vignettes belongs—an ineffability I find wholly appealing. As her first publication out of graduate school, Cisneros wrote an accessible text, full of saturated images and a strong central narrator, Esperanza, who captures all of characters that make up her Chicago neighborhood. The innocence of Esperanza’s voice might make The House on Mango Street seem like a lowbrow or juvenile choice for anyone committed to literature; however, I have yet to hear of any complaints.

bookslut August 8 2014, 16:53

No subject


farockitheinterview06ty5.jpgImage: Still from "Die Bewerbung" ("The Interview") by Harun Farocki (1996)

Weekend Recommended Reading

-This morning I found A Dictionary of Superstitions abandoned on a table in the bookstore where I work. While you should keep in mind that it is merely a dictionary of superstitions, not the dictionary of superstitions, nothing in life being certain, unfortunately, I doubt very seriously that the person who left it is living in such a way that she couldn’t use a bit of extra guidance.

Regarding Fridays, the general consensus seems to be to never do anything on them:

FRIDAY, born on 1846 Denham Proverbs II n. A child born on a Friday is doomed to misfortune.

FRIDAY butter and eggs
1923 [Trowbridge, Wilts.] Harm will come to the child if you put Friday churned butter, or Friday laid eggs into its christening cake.

FRIDAY, courting on
1851 [Lancs.] A man must never ‘go a courting’ on a Friday. If an unlucky fellow is caught...he is followed home by a band of musicians playing on pokers, tongs, pan-lids, &c. 1890 T.C. Smith & J. Shortt History of Ribchester [Lancs.] No 'chap' might meet his 'woman' on a Friday evening. That was 'jinglin neet'. If he did, he would be sure to set all the old frying pans and kettles in motion, as if a thousand bees were aswarm.

If someone could email me and explain how Friday went from no-"chaps"-allowed to hey-do-you-want-to-go-to-a-bar-or-something-I-guess-if-you-want, that would be interesting. And speaking of bees, they "dislike bad behavior." According to Pliny (AD 77), "it is particularly recommended...that the person who takes the honey should be well washed and clean: bees have a particular aversion, too, to a thief and a menstruous woman." Updates as they're made available.

-The German filmmaker and political/media theorist Harun Farocki died last week, and The New Inquiry has posted a long interview with him that's good whether you know a lot or nothing about him. I asked my smart friend who has a PhD in German film/literature/I’m-not-totally-sure-but-he-knows-a-lot to recommend a clip or two, and he said you should watch this and/or this.

-Once a week a nurse comes
to town to cut up a baklava.

-Josephine Livingstone, a hip, young medievalist (!!!), has a great review of the new(ly released) Tolkein translation of Beowulf in Prospect, about how "Tolkien’s oeuvre has become a cipher for the look and feel of 'medievalness'," how he "loved medieval poetry so much that he swallowed it up."

bookslut August 8 2014, 13:19

No subject


We asked contributors, colleagues, and friends to say a little something to send Jessa Crispin off as she retires from the blog. This is the final in that series.

Walter Biggins

Now that most magazines seem to have a blog for every staff writer, and a lot of magazines started as blogs, and now that every book publisher feels obligated to have a blog, it’s perhaps worthwhile to remember how rare blogs were in the early ‘00s, and how dismissed they were at the time.

When literary and/or cultural blogs were mentioned at all by mainstream media, they were dismissed. These blogs were too “undisciplined,” because neither the length nor subjects of the posts were uniform; they sometimes incorporated sound clips and pictures. These sites were too “obscure,” because they dared to discuss books, writers, and modes not currently in the headlines. Litblogs were too “idiosyncratic,” which basically meant they weren’t beholden to standard AP style nor did they aspire to be New Yorker essays.

All of this boiled down to this: Litblogs were too personal. The prose was often conversational, experimental, wild, or a combination thereof. Litblogs admitted to the bias inherent in all criticism, and did not pretend to a false objectivity. As a result of being honest, as a result of engaging culture on the terms of life as lived by the critic engaging it, litblogs were dismissed when they weren’t being ignored.

This was the world Jessa Crispin entered into, just a few months after 9/11. A friend, living in Austin at the time, urged me to read Bookslut. Jessa hooked me in immediately. For a while, it was practically just Jessa. Blunt, acerbic, impassioned, often furious, sometimes unfair, and always committed, Jessa’s voice rang out. She cared deeply about books, and she wanted her readers to care about what she cared about.

What she cared about was life itself and its larger questions: How do we live compassionately in the world? How can we be true to our best desires while also belonging to something larger than ourselves? How can books help us survive, and how do they—and language itself—fail us? What do we do when a book’s beautiful language clashes with its abhorrent politics? Jessa puzzled through these questions, using as filters her heart, brain, concerns, and shifting tastes. In short, she was the undisciplined, idiosyncratic, and obscure blogger that print media took her for.

Funny thing is, print media and lit-crit are now trying to catch up to Jessa’s vision, even as Jessa’s plowing forward. Her interests, always wide-ranging, have become even more so over the years. She globe-hops literally—seriously, how many countries has she lived in?—but also internally. Eastern European culture, mysticism, feminism, reimaginations of love and marriage, the pleasures and pains of Sassy Magazine, long-term travel, William James—it’s all there in Jessa’s writing.

She lays herself bare, bravely. Her lit-blogging compatriots have increasingly clothed themselves, folded themselves up into the mainstream program, compartmentalized, professionalized. Lizzie Skurnick now runs a reprint press; Maud Newton writes regularly for the New York Times; Mark Sarvas published a novel, and Laila Lalami published two; none of them blog much anymore. Scott Esposito’s keeping it going but even he runs a bonafide literary journal now.

Jessa’s tried that route. Well, sort of. Her “Kind Reader” advice column offered “lessons” from books to her letter writers but those lessons were often ambiguous and open-ended, reaching out into the world instead of to just more books. Her “Reading the Tarot” column branches into memoir and mysticism more than monographs. Spolia, the magazine Jessa started last year, is as weird, conflicted, mysterious, and necessary as her blogging is.

That’s the thing—after 12 years of this, Jessa’s still blogging regularly, still spilling her reading life into her actual life on the page for us. That’s amazing. Now that she seems to be giving it up for greener—or at least different—pastures, it’s high time we praise her for fighting the good fight, for remaining undisciplined, obscure, and idiosyncratic in an online lit world that, increasingly, seems anything but that. I owe her my deepest gratitude, and my awe. We all do.

misssnarks August 8 2014, 11:30

Friday Fricassee


My dearests!

So we're deep into August, and the summertime is swooshing by.  Soon (and very soon!) we're going to be in the throes of BAKER'S DOZEN PREP.  Which is incredibly hard to believe, yes?

Keep your eye on the blog for EARLY INFO on the Baker's Dozen.  And start polishing your loglines!

As for me--I'm taking a writing hiatus.  Not a blogging hiatus, mind you; I'll still be here.  But I've got a substantial amount of editing (for Authoress Edits) lined up for the rest of this month, and, well, also I simply need a break.

I mean, really.  And for the first time, I am allowing myself to do this without keeping a pinky finger on my keyboard.  (You all know what I mean.  Right?)

I'm drained.  It's a long journey, and my water bottle has run dry.  I've just finished an emotionally difficult revision, and I'm not sure what to do next.  So I'm putting it all aside.

Probably this is my smartest move in a long time.  At least, I hope so!  And yes, I know--many of you have counseled me before in the wisdom of taking a break.  Thing is, I was never really quite able to do it.  That whole oh-my-gosh-my-day-isn't-complete-unless-I've-written something kicks in pretty strongly most days.

I guess I've hit my breaking point.

I hope I find my reentry point, too.

Because...I'm a writer.  And I've got to keep doing what I love.

So.  There it is.  You've got my back, right?

You know what's going to happen next.  I'm going to wake up in the middle of the night with an AMAZING story idea, and...

Yeah.  That's how it goes.  Isn't BEING A STORYTELLER such a wonderful thing?  I love it--I really do.

Have a good weekend, my lovelies!

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