Four Courses with Andrew Levy

It’s no secret that I love to eat. I’m fond of saying that I exercise so that I can eat more. (I eat a lot, seriously. As I got older and my metabolism ground to a screeching halt, I went into a period of mourning over the fact that I couldn’t eat a whole pizza in one sitting anymore. This, I realize, is pathetic, but there we are.)

Four Courses logoAnyway, I’ll get to the point. My friend Andrew is host of a podcast called Four Courses (“where we actually care what you had for lunch”) and invited me to be his first guest host. I was more than happy to be his guinea pig and hopefully didn’t pop my P’s too much. Go have a listen—it’s downloading to my iPod now so I haven’t actually had the cringe-worthy experience of listening to myself talk, so I can’t guarantee that I don’t sound like a complete idiot. But I probably do sound hungry… which is okay, because Andy and I are already planning our next dining out experience.

Thanks for having me on, Andy!

Briefly, A Personal Credit Where It’s Due

Today’s my anniversary. Now, we’re not married—I like to say that I’m old-fashioned and don’t believe in marriage, although that’s not exactly true either, but I’m getting off track (I know, already?) and you’ve probably noticed how often I do that so ANYWAY, moving on. A while after my partner and I got together, we were trying to figure out when we started dating/going steady/whatever you want to call it. We knew it was late August because we’re not SO far gone that we don’t know what month it is at any given time. When it came time to settle on a date, I said, “August 31.”

I had an ulterior motive. That’s also my parents’ anniversary (happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!), and I knew it was unlikely I’d forget both of them if they were on the same date. Because while I may not be THAT far gone yet, I have my days. Usually Tuesdays. I can’t get the hang of Tuesdays, for some reason.

ANYWAY. Why do I bring this up, besides the fact that today is our anniversary? Because on a very practical level, if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be a writer right now.

Yes, I’d still be writing. OF COURSE I’d still be writing. (You might as well ask me to stop breathing. Have I turned blue yet? No. See? Still breathing.) But I’m incredibly fortunate to have someone as patient as him and who believes in what I’m doing. How much does he believe in me? Well, enough that back in 2006 he said “Why don’t you go to work part time while you finish your novel?” So I did. And that’s when I finally finished Detours. (Which you should totally read, by the way. You want to do something for my anniversary? Buy my book. Support the literary arts! You don’t even have to read it [but you could]. Either way, I promise not to tell.) So anyway, all that is, why when I read this article at Salon back in January, it rang a little bit true for me.

He’s still hoping I hit the big time, though. So am I, for that matter! So yeah, buy that book, or the other one. Or both!

ANYWAY. He’s like that with the whole believing-in-me thing. When I got into grad school, he said go. I sign up for workshops and residencies and spend ridiculous amounts of time outside of St. Louis (to preserve my sanity; also, it gets really hot here in the summer and ice queens don’t like the heat), and he says go. He says yes more than he says no, and I think there’s a lesson in that for everyone, least of all me.

So yeah, if you’ve read something of mine and you liked it, don’t thank me. Well, yes, you can thank me, but also thank him. I know I do.

Happy anniversary, hon. Eleven years and we still haven’t killed each other! (Well, not yet.)

Mike and me, sometime in 2010. We still mostly look like this, which is to say we're holding up well and probably a little tipsy.

Mike and me, sometime in 2010. He’s cute, isn’t he? We still mostly look like this, which is to say we’re holding up well and are probably a little tipsy.

My 2015 Reading Goal: an Update

Happy Friday! Normally, at the end of the week I post an Instagram or a tweet about what I’m currently reading for the hashtag #FridayReads. This week, I decided it’s probably a good time to revisit the reading goal I made at the beginning of the year, which was to read more authors of color.

So, how’s it going, you ask? Well….

OK, I haven’t done all that great of a job at it this year. Out of the 16 books I’ve read this year, six were by writers of color. (For those who’d like to follow along at home, here’s the list of everything I’ve read this year.)

Part of it is I haven’t read as much this year. Sixteen is not a very large number of books. (I only wish I could read as quickly as my friend Nafiza can. I am continually in awe of her reading list.) As it stands, about 37.5 percent of what I’ve read has fallen under my reading goal, and that’s pretty poor, if you ask me. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to read between now and the end of the year, but the next five books on my TBR pile include work by Octavia Butler, LaShonda Katrice Barnett, and Shyam Selvadurai. I’ve also put Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life on request at the library.

SoucouyantCurrently, I’m reading Soucouyant by David Chariandy. I’m only a few pages in so I can’t say much about it, though I’ve heard him read from it before so I’m looking forward to it. Of the books I’ve read so far this year, I can say that one of them is probably among my most favorite books now, and that would be Kindred by Octavia Butler. I have a feeling I’m going to be reading as much of her work as I possibly can. I like her approach to science fiction.

I’m already looking ahead to next year, and I think the goal for 2016 will be to read exclusively books that I already own. The number of books I’ve bought or been given and haven’t read? It’s just ridiculous, I tell you.

So, what are you reading?

Yes, I’m one of those lefty scum. Left-handed, that is.

10 to 12 percent of the population is left-handed, but there's no real evidence that the left-handed are more creative.

10 to 12 percent of the population is left-handed, but there’s no real evidence that the left-handed are more creative. (photo by Drew Partrick)

Today is International Left-Handers Day. No, I didn’t know such a day existed either, but thanks to The New York Times (scroll to the bottom to find the relevant article), I now also know that 10 to 12 percent of the population is left-handed, parrots and kangaroos are mostly left-handed, and we’re more likely to be schizophrenic, dyslexic, and make less. (At least the universe is on our side.)

Naturally, since I’m a lefty myself, I got to wondering about these things, especially the bit about income. As you know, I’m in one of what’s called the creative professions, which generally isn’t as lucrative as more, well, practical vocations. (This is the point where I should probably say “hey, buy a book, yeah?“) Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find information on any studies that would either confirm or deny this link, and even the evidence of lefties being more creative is anecdotal at best and is based on, at best, flawed science. (I’d also be curious to learn whether left-handers are more likely to be gay, as I’m the only one of either in my family.)

One thing I know personally is that being left-handed does teach one to be adaptable. I use the mouse right-handed. I bat right-handed (although when was the last time I picked up a baseball bat? I’d probably end up hitting the catcher in the face at this rate). I use just about every kitchen implement (can openers and the like) right-handed. Of course, that’s anecdotal evidence with a sample size of one, so it’s not worth much.

And you know how they always say that you should hire the left-handed because it’s fun to watch them write? Well, I don’t really do that hooked-wrist writing posture. I’ve always turned my paper at an angle and held my wrist (insert obvious joke here) straight—which I guess is the strongest evidence I have that I’ve always thought the world should adapt to suit me.

Writing prompt: Throw in a roadblock

I went running again yesterday morning. There are a number of trails that criss-cross not far from where I’m staying; I think I’ve explored most of the ones that are in easy reach, and I was running along one that I’d already traveled so I wasn’t expecting to see anything out of the ordinary like I did the last time.

Turns out I was wrong.


If you look closely at that photo (you might need to click on it to enlarge), you’ll see that I ran into an unexpected walker on the trail. The deer and I stood there staring at each other for a short while, and she didn’t seem inclined to go anywhere. (Blackberries have been in season, so I couldn’t blame her.) Luckily, I was able to backtrack a short distance and take a side path up to a parallel trail.

Naturally, I was thinking about how writing can be like that. Sometimes you get to a point where you can’t move forward, or at least you’re not sure how. What should you do? Throw a deer in your path. Not literally, but give your characters something unexpected to deal with. Where do they go from there?

Like me in the middle of my run, they might be able to work their way around to where you were trying to get them in the first place. And they might see something interesting when they get there: In my case, it was two deer standing at the top of a hill overlooking the trail where I was running.

What I’m working on (besides not melting) and submission call roundup

"Oh lordy, it's so dang hot. Also, how did I get in this car?" (photo by Lechon Kirb)

“Oh lordy, it’s so dang hot. Also, how did I get in this car?” (photo by Lechon Kirb)

I decided to spend the second half of summer in the Pacific Northwest to escape the heat and humidity in the Midwest. (My long-suffering but more-patient-than-I-am partner knows that I wilt in the summer; I joke that ice queens don’t like the heat.) This has turned out to be a bit of a miscalculation on my part. It’s been in the mid-90s here in Olympia since I arrived, and it was in the upper 20s/low 30s in Vancouver while I was there taking a workshop. Mother nature seems to delight in confounding plans.

Be that as it may, this is a working holiday of sorts. I’ve got an essay to write, several short stories that I’ve needed to revise since grad school, a novel (also written in grad school) that I’m revising, and a novel that I’m writing. (sort of; it’s been giving me fits lately). On top of that is all the assorted freelance work (the stuff that actually pays [sort of]).

Sending out short stories is something that I could do better at. My goal this year is to send out at least one a month; I’m more or less keeping up with that, and some months I’ve been able to do a few more. Part of the trick is a) researching markets and b) not forgetting to send them something while their submission window is open. My friend ‘Nathan (have you read his novel Light? No? Go get it; it was a Lambda finalist and it’s awesome) periodically posts open calls for submission on his website, so I figured I’d take a page from his book and list the things that are on my radar:

Black Warrior Review‘s 11th annual contest deadline is coming up on September 1. Check out an interview with their fiction judge, Alissa Nutting, here.

The Myriad Carnival is an anthology of “queer, weird, and dark” stories themed around carnivals. There are two slots open for stories; deadline August 31. (I’m probably not going to submit to this, but it did remind me of an idea I had a while ago about a carnival, a hypnotist/pickpocket/scam artist, and the mark he falls in love with. I have all of a paragraph written, so the likelihood of finishing it in time is slim.)

Prairie Schooner‘s submission period reopens September 1. I’ve got something I want to send.

The Puritan‘s Fourth Annual Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence has an upcoming deadline of September 30. If I can be literarily excellent between now and then, I’m entering.

Lastly, are you familiar with Literistic? They send out a monthly e-mail of upcoming submission, contest, fellowship and residency deadlines that you can customize to your liking. They offer the Shortlist for free; for those who can afford a little bit more, they have a Longlist that can be more specifically filtered. Check them out; I find it extremely useful.

Writing prompt: If you go down to the woods….

I was out running this past weekend in Olympia, and along one of the trails I happened across this staircase in the middle of the woods.

stairs in forest

I thought, how odd. Why would there be a set of concrete stairs in the middle of the forest? Being of a somewhat dark mood at the time, my thoughts went to dark places. Things that go bump in the daylight came to mind. (I don’t know about you, but those are infinitely more frightening than things that go bump in the night; I mean, you expect that sort of thing at night, but in broad daylight?!)

My next thought was, hey, that would make a good writing prompt. Which is why you’re reading this now. See where the stairs lead you.

How to deal with failure (or at least feeling like a failure)

You know, some really cool things have happened for me this year so far: I had a story published by Little Fiction, another piece by Aftertastes, I taught a short fiction and a social media class at the community college, and I had a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. And now I’m back in Vancouver taking a workshop at my alma mater, UBC. Pretty good, right?

And yet, with all that, I feel like this year so far has been such a goose egg as far as accomplishments. It makes no sense, right?

If you do anything long enough, I think, you’ll feel like you’ve made a complete screw-up of your project/your job/your life/human existence as we know it. If you’re a writer, you’re going to run into that and you’re also going to have a chorus of people who will be more than happy to tell you how you’ve disappointed them. (Hi, Goodreads!)

So what do you do when that happens (because it will happen)? What can you do to keep that from paralyzing you? How do maintain momentum on the next project when maybe the last one sank like a rock? (Note to self: “sank like a rock” = cliché, revise later if time permits.) Well, Brent Hartinger and Erik Hanberg posted a podcast at the beginning of the year on just that topic, and it’s worth a listen:

Right click to save or click to open in new window

Also? If you’re not familiar with Brent, his blog, Brent’s Brain, is worth reading. He’s clever and funny and insightful. Hang on, that’s three adjectives in a row; I should go back and strike at least one of them. He’s funny and insightful.

(There. I feel better.)

Maybe you need to switch to a different project than the one you’re working on. Would it help to take a step back from the thing that is giving you cause to second-guess yourself, and you do something different for a while? And by different I don’t just mean another book, but maybe a different genre, a different target age range, or a different medium entirely. (Think visually, write a screenplay, or a romance, or a YA, or a crime novel, or poetry.) Maybe it takes some time off before you can go back to the thing that made you feel like you couldn’t do this—and feel like you can do it again.

So, I’m juggling my own priorities. And my projects. We’ll see what happens!

A month with Grammarly, or the editor looking over your shoulder

Tell me if this has happened to you. You’re on Facebook or maybe Twitter (does anyone still use Google Plus?), writing a post (maybe it’s something you’re just tossing off, or maybe it’s actually something important. (I don’t know, does anything important go on Facebook? I have my doubts. But anyway….) So there you are, typing away, and you’ve got your link attached and there’s a preview image and everything looks good so you hit post…

…and as everything fades out before it goes live, you see a misspelling.

Now, if you’re me (and if you are, I’m so sorry, you poor thing), this is the point where a lot of cussing happens and you hit the escape key thinking “maybe it won’t go up.” But then you refresh the page and, sure enough, there it is, making you (or your company or your client) look like a big ol’ dummy.

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Vancouver, something wicked your way comes

Caprica City, before the Fall. (Okay, it's really Vancouver, but still.)

Caprica City, before the Fall. (Okay, it’s really Vancouver, but still.)

That would be I, of course.

I’ll be in Caprica City Vancouver next month, where I’ll be taking a workshop at UBC in their summer creative writing residency on, appropriately, teaching creative writing. (This was a class I didn’t get the chance to take while I was finishing my MFA, and it’s taught by the fabulous Nancy Lee, author of Dead Girls and The Age, which you should really read if you haven’t had the chance because it’s awfully good.)

I’ll also be eating a lot of ice cream and poutine (pictures galore on Instagram, no doubt!), mostly in the company of my two very talented writer friends Sierra Skye Gemma and poet Ruth Daniell, and I want to draw your attention to this bit of news: She’s the resident poet for Small Wonder magazine, a new quarterly “for kids and their grown-ups.” Her first collaboration with them is a series of poems all about fruit, in their third issue. So check that out.

Ruth is also putting together an anthology for Caitlin Press called Boobs: Explorations of Women’s Relationships to Their Bodies. If you have something to say on the topic, check out the call for submissions here. Deadline’s October 12, so don’t dawdle.

I really can’t wait. I’m gonna go run along the seawall and go to Granville Islandand go to the beach and walk through Stanley Park and go to my favourite pub and start spelling everything with u’s again and….