Looking for Bigfoot? Find Him Wednesday.

Happy Monday, y’all! I know it’s been a little quiet on the blog lately, but that’s partly because I’ve been writing stories, among other things—but you don’t come here to read about my workout routine or what I’m making for dinner (spoiler alert: usually pizza; or reservations).

However! I can tell you that my story “Looking for Bigfoot” will be available for download on Wednesday from Little Fiction. If you haven’t heard of it, Little Fiction is a great one-story-at-a-time e-publisher. They’ve put out some fantastic stories by Leah Mol, Trevor Corkum, Shawn Syms, Eliza Robertson, and lots more. And this Wednesday, I’ll have somehow managed to sneak in.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the cover:

Looking for Bigfoot cover

And—and!—they even put together a video trailer for it:

All this for one story. Pretty cool, huh?

Catching Up with Swoon

In case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to lately (and admit it, how could you not, right?), the lovely (and award-winning!) writer Ruth Daniell just posted a Q&A with me over at the Swoon Reading Series website. You may recall that I was lucky enough to be her cohost in 2014 for that series, a role now filled quite capably by the fantastic (and also award-winning!) writer Sierra Skye Gemma. We talk about books, writing poetry vs. fiction, chocolate, and Valentine’s Day, among other things. Check it out!

And if you live in Vancouver, you owe it to yourself to check out the truffle that I mention in that post, the Blue Moon, at Koko Monk in Kitsilano. It’s a fantastic concoction at a really great shop with lots of tempting chocolate creations.

The literary feast

Recently, my friend Andy (one half of the podcasting duo behind Four Courses—where they really do care what you had for lunch) asked me to name my favorite food/dining/cooking scenes from literature. It’s a topic that comes up in one of their future episodes—I’ll post a link when it goes live—and he was having a tough time thinking of things.

I thought, well, that shouldn’t be too hard, but when I tried to actually think of anything, I couldn’t think of a thing. Eventually, I mentioned the dining hall scenes at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series—I still want to know what butterbeer tastes like—and just about every page of Like Water for Chocolate. With the latter, though, I couldn’t remember if I’d actually read the book or was just remembering the scenes from the spectacular movie that was made of the novel. To be honest, the same question could be asked of my Harry Potter memories.

I won’t exactly say that it’s a shame, how many of my food-based literary recollections are colored by their translation to film. I think it just points out how much of a leg up the movies have in that respect. Have you ever seen The Big Night, for example? One of these days, I’m going to attempt to make a timpano because of the scene in the film with that dish.

Children’s literature seems to do a better job of representing food, though. There’s Oliver Twist, of course, and Alice in Wonderland and the Winnie-the-Pooh series, and (though this may not be strictly children’s literature, it’s something I read as a kid) all of the hobbitsy obsessions with meals in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (Again, there’s an instance where the movies kicked that up a notch.)

It disappoints me how few I can remember, especially when I considered that one of the stories I’ve written that I’m still fond of today—and I view my back list of stories the way I suspect a lot of writers regard their past work, with deep suspicion that it was written by someone else—is a story that revolves around a restaurant, love, and bread pudding. It was called “The Key Ingredient” and appeared in the anthology The Dirty Diner. I read an excerpt from it at Swoon in 2013. I set out to make that story an homage to Like Water for Chocolate, in fact, though with a very gay twist. Whether it succeeded is for other people to say, but it does capture my deep and abiding appreciation of bread pudding.

So! What’s your favorite food or dining or cooking scene from literature? What makes it stand out for you? Tell us all about it in the comments field—and include recipes if appropriate.

2015's reading goal: not so many white people!

If you recall, my goal in 2014 as a reader was to find and consume fewer stories by straight white guys. Looking back at my list of books read last year, I managed to do that pretty well. Out of thirty-six books, five were written by straight (as far as I know) white guys. Not that there’s anything wrong with straight white guys! It’s just that, well, most of the stories we hear about are written by and about them, and I kind of get burned out on them. Variety, spice of life, and all that. Not to mention expanding our perspectives and tuning in to voices outside that mainstream that also deserve to be heard. As a writer who’s gay, I can relate.

Continue reading “2015's reading goal: not so many white people!”

Best-of 2014? Me? (Or rather, my book)? Aw, shucks.

It’s nice to see The Unwanted get a little end-of-2014 love from readers. Hilcia over at Impressions of A Reader puts The Unwanted among her favorites of last year, a list which also includes The Bears of Winter, where you’ll find my story “Snowblind.” Her list also includes Jess Faraday’s The Affair of the Porcelain Dog and Turnbull House, both of which I loved. There are several others on her list that are still on my to-read list, including Cub by Jeff Mann.

My friend Andy, pop culture fan and co-host of the Four Courses podcast (which I mentioned in yesterday’s post) also put The Unwanted on his year-end best-of list. You can check out his original review from May, where he mentions that it’s always a bit tricky when one of your friends is the creator of the media and entertainment that you consume. That’s the main reason I don’t write book reviews myself—that, and I try to follow the advice “don’t shit where you eat.” That being said, I admire anyone brave enough to wade into that arena. Also, check out the other books on Andy’s list, which include one of my favorites from last year, Grasshopper Jungle. And check out his best-of-TV and best-of-movies lists.

Why rejection is good for the soul

I got another rejection notice yesterday. It was for a story I wrote during grad school, in my fiction workshop with Linda Svendsen, about a couple in the St. Louis suburbs dealing with a wayward armadillo. (I think I’ve written about that story here before, but anyway.) There was an article in the Missouri Botanical Garden’s member magazine about how climate change was making northerly locations more hospitable for animals like the armadillo, and it got me thinking about things and people that are out of place in the place they’ve chosen to live, which is a common theme in a lot of what I write, and…

Well, I’m getting off track again. This is about rejection, not this story in particular.

Anyway, I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of these things. Because you know, rejection on its own isn’t good enough. You have to keep a reminder of it! So that you remember it every time you open the file! Because it’s good for you!

I exaggerate. But you know this already, right?

Anyway, I keep track of this stuff because it would be embarrassing to think “You know, I think this story would be a good fit for [insert name of fantastic and prestigious litmag where you read that awesome story last month and it would be a dream come true to get something published there]” and then send it in only to hear back from them with “Uh, yeah, you sent this to us already and we still don’t want it.”

I’m not the only person who worries about that, am I? (Just say, “No, Jeff, of course you’re not.” Just do that for me.)

So my point (See? I have a point! And I’m getting to it!) is that since I keep a spreadsheet, I know that I’ve sent out stories twenty-six times this year and received twenty-five rejections. That’s about one story every two weeks, which is in fact about half as often as I was hoping to submit stories this year, but glass half full! That’s still pretty good.

Why do I bring this up? Well, a writer I know recently got his third rejection notice recently. Third rejection of the year. He was perhaps a bit dejected about that, but my thought was, “You need to send things out more.”

Yes, it’s true that you need to develop a thick skin about submitting your work. That’s because sometimes you will need to submit your work a lot before you get to an acceptance. Sometimes you’re lucky and it happens right away. Sometimes it takes forever and you keep tweaking or wholesale changing the story because you think maybe it’s not quite there yet. Sometimes you might wonder if anyone is ever going to publish a story and you pour yourself another glass of Chardonnay and say “no one gets it I might as well give up and go back to working in marketing because I suck and this is never going to work I suck isuckisuckisuck.” And then someone sends you an e-mail and says they loved your story and want to publish it.

And that’s when you’re glad that you were persistent.

So my Christmas wish is for persistence, and for luck. For me as well as my fellow writers.

Happy holidays!

Meanwhile, over at Dear Teen Me… hey, that's me!

Scan0001Have you heard of Dear Teen Me? It’s a website where authors write letters giving their younger selves the advice they wished they’d had at the time. It even became a book that has letters from more than 70 writers.

If you could talk to your younger self, would you? I’m not sure; the person I’ve become is an accumulation of all the things that I did and didn’t do in the last

This week, they’ve got a post by me up wherein I try to give my 13-year-old self some advice. Yeah, as if I’d listen to anyone when I was 13. Okay, so not much has changed; and your point is?

Anyway, go check it out, if for no other reason than you can see a photo of me when I was 17 in my high school cap and gown—you can see the small version off to the side here, but you’ll have to click through to Dear Teen Me to see the full horror—lordy, do I look ridiculous. (Again, not much has changed.) But! While you’re there you should also take a look at the other letters, which include one by my editor, Greg Herren. I think we’ve both gotten better with age.

Nanowaitaminute, how many words?

So, the goal of Nanowrimo is to write 50,000 words (the equivalent of a short novel) during the month of November. At the moment, though, I couldn’t tell you how many words I’ve written.

That’s because I’m writing this novel longhand, for the most part. I have a vast stockpile of notebooks, notepads, journals, and super-fancy-looking books that have been accumulating for, well, for years. I’m really eager to use some of them, especially this blue one with the brocade fabric cover and the cord closure which was a gift from my mother (whose birthday was last Tuesday—hi, Mom). I have a shelf in the spare bedroom (one of these days I’ll actually have a home office, but I’m not holding my breath) that contains all of the journals and notebooks that I’ve scribbled thoughts and minutiae in over the past twenty-odd years—I don’t think there’s anything from high school in there, but some from my first undergrad experience are in the pile.

The one I’m using right now is similar to the old-school composition books that I used to use in high school. It was given to me by Mimi, a paper vendor I used to work with in my old job BGS (Before Grad School). When I told her what I was going to be doing, she loaded me down with notepads, papers samples, and notebooks so that I wouldn’t have to buy any. Her excitement about my return to higher education rivaled my own; if you’re lucky, you encounter such people in your life.

Anyway, I have a feeling that I’m going to fall short of the 50,000-word threshold for “winning” Nanowrimo, but I’m okay with that. I’m a slow writer. I’m writing anywhere from 3 to 5 pages a day in the notebook, and that’s more than I might have had if I didn’t have this to kick-start me.

The word Smith dba ’Nathan Burgoine

’Nathan BurgoineEnough of tooting my own horn. I’m going to sing someone else’s praises for a while.

I met ’Nathan Smith (who publishes under the name ’Nathan Burgoine) in May of 2009 when Michael and I went to the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. I knew a little about him already at that point, because we’d both just had our first stories published in the same anthology, Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction, from Cleis Press. He wrote a story titled “Heart” that is still one of my favorites from him.

At this point, I should warn you that ’Nathan writes stories that will make you cry. Keep Kleenex® handy when you read him.

We spent a lot of time that weekend hanging out with ’Nathan and his husband Dan, and it kind of felt like we were going through Writing School orientation together: this is how you give a reading, this is you signing your work for the first time, this is your life slowly starting down the track that you’ve had in sight for more years than you can count. For me, it was a relief not to be going through that alone, and to have made a fast friend who could say, “I know exactly what you mean.”

The thing about my circle(s) of friends is how often their members live in farflung cities. If I’m lucky, I get to see some of them once a year. In many cases, years go by before we’re able to catch up in person. The irony, when I started grad school in Vancouver, was that though we were both in the same country (’Nathan lives in Ottawa), I was actually farther away from him and Dan here than I was in St. Louis.

Still, most every year we’ve caught up in New Orleans and talked about writing, living, dogs, cats, and why coffee is so much better than tea. (I’m kidding about that last part; we don’t talk about it, though coffee is obviously superior.)

I’m sure ’Nathan lost track of the number of times people asked him, “When are you going to write a book?” ’Nathan loves short stories; he loves writing them, reading them, telling people to pick up this fantastic anthology he’s been reading, and on and on. He’s got more than two dozen of his own stories in print, perhaps most notably in the recent anthology This Is How You Die, where his story is the lead-off in this sequel to the Machine of Death anthology. He’s so good at writing stories, he doesn’t have to write a novel, and really, I don’t think writers of stories should feel pressured or be expected to think of their work as a springboard to a novel. Stories are wonderful creations in their own right and are, if you ask me, a lot harder in some ways.

That being said, the next time someone asks “When are you going to write a book?” ‘Nathan can say, “Oh, I already did that.”

Light‘s about Kieran, an unlikely superhero. An unlikely gay psychokinetic superhero (and how often do you get to say that?) who can also refract light in spectacular and sometimes blinding ways. He has his hands full with a fundamentalist preacher/prophet who decides to bring his message of hate to Pride Week and things get violent. If that weren’t enough, there’s also Sebastien, who takes a liking to Kieran and who also has Pilot, who might be one of my favorite dogs in fiction. He’s certainly my favorite of the moment.

I can’t wait to read what ‘Nathan comes up with next.

Help! I'm melting!

I let things go quiet on the blog this week, didn’t I? Not without reason; I’ve been writing. And (even though Michael Thomas Ford hates it when I do this) I’m happy to report that I’ve passed the 30,000-word mark on my thesis. Some of them are good words and even in the right order and may make it into the final draft.

No promises though.

So, I’ve been back in St. Louis for two months now, and have one month to go before I return to Vancouver for the final year of my MFA program. While I’ve been home I’ve been working on the aforementioned thesis, which is a novel (but then, if you read this blog with any regularity, you know that, yeah?), and I’ve been doing background reading and research which has involved a day spent working on a farm and touring the evil St. Louis-based GMO corporate citadel. My feelings on them are perhaps best captured by these tortoises.

This photo is actually a bit of a lie. I took it in 2012 when we were in New Orleans. It does, however, accurately convey the full effect of running in St. Louis this past week. Except now I have a full beard. Lies upon lies upon lies… why do you even believe a word I say?

The other thing I’ve been doing back home in St. Louis? Sweating. A lot. Summer in the Midwest is not for wimps. I, unfortunately, am a wimp. And I will go on and on and on about the heat when I’m in it. Dear gods on high, I hate the heat.

But if I’m going to be miserable, I want to at least be entertaining. Hence, this conversation I had with my friend and colleague (and wicked awesome writer) Sierra this week.

Me: It’s hotter than the hinges of hell in St. Louis and every time I go outside I think I’m going to turn into nothing but a puddle of sweat and a few bones.

Sierra: lol, your misery is funny
you shouldn’t make your misery so funny

Me: Hell, someone’s gotta get a laugh out of it!

Sierra: And it’s ME

Me: See? EVERYBODY’S A WINNER! Well, except for me, who’s wilting. BUT! If I stand outside for ten hours straight, I’ll probably sweat so much that I’ll finally hit my goal weight! I’ll also die, but glass half full!

Sierra: OMG, you are CRACKING ME UP

I’m so sorry it’s so hot. Wait, no I’m not. This is too entertaining