12 Winters Blog

Anthology submissions, Joyce quote and other stuff

Posted in September 2013, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on September 22, 2013

Last week Twelve Winters Press began accepting submissions to our anthology [Ex]tinguished & [Ex]tinct:  An Anthology of Things That No Longer [Ex]ist, and the global response has been enthusiastic.  Submissions are pouring in from everywhere (jut this morning we received a submission from the orbiting International Space Station … just kidding, that’d be cool).  Contributing editor John McCarthy has done a great job of getting the word out via various venues, like NewPages and Duotrope, but nevertheless he was anxious that we’d get enough submissions.  I knew his worries were unfounded.  And, according to John, we’ve already received some really terrific pieces.  We plan to take submissions through the end of November.  We’ll see if the pace slackens at all (or increases!).

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading, off and on, Gordon Bowker’s biography of James Joyce (see NYT review), especially the section regarding the release of Ulysses and Joyce’s starting to ponder what would become Finnegans Wake, and I came across a Joyce quote that’s particularly meaningful to me:

A book, in my opinion, should not be planned out beforehand, but as one writes it will form itself, subject, as I say, to the constant emotional promptings of one’s personality. (to Arthur Power)

I like this quote especially because it reflects my own ideas about creative composition (which I’ve discussed before in this blog more than once, and also in the Preface to the new edition of Men of Winter). Also, it fueled my musings about the creative project I’ve been working at for about eighteen months (minus the ten months I devoted to writing my Beowulf book), which is a collection of related stories that I think of as “the village stories.” I wrote three stories (and some other experimental thing) in 2011, and they were picked up pretty quickly (except for the experimental thing).  Since finishing the Beowulf book I’ve written two more stories (homeless to date), and I’ve just started working on another.  Anyway, I’ve been working under the impression that these stories would coalesce into some sort of loosely held together, but held together, narrative.  So far, though, the only thing that ties them together is that they have the same geographical setting, and several characters, or their relatives, appear and reappear from story to story.

So I’ve started considering moving on to another project, conceived of as a novel from the start, that’s been on my mind, in embryonic form, for a few years now.  I think I’ll finish the story I’ve just begun (about five ms. pages into it); then turn my attention to this new novel, which will require some historical research — but that’s right up my alley.

Speaking of Men of Winter, A Revised & Expanded Edition, Twelve Winters Press (a.k.a., me) released the Kindle edition yesterday — Nook to follow in a few days. Other related issues, like copyright and lost royalties, are being hammered out with Amazon and Barnes & Noble as we go.

Also, I heard from Battered Suitcase Press, and they’re planning a November release for my e-novelette Figures in Blue, which TWP will bring it out a print edition by the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014 (possibly a signed, limited edition).  Meanwhile, I’ve decided to hold the release of An Untimely Frost, my new novel, until after January 1.  I’m just not going to be able to get everything pulled together in the way I want it this fall.

tedmorrissey.com

Advertisements

Men of Winter Redux

Posted in August 2013, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on August 11, 2013

My novel Men of Winter originally appeared in 2010, brought out by a new press, but I was never very happy with the end result, and overall my experience with the press was pretty frustrating.  Not surprisingly, the press went out of business last year, leaving my book “out of print,” at least in paperback (the digital versions represent a different tale of woe).  Because of this event, combined with the extreme difficulty of getting challenging work in print, period, I decided to start my own publishing business, Twelve Winters Press, which I founded in 2012.

Men of Winter Front Cover

Twelve Winters Press’s first order of business was to make Men of Winter available again (for one thing, I wanted to use myself as a guinea pig, before approaching others about publishing their work).  However, as long as I was troubling to bring it out again, I decided to release a revised and expanded edition of the novel.  New to this edition are a Preface (written by me), an interview by Beth Gilstrap (an abbreviated version of which originally appeared in Fourth River), an Afterword by Adam Nicholson, and discussion questions designed to make the book better suited for book clubs and classrooms.  In terms of revisions, I’ve made a few wording changes and corrections here and there, but the most obvious revision is the addition of epigraphs at the head of each chapter from either the Iliad or the Odyssey.  For the cover art, Gina Glover generously allowed me to use her pin-hole photograph, Amandine, Usedom, Germany.

Men of Winter, A Revised & Expanded Edition, is currently available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Espresso Book Machine.  It will soon be available from Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and NACSCORP.  Please note that the Kindle and Nook editions are the 2010 version of the novel, of which I haven’t received a royalty payment in more than two years (folks are making money off the book, but I’m not among them).  I’m currently in communication with Amazon and Barnes & Noble regarding the situation and plan to have new digital versions available in the near future.

I’m working on getting my newest novel, An Untimely Frost, ready for publication, projected release this fall.  Meanwhile, I have the good fortune of my talented and enthusiastic Quiddity colleague John McCarthy coming on board as a contributing editor, and John is going to spearhead some special projects so that Twelve Winters is not simply my own self-publishing venture.

Twelve Winters Logo Maximum

Many of you reading this blog, may have read Men of Winter in its earlier incarnation, and I would encourage you to spread the word regarding its re-release.  And if you haven’t read the book … well, your support would be greatly appreciated.  I’m hoping especially to market the novel to book clubs, with whose members I would be honored to join in conversation either in person or via Skype.  So if you have any book-club connections (or aspirations), again, I’d greatly appreciate your spreading the word.

Please visit tedmorrissey.com.

Thoughts on plot for Pharmacy-VLA workshoppers, and more

Posted in June 2012 by Ted Morrissey on June 10, 2012

Throughout this summer my writing compadres — Lisa Higgs, Meagan Cass and Tracy Zeman — and I are leading a series of workshops at The Pharmacy in Springfield, Illinois, co-sponsored by the Vachel Lindsay Association (of which Lisa, Tracy and I are board members, with Lisa being president of the VLA).  We’re having six sessions all together:  introductory and concluding sessions, and alternating in between sessions devoted to fiction and poetry.  Just this past Tuesday, June 5, Meagan and I led the session focused specifically on characterization and plot.  Not surprisingly, two hours was barely enough time to express anything meaningful about characterization, and plot received very short shrift indeed.

So it occurred to me that I should use the private discussion board set up for the workshop at Google Groups to share a few thoughts about plot — or risk being charged with false advertising by the intrepid workshoppers — but I also recognized that it’s been some time since I’ve posted to this blog (due to a plethora of other events and obligations); so I’ve decided to kill the proverbial pair of birds with a single stone.  I’ll jot down some thoughts on plot (followed by a few updates, etc.), and I’ll post this entry’s link to the discussion board.

Here goes, then.  Having taught creative writing for a number of years, and having been a part of innumerable workshopping sessions, either as participant or leader, it seems to me that the most common plot-related problems that inexperienced writers of fiction (and, I suppose, creative nonfiction) encounter have to do with where to begin a story and where to end it.  Certainly there are problems related to conflict and resolution, especially when it comes to plausibility, but those tend to have to be worked out on a case-by-case basis; that is, it’s difficult to offer any general sort of advice regarding how plausibly one has worked out a narrative’s plot and resolution.

When it comes to starting a story, most novice writers begin their tale too far away from the conflict, in terms of narrative temporal distance.  For example, the conflict in a story may be that the protagonist’s prom date and presumed girlfriend, Julia, dumps him (Bobby, short for Robert because no modern American male name sounds much like Romeo) the morning of the big dance (tux rented, limousine scheduled, dinner reservations booked, and beautiful courtship, engagement, marriage, family and retirement in their golden years with Julia obsessively fantasized).  However, the novice writer begins by telling us about Bobby noticing tanned and golden-haired Julia in study hall three months earlier; then we get several pages of (what we would term) his stalking her at cheerleading practice, at the pizza place where she’s a part-time hostess, at church youth group (Bobby miraculously has been born again), etc., etc.

Finally, on page 10 of the manuscript (printed, incidentally, in 9-pt. Calibri with 1.5 line spacing), Julia dumps Bobby via an emotionless text message, coupled with an inexplicable and unceremonious unfriending on Facebook.  In such a story, only the most dedicated of instructors and fellow workshoppers would ever make it to page 10 to experience Bobby’s heartshattering disappointment and profound confusion (perhaps summed up via a scribbled note in the margin of the writer’s manuscript by another workshop participant: “wtf?”).  wtf indeed — heck, I just made all this stuff up, and I’m reasonably curious as to what happened with Julia.

With such a story, my most basic advice to the student would be to begin with the text and the unfriending — the rest of it (who Bobby and Julia are, how they met, how Bobby was so in love that he followed her around, just two steps behind an order of restraint, how Bobby spent his life savings — earned by cleaning the kennels at the local veterinarian clinic [I just made that up too] — on his tuxedo, the limo, the flowers, and so on) should be parceled out to us after this teenage boy’s heart is shattered in the first few lines of the narrative:

Bobby McFarland was overjoyed when his phone alerted him to Julia’s text — she must’ve been as anxious and happy as he, sending him a message before six a.m. the day of Prom, the day he’d been looking forward to since he’d summoned the nerve to ask Julia Gunderson, the prettiest girl on the Wakefield High School varsity cheerleading squad, the girl, he could barely admit to himself, he intended one day to marry, and, impossibly, she had said “yes,” nearly bursting his 17-year-old’s heart with utter happiness. . . .  Still lying in bed, smiling at the thought of his beautiful girl, he pressed the icon to read her text:  i cant go with u 2 prom. sorry 

Even when we think that we’ve begun as close to the conflict as humanly possible, there’s an old workshopping experiment (perhaps invented by Aristotle — I’m kidding) that newer writers are encouraged to perform, and that’s to look at the third paragraph and see if perhaps the story would be stronger if it began there, with the third paragraph; in other words, the writer should try to determine if the first two paragraphs are superfluous fluff best relegated to the cutting-room floor.  Also part of this old experiment is to look at the next-to-last paragraph of the story and see if perhaps it should be the final paragraph; that is, the writer should try to figure out if the current draft’s final paragraph actually weakens the emotional impact of the story.

The reason why the second part of this workshopping experiment is often successful is due to the key word in the sentence above: emotional.  What often happens when we first start writing fiction (and, likely, creative nonfiction) is that we feel duty-bound to conclude the narrative, just as we are taught in school to conclude an essay or report or analysis, and in the act of concluding we explain to the reader what she or he is supposed to have gotten out of the story.  Commonly we knock the reader over the head with the theme we believe we’ve been developing throughout.  When it comes to theme, my best advice — and it took me years to believe in this advice myself — is that theme is the reader’s prerogative.  The writer’s job is to write a compelling story; the reader’s job, should she or he be so inclined, is to judge the story’s theme.

Many years ago I reached a beautiful place as a creative writer:  I don’t care at all about what my writing means.  And the moment I reached that place, the quality of  my writing improved exponentially — and, frankly, it became a lot more fun.  Therefore, the reason the workshopping experiment about the next-to-last paragraph works is because very often the action of the story ends there, and, subsequently, the emotional pitch of the story is wrapped up in the protagonist’s final action (that we’re allowed to see):  Bobby’s picking up Julia to drive her to an LGBT conference, for example (your brain’s already filling in the narrative in between, isn’t it? — brains are wonderful things that way).

To clarify a point, however:  Just because I don’t worry about meaning and therefore try to achieve a particular one, it doesn’t mean that my work is without meaning.  As the master, William H. Gass, said in a 1978 interview:  “You hope that the amount of meaning that you can pack into the book will always be more than you are capable of consciously understanding. . . . You have to trick your medium into doing far better than you, as a conscious and clearheaded person, might manage” (Conversations p. 47).  What is more, in his classic and widely anthologized paper on the literary merit of the monsters in Beowulf, “The Monsters and the Critics,” first presented in 1936, J. R. R. Tolkien said that if the anonymous poet’s theme had been “explicit to him, his poem would certainly have been the worse.”  In sum, then, writers shouldn’t be too concerned or, even, concerned at all about their own theme(s) because thinking about meaning is counterproductive to creating a meaningful piece of work.

That’s it; had we had more time last Tuesday I would’ve said some things like I just said here.

The heading of this entry claims there will be “more,” so let there be.

I have a couple of short stories floating around out there that will be a bit challenging to place — one is highly, highly experimental (“Season of Reaping”), and the other is very, very long (“Figures in Blue”).  Meanwhile, my story “Crowsong for the Stricken” came out in the Noctua Review this past month.  Incidentally, Duotrope’s Digest also recently posted an interview with the journal’s editor-in-chief, Meg Cowen.  Speaking of “Crowsong,” I’ll be reading it this weekend, June 16, in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, at Wirepalooza, a semi-private festival put on by Ft. Wayne Metals, where my brother Mike works (his band, Plastic Deformation, will be performing too).  In addition, my story “Beside Running Waters” is due out soon in Constellations.

The manuscript for my novella and story collection, Weeping with an Ancient God, is finished and in the hands of my publisher, Punkin House.  More about this, I’m sure, at a later date.

tedmorrissey.com

Men of Winter

Pathfinding

Campbell, Smith and Stein — not a law firm but a great National Poetry Month

Posted in April 2012, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on April 22, 2012

April, as everyone knows, is National Poetry Month, and here in Springfield, Illinois, we’ve had a great one.  Among the highlights have been the visits of Bonnie Jo Campbell, Marc Kelly Smith and Kevin Stein. At the risk of doing each an injustice, I’ll mention here their readings in summary. First, though, I’ll point out that while it’s National Poetry Month, I prefer to think of poetry as Aristotle did: as writing that is imaginative and creative in nature — therefore, fiction and creative nonfiction are forms of poetry as well.

It makes perfect sense then that Bonnie Jo Campbell, known mainly as a novelist and short-story writer, kicked off a terrific string of events by delivering the John Holtz Memorial Lecture April 20 at Brookens Auditorium on the campus of University of Illinois, Springfield. (For you purists out there, she did read a couple of her poems as well). In addition to attending her reading and lecture, I had the good fortune of being able to sit in on her craft talk with creative writing students at the university, and also to be among those who accompanied her to dinner before her event. Even though she did deliver the memorial lecture, calling it a lecture is a bit misleading because Campbell was so down-to-earth with her audience, the word lecture isn’t right in terms of mood as it implies a certain amount of stuffiness, and she was anything but stuffy (in fact, she abandoned the podium on the stage to literally come down to the floor of the auditorium so that she could speak more intimately with the audience). Her plain cotton shirt, faded blue jeans and well-worn boots added to her folksy and completely genuine charm. However, if one thinks of lecture as meaning a vehicle by which to deliver insightful wisdom, then lecture is precisely the right word.

In addition to the poetry, Campbell read from her short fiction and from her latest work, the novel Once Upon a River. In between readings, she would discuss various topics, including her writing process (which she describes as hard work), and the joys and perils of publishing. Interestingly, she read the manuscript version of her story “The Solutions to Brian’s Problem” which is notably different from the version included in her collection American Salvage — not because she prefers it, but because she likes the idea that writers, like visual and musical artists, can have multiple perspectives on a single subject.

With Bonnie Jo Campbell after her reading and lecture at Brookens Auditorium, UIS, April 13. Photo by Shannon Pepita O'Brien.

I’ve been to a lot of readings, but Bonnie Jo Campbell’s was truly one of the most engaging that I’ve had the pleasure of attending. My thanks to the university in general (notably the English Department and Brookens Library) but especially to my friend and colleague Meagan Cass, who did the extensive leg work and made sure the copious i’s and t’s were dotted and crossed to bring this extraordinary writer to Springfield.

A week later, on April 20, The Pharmacy hosted an event with the Father of Slam Poetry, Marc Kelly Smith, who had the dual purpose of performing (and I mean performing) his own poetry and also educating the audience as to the origin and tenets of slam poetry (I’ll be the first to admit, I needed an education). Smith was, in a word, fabulous — even though I was the first “victim” he took from his seat for some spontaneous (and totally unanticipated) audience participation, for which I was prevailed upon, among other things, to spit on the floor and imitate a train whistle.

Smith emphasized that slam poetry is rooted in bringing poetry from some sacred altar, where only the well-educated are allowed to espouse it, and return it to the people, whose feelings, ideas and experiences are just as worthy as the tweed-wearing academic Poet’s, and whose appreciation of language is just as great. Smith conducted a competitive slam so that neophytes, like yours truly, could see how one operates — although he underscored that the efforts of the inexperienced newcomer are just as valid as the veteran poet’s, because slam poetry is about inclusion, as opposed to the university brand of poetry that tends to be exclusionary.

Many thanks to the fine folks at The Pharmacy who made Smith’s visit possible, especially Adam Nicholson, who among other things took the lead in advertising the event, and his efforts paid off as The Pharmacy was packed to its plaster-flaking rafters.

Doing some unexpected audience participation with slam poet Marc Kelly Smith at The Pharmacy April 20. Photo by Shannon Pepita O'Brien.

Last but certainly not least was Illinois Poet Laureate Kevin Stein’s reading and presentation at the Vachel Lindsay Home yesterday, April 21. I’ve had the pleasure of attending Stein’s readings on two other occasions so I knew the enjoyment that was in store. As poet laureate, a post he’s held since 2003 (following Gwendolyn Brooks), Stein, like Smith, has been focused on making poetry accessible to everyone, especially children and teenagers. Stein discussed his efforts to encourage students to write poetry, via his Illinois Youth Poetry project, telling stories about some of his experiences working in schools and also reading some of the poems written by young poets. Speaking from the parlor of the historic Vachel Lindsay Home, Stein also read some of his own poetry and from his most recently published essay collection, Poetry’s Afterlife.

Though not a “tech guru” himself, Stein said, he’s been focused on using technology to promote poetry since he first became laureate, encouraged in large part by his own children, who knew that their peers would more readily respond to audio and video of poetry being recited and performed, more so than plain words on a page or computer screen. They apparently were right because data from his website show that visitors are much more likely to watch and listen to poetry than to simply read it as print text; and, moreover, the video and audio with the most hits are also the texts of poems that have the highest number of hits, suggesting that visitors are more likely to read poetry if they’ve first seen or heard the piece recited.

As with the other writer/poet visitations, bringing Kevin Stein to the Vachel Lindsay Home was a group effort, but special thanks go to Home manager Jennie Battles as well as my friend and colleague Lisa Higgs, president of the Vachel Lindsay Association.

Just a personal update (though not that personal): I’m starting to put together some readings and talks for the summer of my own, and so far only have one date on the calendar, June 16 in Ft. Wayne, Indiana (details to follow). My publisher, Punkin House, is planning to have my novella and story collection Weeping with an Ancient God out by the end of summer. I’ve just finished writing a long short story, “Figures in Blue,” and am starting to send it out to meet people; meanwhile, my stories “Crowsong for the Stricken” and “Beside Running Waters” are due out this spring in the Noctua Review (see the cover) and Constellations, respectively. Also, I’ve accepted a contract with Edwin Mellen Press to write a scholarly monograph  (very tentatively working-titled “The Beowulf-poet and His Real Monsters”) on the poem Beowulf, the manuscript of which I hope to have completed by September 1.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly (certainly most fun-ly), my friends Meagan Cass, Lisa Higgs, Tracy Zeman and I are working with Andrew Woolbright and Adam Nicholson to offer a series of fiction and poetry workshops this summer at The Pharmacy, co-sponsored by the Vachel Lindsay Association — much, much more information to follow.

tedmorrissey.com

Men of Winter

Pathfinding

Notes from the Louisville Conference and AWP 2012

Posted in March 2012, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on March 18, 2012

The transition of February into March was exceedingly busy for me as I attended both the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 (Feb. 23-25) and the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Chicago (Feb. 29-March 3). I’ve been a regular attendee and presenter at Louisville the past eight years, but I’ve only attended AWP twice, the other time being Chicago 2004. Hecticness aside, the conferences were well worth the effort, and for this post I’ll record some thoughts and observations about each.

This year’s installment was the fortieth Louisville Conference, and it was typically excellent. I presented a paper on William H. Gass’s novel The Tunnel and how the fallout-shelter phenomenon of the 1950s and ’60s may have affected its writing. The novel, which won the American Book Award in 1996, took Gass nearly thirty years to write, and he published 19 excerpts of The Tunnel in literary journals, commercial periodicals, and as small-press monographs between 1969 and 1988. Given my paper’s focus and the necessary brevity of the presentation, I concentrated my analysis on the two earliest published excerpts: “We Have Not Lived the Right Life” in New American Review (1969) and “Why Windows Are Important to Me” in TriQuarterly (1971). My paper was essentially a companion to a paper I presented at Louisville in 2010 on Gass and nuclear annihilation in general, focusing somewhat on The Tunnel but mainly on his classic short story “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country” (1968).

My paper was part of a prearranged panel for The PsyArt Foundation, organized by Andrew Gordon. My scholarly interests have been associated with literary trauma theory; that is, looking at texts, especially postmodern texts, that may have been significantly influenced by the writer’s traumatized psyche. And I’ve been especially interested in cultural trauma, whereby an entire nation or some other large group of people has experienced the zeitgeist of trauma (e.g., fear of nuclear annihilation). When my interests in literary trauma theory began around 2008, it was not an area that a lot of scholars were exploring; however, the theoretical paradigm seems to be catching on as I was surprised to find that at the 2012 Louisville Conference there were numerous papers involving trauma-theory readings of texts. In fact, in the online program I found 23 panels and papers that contained the word “trauma.” Unfortunately, the Conference doesn’t seem to archive its past programs online, and this link will likely go dead in the near future.

The overall quality of the presentations at Louisville is always excellent, but here are some papers or readings that I found to be especially engaging: The panel on “Modernism & Experimentation” was very thought provoking with presenters Lindsay Welsch (on Forster’s A Passage to India), Elizabeth J. Wellman (on Djuna Barnes), and — especially — Christopher McVey’s paper “Book of Lief, A Comedy of Letters: Finnegans Wake, Historiography, and the Heliotrope.” I also learned a lot from Carolyn A. Durham’s paper “The Spy Novel Parodied: Diane Johnson’s Lulu in Marrakech.” In a panel that I chaired, there were two exceptional papers on films: Patrick Herald’s “I Have Lost Something: Fantasy in American Beauty” and William Welty’s “‘That Rug Really Tied the Room Together’: Why The Dude Is a Lacanian.”

In the creative panel that I was part of, reading “Crowsong for the Stricken,” I had the pleasure of hearing Don Peteroy’s entertaining short story “Too Much Anthropology” and the spellbinding poetry of Cecilia Woloch.

In mentioning these few, I have omitted countless excellent others, but in the interest of everyone’s attention span I’ll move on to some words about AWP 2012. I’d never attended a conference that had literally sold out, but AWP in Chicago did, as there were more than 9,000 participants this year. Besides presentations and readings, one of the most notable aspects of the annual conference is its bookfair, where hundreds of presses (especially small and university presses) and literary journals display the fruits of their labors (of love). I attended AWP as part of the “Q crew” (as I call us), the editors, readers and interns of Quiddity international literary journal and public-radio program, housed on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield, Illinois. Frankly, I enjoy hanging out at the Quiddity table and telling passers-by about the journal and radio program, but I also attended some very interesting panels and readings.

Among the interesting panels that I attended were “The Fiction Chapbook — A Sleeper Form Wakes Up” (by Nicole Louise Reid, Eric Lorberer, Diane Goettel, Keven Sampsell, and Abigail Beckel) about how the chapbook, known mostly as a format for poetry, could become an excellent way to get short fiction into the hands of readers; and “The Science of Stories: What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Making Narratives” (by Jack Wang, Andrew Elfenbein, Tim Horvath, Austin Bennett, and Livia Blackburne) about how and why readers respond to various aspects of storytelling.

I also attended an excellent reception/reading hosted by Ruminate Magazine, Rock & Sling, and WordFarm. Then following that reception was one of the historic moments of the conference, a reading by U.K. and U.S. Poets Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Philip Levine — I mean, how often does one get to hear a national poet laureate, period, leave be the current U.K. and U.S. poets on the same stage?

My double conference extravaganza was a bit taxing, but both were well worth the time and effort. Just a couple of other quick notes regarding my own writing and publishing: My story “Primitive Scent” appeared in the fall 2011 issue of the Tulane Review. Also, on the day I was to read “Crowsong for the Stricken” at the Louisville Conference I received an email that it will appear in this spring’s edition of Noctua Review. Moreover, just before leaving for AWP I had an email that Constellations will be publishing “Beside Running Waters” in its forthcoming issue. And finally, I’ve heard that the issue of Pisgah Review with my story “The Composure of Death” is out. (The Pisgah website is a bit behind and still featuring the winter 2010 issue.)

The publisher of Men of Winter, Punkin House, plans to bring out my novella and story collection Weeping with an Ancient God. Originally it was slated for spring 2012, but there’s been no movement on it, so that time frame is probably not very realistic. If interested (or even if not), see my website tedmorrissey.com for updates regarding its publication and other news.

Reflections on Best of the Net

Posted in February 2012, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on February 5, 2012

The last several weeks have been so busy that time for blogging was all but nonexistent. There was syllabus writing, and preparing my presentation on William H. Gass’s The Tunnel for the fast-approaching Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, and — most time-consuming, but also most interesting, of all — was reading fiction for the Best of the Net 2011 anthology, published by Sundress Publications.

Sundress was founded and is managed by Erin Elizabeth Smith (whom I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing her read her own poetry in the fall), but it was my friend and colleague Meagan Cass who invited me to read fiction nominations for Best of the Net, which strives to publish the best poetry, fiction and nonfiction that appeared originally in online journals. Journal editors must nominate the work (unless it was self-published, in which case the author may submit the piece). See Sundress’s submissions page for full guidelines.

Meagan had lined up several readers for fiction, so I was in a group that was assigned just under seventy short stories to read; in other words, I read about half of the total fiction submissions — so the observations I’m about to share are based solely on that half; perhaps the other half would have suggested different impressions altogether (though I suspect not). According to the email to readers that organized the reading, this was the largest number of nominations Best of the Net had received, a sign, it seems clear, that the anthology is catching on and more and more editors are aware of it and appreciate its mission to give kudos to work published online, as opposed to that which first appeared in print publications.

Strictly online publications (though many do their own “best of” print editions on, say, an annual basis) are gaining legitimacy to be sure. The Modern Language Association, for example, has been establishing criteria for online publication of scholarly work to assist in the tenure-granting process as more and more academics have been turning to peer-reviewed online and e-outlets. (See the MLA’s “The Future of Scholarly Publishing.”)

There remains a certain prestige to being published in traditional print, especially if by a long-established journal (this is true for both academic and creative writers), but I do believe electronic publication is catching up — thanks to a complex web (ha) of factors, including projects like Best of the Net that call attention to the excellent writing which is appearing in online venues.

It was an honor to be asked to read for Sundress’s project, and I knew it would be an educational experience. As a writer (especially as a creative writer) I’m very much interested in trends in electronic publication, and I had certain questions going into my reading that I hoped the experience would help me answer — and I believe it has. First and foremost I was curious about this legitimacy issue; that is, I wanted to know how online-published work seemed to stack up against work appearing in more traditional, and established, journals. I wondered about the writers themselves: Would they primarily be first-timers in terms of publication, or ones who had only published in obscure and eclectic online sites?

And I wondered about the journals and their editors and designers. I’m hardly a babe in the woods when it comes to my exploring and reading online publications (in fact, I like to think of myself as something of an expert, or as much of an expert as one can be in a field that literally changes by the minute); however, I knew the project would introduce me to journals I’d never encountered, in spite of my regular trolling of Duotrope’s Digest, NewPages.com, and the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses’ member directory. I wondered where these journals were originating (from a university English department or from somebody’s basement or from somebody’s smartphone while sipping a latte at Starbucks). I wondered who their editors were, and I wondered what sorts of designs and formats were being used (and how reader friendly they were).

I’m about to get to my observations, I promise, but I should probably point out that I’ve been reading literary journal submissions for years, going back to my undergrad days at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale reading and editing the English Department’s Grassroots journal, but much more recently I published/edited my own chapbook-style journal, A Summer’s Reading, from 1997 to 2004, and since 2007 I’ve been editing then simply reading for Quiddity international literary journal and public-radio program.

So let’s just say I’ve supped deeply from the slush pile.

I suppose I thought reading for Best of the Net would be a lot like slush-pile reading in that I would discover early on in a given piece that I wasn’t smelling what its author was cooking, but this wasn’t the case at all. I said earlier that it was time-consuming, and that’s because I found I really needed to read just about every piece to the final mark of punctuation to try to decide yea or nay, and even then it was often a difficult decision. We fiction readers had been charged with finding only about twelve to fifteen “yeses” (in other words, we had to say “no” to around fifty-five in our own batch). I discovered that the writing was overall very, very good; and, for me, it was often the end of the story that moved my metaphorical thumb up or down — which I suppose isn’t surprising seeing that as a writer and teacher I know how difficult endings can be (much more challenging than writing an effective beginning).

The process was also time-consuming because by and large the submissions were full-length stories. Reading online, it’s difficult to gauge lengths as one might when reading from paper, but in my group there were only a handful that I’d call flash fiction or even a short short, and a roughly equal number were in the neighborhood of 10,000 words (which in paper manuscript would be about forty pages). As an editor and publisher of print journals, I’ve been frustrated by space limitations and have had to say “no” to many a worthy offering because there simply wasn’t room for it in the journal; and, as a writer, I’ve been curious why more journal editors didn’t take advantage of the infinity of cyberspace by publishing longer pieces (to be read by whom I’m not precisely sure — but that’s a whole different issue).

In terms of form, I’d say that in contrast to the cutting-edge nature of online publishing, the stories themselves tended to be very traditional. Again, I’d say only a half dozen or so of my seventy-ish were what I’d term experimental in narrative structure or style. I suppose since writers tend to write in a way that would be publishable by either print or online journals, the web editors receive pieces that have also been sent to their print counterparts. And even the story-writers who did play with form did so in a way that would translate to paper-print in essentially the same manner. (Here I am, I should acknowledge, writing quite specifically for the web, and yet I’m composing almost exactly as I did thirty-five years ago when writing a sports story for the Galesburg Register-Mail newspaper, so it seems the medium itself has not greatly affected how we write and process text, regardless of whether we are a forty-something or a twenty-something.)

Thus it’s fair to say that I was surprised by both the consistently high quality of the nominated pieces and also by their consistent ties to their print forebears. Perhaps online editors had published numerous highly experimental pieces but chose to nominate their more traditional ones. My sense, however, from both my Best of the Net reading and my usual snooping about online journals, is that the vast, vast majority of what’s being published on the web would be equally suited to traditional print.

As far as the writers themselves go, I only scanned bios after I’d read the piece and made my yea/nay decision, but I found quite a mix, just as one does in a print publication. There were writers who had not published before and ones who had only published in barely-on-the-radar venues, but there were also many, many writers who had impressive lists of credits and awards. Also just like their traditional brethren, the editors of these online journals tend to be academically trained and, often, affiliated; they are writers and poets themselves, with their own publishing credits and accolades; many are MFAs and PhDs, or are candidates, respectively.

I found that many of the journal sites were attractive and very readable, but at the same time there were those whose designers didn’t appear to believe that people would actually be attempting to read what they were publishing — with tiny, highly compressed text that seemed to say “Go ahead, just try to read me … I dare ya!” Reader fatigue was a problem I often struggled with, and I tried not to let it affect my judgment of the individual story. I should say that editors tended to nominate pieces in two forms, both in text documents and with links to their publications; I generally toggled back and forth to determine which would be easier on my eyes (even if I opted for the text document, I was curious about the journal itself and would poke around a bit).

Here are just a few journals I encountered due to my BOTN reading that I was especially impressed with in terms of design and, in some cases, general mood or aesthetic philosophy, but it is hardly an exhaustive list: Juked, Cha, Serving House Journal, Fiction Weekly, Ghost Ocean Magazine, and Up the Staircase Quarterly.

The bottom line is that there’s a lot of excellent work being published in online venues, thanks to the loving labor of a lot of dedicated editors and web designers, and as a consequence web-based publication, at least in the creative arts, is quickly achieving the prestige which had been granted exclusively to traditional print journals.

So kudos to these writers and editors; and to presses like Sundress that are dedicated to recognizing online excellence.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding: a blog dedicated to helping new writers find outlets for their work

The Pharmacy has quickly become a site of literary energy

Posted in December 2011 by Ted Morrissey on December 18, 2011

The Pharmacy art studio, located at the corner of Pasfield and South Grand in Springfield, Illinois, has quickly established itself as not only a site of visual artistic energy but literary artistic energy as well. In addition to hosting readings, often in conjunction with University of Illinois at Springfield’s creative writing program — in recent months poets Stephen Frech and E. E. Smith, and UIS’s undergraduate and graduate creative writers — The Pharmacy has hosted and/or organized writing workshops and open-mic events. Spearheaded by Andrew Woolbright and Adam Nicholson, The Pharmacy Literati have already had a profound impact on promoting and producing literature in Springfield. And all this, of course, is in addition to The Pharmacy’s primary mission to promote visual artists.

Most recently, The Pharmacy hosted novelist (among many other things) A. D. Carson, who read from his novel Cold. I’ve italicized “read” because it was really more of a performance than a simple reading, including wrap, slam poetry, and often accompanied by recorded musical tracks, composed and in large part performed by A. D. In fact, Cold has companion CDs and MP3s (see A. D.’s Amazon page). A. D.’s multifaceted reading was emblematic of The Pharmacy itself in that it’s a creative space which places no boundaries on imagination, regardless of form or content. Art, some completed, some in progress, adorns the walls and various nooks; here, there and everywhere are the various implements and supplies for making art, plus manual and power tools, food stuff, a hodgepodge of furniture, and, of course, books, books, books … on shelves, on tables, on couches. In addition to the artwork, the walls are also home to graffitied quotes.

In sum, The Pharmacy is wonderfully, beautifully messy — it’s sort of like the bedroom of a hypercreative teenager. In other words, it’s like the mind, both conscious and unconscious, of the true artist — whether an artist of images, of words, of sounds: they all come to The Pharmacy to play, and incredible things happen. If you’re creative and/or crave the fruits of creativity, you have to find The Pharmacy in Springfield. (I suspect the name “The Pharmacy” was chosen largely because the old building was indeed a pharmacy, but the founders chose wisely in that it has once again become a place of healing [spiritual and soulful], and the name further suggests the mind-opening and mind-altering effects of certain kinds of pharmacology [some legal, some not].)

I mentioned the readings done by UIS’s student creative writers, and I should add that they were quite good and made for a most enjoyable evening, especially when combined with macaroni and cheese lovingly prepared by the students’ teacher, Meagan Cass. Meagan recently received the good — and much-deserved — news that her story “Girlhunt, Spring 1999” was nominated by Devil’s Lake for a Pushcart Prize. Treat yourself right, and take a few minutes to read “Girlhunt, Spring 1999.”

On my own writing front, since completing the manuscript of my novel “An Untimely Frost” back in June, I’ve been writing a series of loosely connected short stories (four thus far), and one, “Primitive Scent,” was picked up by The Tulane Review, while another, “Crowsong for the Stricken,” was accepted for presentation at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 this coming February. I’ll also be presenting a paper on William H. Gass’s novel The Tunnel at the conference as part of the PsyArt panel. In other news, my publisher, Punkin House, has added Barnes & Noble to its sellers, along with Amazon, and as such a Nook version of Men of Winter is now available. Punkin House’s CEO Amy Ferrell has also informed me that an audio-book edition is in the works.

Meanwhile, the article I was invited to write for Glimmer Train Press’s Writers Ask series has come out in #54: “Researching the Rhythms of Voice.” I wrote about using the collected letters of Washington Irving to assist in capturing the narrative voice I wanted for “An Untimely Frost,” whose first-person protagonist is Washington Irving-esque. Also, the interview with me that Beth Gilstrap wrote for The Fourth River has come out, thanks in no small part to the journal’s fiction editor Robert Yune. Beth talked to me about both Men of Winter and Weeping with an Ancient God, a novella that Punkin House will bring out in 2012, paired with a collection of twelve previously published stories.

I’m at work on a fifth short story, though not of the same fictional ilk as the previous four, but I also need to get my Gass paper shipshape for the Louisville conference. Once those two projects are completed, I’ll turn my writing attention in full to the next novel I have in mind, a work that will be connected with “Primitive Scent” and “Crowsong for the Stricken.” So many tales to tell, so little time … but hopefully enough.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

Vachel Lindsay Association and upcoming Pharmacy showing

Posted in November 2011 by Ted Morrissey on November 6, 2011

It’s been such a busy fall in the local literary and art community, here in Springfield, Illinois, that it’s been a challenge to find time to blog about it (much to everyone’s disappointment, I know). I’ll only hit a few of the recent and upcoming highlights.

Last week was particularly bustling with Halloween-related doings. Last Thursday, Oct. 27, was the Midwest Gothic Costume Ball on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield. I donned a get-up in honor of Herman Melville, and in spite of the well-worn copy of Moby-Dick protruding from my coat pocket, and my “Hello. My Name Is ‘Herman'” sticker, most folks needed a little assistance to connect the dots. That’s all right. I was joined by fellow authors Edgar Allen Poe and Hunter S. Thompson (complete with manual typewriter and verbatim suicide note — talk about commitment to a role), among a host of other costumed revelers.

Held in historic and haunted Brinkerhoff Home, the highlight of the ball, for me, was a discussion and reading by Jodee Stanley, editor of Ninth Letter literary journal, who is co-editing, along with Brian Kornell, an anthology of Midwest Gothic literature (in other words, creepy stories set in the Midwest). Her talk was fascinating, and her selected readings appropriately creepy. Check out Jodee and Brian’s website. The Costume Ball was hosted by Quiddity international literary journal and public-radio program, which also released its new edition, 4.2, featuring the paintings of my favorite local artist Felicia Olin.

Then the following evening, Meagan Cass, of the University of Illinois at Springfield, organized the first annual Horror Reading, held at Cafe Andiamo in downtown Springfield. Attendees could read from their favorite horror stories or their own original prose and poetry. It was well attended by UIS faculty, graduate students, and a host of others.

Meanwhile, Springfield Poets and Writers, Prairie Art Alliance, and Sangamon Watercolor Society have been quite active, including some joint ventures. There’s been too much afoot to even adequately summarize here, but check out their various websites, especially for upcoming events.

Last night I proudly joined the board of the Vachel Lindsay Association, which is devoted to maintaining the poet’s family home and promoting the work of one of the twentieth century’s most influential poets. The Association’s meeting and dinner was held at Maldaner’s, a historic restaurant in downtown Springfield; and the featured speaker was Louisa Lindsay-Sprouse, the poet’s granddaughter. Louisa gave a spirited, informative and entertaining talk on her grandfather’s influence growing up, though she never knew him as he took his own life in 1931.

I was asked to join the Vachel Lindsay board by my friends and colleagues Lisa Higgs, who became board president last night, and Tracy Zeman, also a board member. Lisa and Tracy are exceptional poets in their own right.

I fear I may be burying my lead, but I’m looking forward to the upcoming showing by artists of The Pharmacy, which will be this Friday, November 11, at the wharehouse, 1022 S. Pasfield Street in Springfield, just a couple of blocks north of The Pharmacy. In addition to being an artists colony, The Pharmacy has been very active in promoting creative writing as well, hosting workshops and readings.

In terms of my own writing, I continue to tinker with stories set in a bizarre Midwestern town — though I believe they’re clamoring to be a novel, and they’ve pretty much talked me into it. I have a paper on William H. Gass that I need to write for the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, so I’ll get to that shortly, and when it’s done, I’ll turn my full attention to this bizarre Midwestern town … thing … project (yes project sounds better). Somewhat in preparation for the paper, I read Gass’s book-length essay On Being Blue, though mainly my paper will focus on the author’s long and dense novel The Tunnel.

One last note, I received a text message from my publisher, Amy Ferrell of Punkin House, that my novel Men of Winter is going to be released, eventually, as an audio book (Nook and Kindle versions were recently made available).

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

Hearst Center reading, and a busy literary October

Posted in October 2011 by Ted Morrissey on October 2, 2011

I’ve just recently returned from Cedar Falls, Iowa, where I had the honor of reading for Final Thursday Press‘s series at the Hearst Center for the Arts. Jim O’Loughlin, the publisher (and editor and just about everything else) of FTP, organized the reading; and I was originally put in contact with Jim via Jeremy Schraffenberger, whom I’ve known for a number of years thanks to our mutual involvement in the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. The Hearst Center, which is the former home of poet James Hearst, is a wonderful venue, with its art gallery and performance stage, among other features; and there was a sizable and attentive crowd that came out for the reading. I read a slightly edited and pared down version of the fifth chapter of Men of Winter.

Toss in some great conversation along with terrific pizza and Iowa’s own Millstream beer (plus the late-September beauty of northern Iowa foliage), and it was a memorable trip to be sure.

Speaking of Men of Winter, my publisher, Amy Ferrell of Punkin House, has been hard at work for the last several months reorganizing the press and expanding the house’s markets; as a consequence, my novel is available once again via Amazon, with the added bonus of a Kindle version, plus it’s now available through Barnes & Noble, including a Nook version.  Punkin House will be bringing out my novella and story collection Weeping with an Ancient God in 2012.

While I’m on the topic of my writing (fascinating as it is), I’ll mention that I’ve been circulating the manuscript of my novel An Untimely Frost, which I finished over the summer; and I’ve been working in earnest on a conceptual story collection, of which I have two stories out and about, hopefully making friends, and I’ve been writing a third (highly experimental) story. Right now I’m envisioning a collection of thirteen interrelated tales, but obviously we’re still a long way from home.

I stated in the title of this post that it’ll be a busy literary October in Springfield, Illinois, and indeed it will. Here’s a quick overview of a few of the upcoming events:

Monday, October 3: Poet Stephen Frech will be reading at The Pharmacy at 6:30.

Thursday, October 13: Poet Erin Elizabeth Smith will be reading at The Pharmacy at 7:00.

Thursday, October 27: Quiddity lit journal’s Midwestern Gothic Costume Ball, featuring Jodee Stanley, editor of Ninth Letter. Festivities will begin at 7:00 in the historic (and haunted) Brinkerhoff Home on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield.

Friday, October 28: A horror reading by Meagan Cass, of the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Creative Writing Program, at Andiamo Cafe, 6:00.

October  in general and Halloween in particular have been more or less my favorite time of year for-,well, ever; and this 2011 installment sounds like it’s going to be a hoot. (I’m a big fan of winter, too, but it’s always diminished by Christmas and New Year’s — however, not so the fall.)

Before closing I want to add that I’ve been attending some terrific showings sponsored by Prairie Art Alliance. Check out their events and exhibits page to see what’s on the horizon (that’s a landscape reference … get it?).

One last thing (because apparently people have been concerned): I did, at long last, finish reading War and Peace. I enjoyed the seven months of my reading life that I devoted to the infamous classic, but I must say Tolstoy’s longish treatise on historical theory was not the most emotionally satisfying way to conclude the (roughly) 1,200-page novel — though I understand what Tolstoy was up to, and as an experimentalist myself I appreciate that he was experimenting with genre and form. Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you. One of the first things I did after finishing War and Peace: read a wonderful novella by Denis JohnsonTrain Dreams — finished it in only two glorious sittings.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding

Returning to The Tunnel, and the Final Thursday reading

Posted in September 2011 by Ted Morrissey on September 11, 2011

For nearly a year now I’ve been devoting myself to my creative writing, putting my scholarly interests on hold, but I’ll be scratching that itch to some degree by presenting a paper with the PsyArt panel next February at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. I plan on presenting a paper titled “William H. Gass’s ‘Very Long Winter’: The Cultural Trauma of the Fallout Shelter Frenzy as Expressed in The Tunnel” — which will deal with ideas and images of enclosure in Gass’s award-winning novel, nearly thirty years in the writing. Consequently, this fall I’ll get back to some Gass reading, in addition to research on the fallout shelter phenomenon in the United States, especially in the 1960s, the decade in which Gass began writing The Tunnel, for which he won the American Book Award in 1996.

This paper will be a companion to a paper I presented in 2010 at the University of Louisville’s conference on the Atom Bomb’s influence on Gass’s work, with that paper focusing chiefly on his classic short story “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country.” I thought of submitting this fallout shelter paper for last year’s conference, but I knew I’d be in the throes of writing my novel, An Untimely Frost, and wouldn’t want to derail that line of thought to write the Gass piece. By the way, I was invited to participate in the panel by Andrew Gordon, who’s on the editorial board of PsyArt: An Online Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts.

It will be the fortieth anniversary of the Louisville Conference, and as such there are several special events planned — so it should be even more fun and rewarding to attend than usual. I’ve also submitted a creative piece to the conference, my short story “Crowsong for the Stricken,” but it’ll be awhile before I hear if it’s been accepted.

Speaking of “Crowsong,” I read the story to an enthusiastic (and indulgent) group at Athens (Illinois) Municipal Library August 28. I was there ostensibly to talk about researching and writing Men of Winter, but concluded by reading some new work. I appreciated the fact that a couple of my Quiddity and writing cohorts, Pamm Collebrusco and Meagan Cass, took the trouble to attend the talk and to add their experience and expertise to the conversation. Pamm is an associate editor for Quiddity (and one of the best proofreaders/copy editors I’ve had the privilege of working with), and Meagan has just begun teaching creative writing at the University of Illinois at Springfield (she’s a gifted fiction writer whose work I admire very much).

I’m currently working on a story that is a companion to “Crowsong for the Stricken” (and another recently written story, “Primitive Scent”); I’m thinking more and more that I want to write a collection of these weird stories which are conceptually connected. On the one hand, this current piece is really putting up a fight, but, on the other, I’m experimenting liberally (wildly) with narrative technique … so, anyway, we’ll have to see what comes of it all.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be headed to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to give a reading for the Final Thursday Reading Series, organized by the University of Northern Iowa’s Jim O’Loughlin and Final Thursday Press. The reading will be September 29 at the Hearst Center for the Arts. It begins with an open mic at 7:15; then I’ll do my thing at 8. It should be a good time, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

I don’t have any readings or talks planned for October (currently), but it should be a great month for literature and art here in Springfield, Illinois — I’m trusting those two facts are not related. Poet Stephen Frech will be in town October 3 and give a reading at The Pharmacy at 6:30. Then October 13 poet Erin Elizabeth Smith will also give a reading at The Pharmacy at 7:00. (The Pharmacy, by the way, is a new addition to Springfield — so new I’ve only recently learned of it and have not yet darkened its door with my presence … soon, very soon.) What is more, Quiddity is planning a unique literary event for October 27 — intriguing details to follow.

The Prairie Art Alliance continues to organize a series of terrific events. I attended “Abstractions: A Collection of Member Work” last week; and “Paper Works” is coming up October 7. See their events page for complete details.

I can’t stop writing without plugging one of my favorite local events, less than a week away: the Route 66 Film Festival, September 16-18, featuring 62 films in three days. Download the festival’s program schedule.

That’s about all I have time and patience to talk about for now (anyone reading this is probably feeling the same way), but I’ll be back at it again, I trust, before long.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding