Wherefore art thou, Juliet

Today we bring you an awesome interview with the editor of my first two books, Juliet Ulman.  Okay, so “we” don’t bring it to you, Jeff Vandermeer does, over at Amazon.com’s blog, Omnivoracious.  Here’s a connecting pass to it.  And if you like reading Juliet’s really smart and insightful perspective on editing, publishing, and the future of publishing, you can hop over to Jeff V’s personal blog, where there is some more Ulman love going on, including a little ditty from moi.

Susan and Me

My friend Kelly Bancroft has a video essay up at Time.com today.  “Susan and Me” is about my beloved Susan Boyle (who, in her last performance, was not as beguiling as her first) and Kelly’s connections to her as a singer from a post-industrial town where your talents may or may not go undiscovered.  It’s awesome, and not just cause I love Kelly and Susan.  Go watch it by clicking here.

Writing a novel

I am writing a novel.  I’ve written one other novel, and a novel-in-stories.  They both took me a decent amount of time to write, but for some reason in my memory I can’t remember how difficult it was to write them.  I think this must be something akin to what I’ve heard from some of my women friends who have had babies.  After you’ve given birth, slowly but surely, you forget how painful it was, and soon enough you find yourself pregnant again, and it’s only while pregnant that you remember all of the discomfort and then of course the, well, labor.  The work that goes into bringing something into being.

It’s obviously an overused metaphor for the creative act, but I find it apt; and the more books I make, the more it feels resonant, particularly the part about labor and discomfort.  When I’m writing a book, I tend to get spacey.  I’m thinking about the book even when I’m having a conversation with someone.  I forget to eat meals.  I have to leave notes for myself to remind me to go to the gym, to buy groceries, return a library book, pay bills.  My talking-to-myself periods go on the rise.  No, I’m not singing a song in my car when you pull up beside me and see my mouth moving through the window.  I’m probably enacting a bit of dialogue between two or more characters and trying to see if it sounds right when said aloud.

My life, when writing a novel, tends to be lived half here, in this world, and half there, in the world of the story I’m writing.  It may sound interesting or romantic to some, but it’s really a sort of annoyance, to me at least.  Life is lived much easier when one can focus, when there is not a pull for attention between so many varying people, real and imagined.  But beyond all that, I’ve found, in writing this third novel, just how much you really do learn how to write a novel all over again with each new book.  They all have their own rules, their own characters and plots, their own magical essence.  And you can only try to respectfully figure out how to tell them as they must be told.  I know this isn’t how every, or maybe even a lot of, writers think of making a story, but it’s the way it feels, as a process of creation, to me.  

I started the book I’m working on during the summer of 2004, then moved to Japan, where I promptly put it away to begin the book I published this past year.  When I came home two years later, finished with the book I wrote in Japan, I wrote a few short stories, then turned back to look at the beginning of this novel.  It was a strange experience, seeing the beginning of this book with new eyes after a couple of years in Japan (the same way it felt coming back to Ohio, after a couple of years of elsewhere).  But I quickly got interested in it again, and started writing forward in it.  And have been ever since. Granted, there have been periods in the past few years since I took it up again where I worked on other things (revisions of first and second book, pre-publication, for instance, as well as writing the occasional story), but I kept coming back to this new book after any of those projects were brought to completion.

But the going back and forth between projects has definitely stretched out my writing process with this book, as well as provided me with plentiful insights into my writing as I’m doing it in this way that has given me periods of pause to come back to the book and continually see it almost with a bit more distance than I usually have when creating a first draft.  

But it’s also been frustrating, wanting to sink down into the story for days on end, rather than working on it in carefully collected hours and minutes.  And it’s made the feeling of labor sometimes a bit more conscious than I’ve felt at other times.  Probably because it’s taking longer.

In any case, I’m over the 80k mark and well on my way into the last third of the book, which is a good feeling.  And already full of ideas for revision to earlier chapters, so I think the transition from finished first draft to rewrite and revision will go smoothly when that time comes.

It’s been a trickier book for me to figure out, too, as I gave myself some new things to figure out how to do in a book, and they’ve definitely presented me with challenges.  I know that as soon as I finish it, I’ll fondly remember writing it, because it will be over, but right now I want to take the opportunity to leave myself this little message, in which I can perhaps remind a future me that, if he should decide to write yet another book after this one, don’t expect it to be a totally painless experience.

And if I choose to do it again with that in mind, well, bon voyage, future me.

Familiar Strangers

Over at Bookspot Cenral, Jay Tomio has reposted an essayistic thing, “Notes Towards a Sort of Supreme Fiction”, which I wrote a very. long. time. ago.  In my mid-twenties.  Reading over it again is like reading the work of a familiar stranger.  It also makes me feel just a little bit old. 🙂

Here’s Jay’s intro to the piece:

More bringing back vintage pieces from names you know now! I dug up some files from the Ratbastards! Today, Chris Barzak is one of the great young writers we have, with novels like One for Sorrow and The Love We Share Without Knowing (one of my best of 2008). The former won the Crawford award for Best Debut Novel.

Back then, however, we had a young man writing essays with titles like Notes Towards a Sort of Supreme Fiction. With his permission, it is this piece that BookSpot Central now represents. We’d like to thank Mr. Barzak for allowing us to do so . . .

You can read the whole thing by clicking here.

I should probably also mention that One for Sorrow has made the preliminary 2008 Nebula Awards ballot.  It’s a list with some amazing writers on it.  I’m honored to be included in their company.

On Reading

I spent today on a date with my laptop that lasted hours and hours, ranging from the home writing room, living room, bedroom, to the coffee shop and a restaurant downtown, then back again.  Reading stories for Interfictions 2.0 is what I’ve been doing, really.  It’s a really pleasurable yet difficult task.  There are all these stories, so many of them, and so many good ones, great ones, brilliant ones, and so many charming ones, which isn’t always a descriptor for the good, great, brilliant ones–charming is a quality that stands alone.  It indicates magic above and beyond technical ability and sturdy wordcraft, a vision or spell that wipes out the world around you for the length of its enchantment, from sentence one to the last word…and then beyond that, even, into the white space outside the page that we return to after reading, the world sketching itself back in around us, determined to be the predominant dream in our lives, the master narrative, us its bedazzled slaves.  

This is what the sort of story I’m always looking for does–don’t think of it as an editor but as a reader, anytime, anywhere–the story or poem or play or film or song that creates its own reality for a period of time, establishes its own rules and regulations, yet somehow tells me things about the world it’s taken me away from for a while, then returns me to it, either roughed up a bit or gently.

The more you consistently read in such great quantities, though, the harder it is to be caught in a story’s spell.  You learn the tricks and see the hands moving…this is also one of the signs of a story that gets its spell off and holds its reader:  you never see what’s coming, the trick retains its secrecy and mystery, it remains magical despite your best explanations.

YSU-Ytown Reading Series

Just a brief announcement that I, along with my assistant Mona Lisi (yes, it’s her real name, and it’s awesome, isn’t it?), have been doing the work to start promoting awareness of a new YSU-Ytown Reading Series, a new monthly event (during the college school year) I’ve created to bridge university activities with the community that hosts the university.  Here’s a look at the who/what/where/when/why of the series.  I hope if you’re in the region, you’ll help spread the word on your own blogs, Facebooks, Myspace sites, or by any other means.  Word of mouth is always good.  But more importantly, I hope to see you at our first event, which will feature Cleveland author Catherynne Valente on October 6th.  And our second reader, David Giffels, from Akron, will be coming in November to read from his memoir, All the Way Home, published by HarperCollins (read this awesome article in the New York Times about him and his new book!). Read ahead to get all the pertinent info, and please friend us on Myspace and Facebook.

Welcome to the new YSU-Ytown Reading Series. Held at 7PM at Cedars Cafe in Downtown Youngstown on the first Monday of the month (September through December and February through April), we will be bringing you authors from the Youngstown/Cleveland/Pittsburgh corridor as well as the rest of the nation (and the world on occasion) hopefully for a long time to come.

And on top of that, after each featured reader, the mic will be open for our local poets and writers to share their words as well. But to do that, we need an audience to make it happen, meaning YOU.

So please check out the blog entries at this site to find out more about our upcoming readers, and pass the word around about this new community series to anyone you think might be interested in listening to and meeting authors, as well as interested in bringing their own words into awareness in our town, Ytown.

As Bukowski wrote, “a poem is a city” Not to mention short stories, novels and memoirs.  Bring your city and make it part of ours.

Our first reader will be Catherynne M. Valente, on October 6th at 7 PM.

Born in the Pacific Northwest in 1979, Catherynne M. Valente is the author of the Orphan’s Tales series, as well as The Labyrinth, Yume no Hon: The Book of Dreams, The Grass-Cutting Sword, and four books of poetry, Music of a Proto-Suicide, Apocrypha, The Descent of Inanna, and Oracles. She is the winner of the Tiptree Award, the Mythopoeic Award, the Rhysling Award, and the Million Writers Award. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Spectrum Award. She currently lives in Cleveland with her partner and two dogs.

This is going to be a great new reading series complete with open mic after the featured reader so we hope to see you all there. Come show your support for local writers, and bring your own work to share!

The second reader has been announced! The reading and open mic will be held the first Monday, November 3rd, at 7:00, Cedars Restaurant and Lounge in downtown Youngstown.

Former Beavis and Butt-Head writer David Giffels is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal and the author of All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-down House, a memoir about coming of age as a father in a ramshackle mansion reclaimed from termites, belligerent squirrels and decades of neglect. The book will be published May 27, 2008.

He is the co-author of two other books: the rock biography Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! (SAF Publishing, 2003), and Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron, a 1998 history of his hometown that is the best-selling title in University of Akron Press history.

His essays appear in The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Indiana University Press, 2006) and The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier (Random House, 2004), and he received a “Notable Essay” citation in Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004. He has written the introduction to a West Point Market cookbook, to be published by the University of Akron Press this fall. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times Magazine.

He is a contributing commentator and essayist on National Public Radio station WKSU in Kent, Ohio. In a 16-year career, he has won dozens of journalism awards, including the 2006 national award for commentary from the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors. He has been nominated five times for the Pulitzer Prize.

Giffels has bachelor’s degrees in English and mass media and a master’s degree in English/creative writing from the University of Akron. He writes in the former servant’s quarters of a semi-rehabilitated Tudor Revival home in Akron, where he lives with his wife, two children, and a large but uncounted number of bats.

Where the Wild Things Are

Just a couple of weeks ago, when the semester started, I was taking roll in one of my classes, trying to get to know students’ names, and came across a young woman with the last name of Sendak.  “Like the writer,” I said, to which she replied, “Huh?”

“You know,” I said, “the writer, Maurice Sendak?”

Blank stare.

Where the Wild Things Are?” I said.

“Oh!  Oh, yeah, that guy,” she said, and I let it drop after that.

Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are was one of my favorite books as a child.  I admired many of his others as a kid, too, but that was always my favorite.  To put on that wolf suit like Max does and venture into the world of fabulous monsters–oh, what I would have given to be able to do that in real life, not just in my imagination.  But I did get to do it through Max, as close as anyone could have brought me to that experience of magic as a child.  Sometimes, when someone asks me, “Who’s your favorite writer?” I’ll reply, “Maurice Sendak,” because he was my first.  Second is Dr. Seuss, whose stories opened up the possibilities and play of language for me.  But Sendak is first.

I’ve never written a children’s book, but it’s on my list of Dreams to Make Happen in Life, and my only hope is that, when I do write one, I’ll be able to make one that will transport children by mere words and pictures alone to another world, the way Sendak was able to do for me.

Today, reading the New York Times, I came across this article about him celebrating his eightieth birthday, and the very difficult past year he’s spent since the loss of his partner, and indeed the difficult life he has led.  Discovering the dreariness and darkness in his past, and indeed in his present, has made me admire his writing even more.  It takes a beautiful mind to make light in this often dark world, and he’s done that, whether he’s aware of it or not, and despite his feeling that he has yet to make something that will rouse a great passion in some reader one day.

Writing and publishing update

It seems like ages since I gave a writing (or publishing?) report, but here it is. In August my short story “The 24 Hour Brother” will appear in the new issue of Bantam Spectra Pulse. At the end of November, my second novel, The Love We Share Without Knowing will be released by Bantam Books (very excited, very anxious, very everything, as usual, about the release of a new book). In December, a short story called “A Thousand Tails” (also a section of the second novel) will appear in Firebirds Soaring, a YA anthology edited by Sharyn November. And today, I found out that my novelette “The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter” (set in Warren, Ohio, for local readers) will appear in the October/November 2009 issue of Asimov’s. This is the first time I’ve sold a short story to Asimov’s, and I’m really happy and excited to see a story of mine appear there.

More later as it happens.