Tuesday, June 16, 2020

On Reviewing Light bulbs, Novels, and Other Ways Word Travels

The reviewing of books is a strange endeavor. Most any writing-related magazine is nearly always accepting book reviews; many even offer books to be reviewed. For example, I've noticed that Necessary Fiction has had Hezada! available for review since winter 2019, and has yet to be picked up while more books are added to the free inventory. Publishers give away print and/or electronic copies of books to anyone who asks for a copy to review. 

Whole publications or newspaper sections dedicate themselves to the book review, whether that's Kirkus Reviews or the Book Review sections of Chicago Tribune or New York Times. With the ever-increasing population of self-published books, marketers encourage those writers to pay for reviews, which is not the custom but shows the important link between reviews and purchasing. 

Some presses encourage their writers to review books as a way to increase the odds that their own book is reviewed. A kind of Review Exchange.

In thinking generally about reviews, I've realized that I'm far more prone to review a box of light bulbs I've ordered than a book I've loved. 

Black Skin, White Masks

For example, I recently finished reading Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks, which I found to be excellent. Excellent. It's the sort of book that justifies living in the time you're waiting for a good book to appear. Much of my worldview has been altered by reading the book, and I've started connecting many of Fanon's ideas to my experiences and other readings. I know I'll read the book multiple more times, in addition to many of the books that Fanon references that I've yet to explore. I mean, it's a foundational book. He explores colonized and colonizer's thinking and the way in which colonization leads to a shared cultural viewpoint through the lens of the colonizer. He grew up in Martinique and discusses the black man's consciousness, identity, and being and how it is not allowed to exist/or function normally within the neurotic society that holds the white man's consciousness as not only superior but also as the end-all-be-all. I mean, there's SO SO much more to the book than this; a summary is like trying to contain an ocean inside a pebble. 

I was never assigned to read Black Skin, White Masks during the six years of studying literature at the undergrad and graduate levels. But why not? It was published in the 1950s, so all my professors would have known about it. It's the sort of book that I should have been assigned to read multiple times--I had to read Great Gatsby at least three times: in high-school, undergrad, and grad school. Not that Fitzgerald and Fanon are equivalent in their focus or depth, but I mean, Fanon is by far a more important writer to read, study, and know. No question.  

But have I reviewed Black Skin, White Masks on Amazon? 
No.
On Goodreads?
No.
Until this moment, had I taken the time to write about it here?
No.
Did it even occur to me?
I think in passing, and in passing, I thought, Fanon? How could someone review Fanon for Christ's sake? I mean. It's akin to reviewing Aristotle. Who does that? 
But the book was all that I've said and far more, so shouldn't I review it so that it appears on other readers' book-radar? 
Yes.

And yet, I had no difficulty or hesitation in reviewing the string lights I bought for my child's Halloween costume. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

String lights

Or the package of comfortable underwear: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
An umbrella that looks like an owl: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The clay earrings off Etsy that arrived yesterday ⭐⭐⭐⭐  

Sun/moon earrings: 
https://www.etsy.com/listing/664017436/

And the vintage teapot that is on its way? No doubt if it was as described, arrives in a timely manner, and boils water: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 

But why do I have an easier time reviewing a assorted box of Clif bars ⭐⭐⭐⭐ than Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts? (Yes, you should read it and thereby shift your worldview on cis/trans/straight/gay relationships and cultural expectations/past/present/future--amid perfect, right and poetic language). 

I've no idea. Certainly, The Argonauts is more sustaining, surprising, and useful to my life than eight Clif Bars. Even the cover is better than the Clif Bar packaging.

Perhaps objects are easier because we buy them to solve a particular problem and, in the purchase, hope that the object does not break. 

I'll think more on this.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson


If you've read Hezada! I Miss You or any book recently that you think other readers should try, then please do. 

Here are some good questions that you could answer, and if you answer the questions, you have a review! Even one answer = a fast, useful review.
  1. What was your experience like in reading the book?
  2. Did you find yourself a slightly (or more) different person by the end?
  3. What other books or movies do you think this book compares to and why?
  4. Will you read this book again and/or will you think back to this book?
  5. What was your favorite part (or a direct passage) from the book and why?
  6. Did the book set out to answer/address/meditate on a particular problem/subject/thought, and in the end did it do what it set out to do?
  7. If you are a reader of reviews, did you find the book to meet the expectations the reviews promised, or did it exceed those, or did you think there were 1-2 aspects of the book that were not covered and/or were undersung that you'd like to address now?
Remember: 
  • Nothing fancy required. 
  • A one-sentence review is better than no review. 
  • Even one word is awesome (if you can find that perfect word). 
Most all readers likely know where to leave reviews, but here are a few easy places:
😄 Goodreads 
📚 Amazon 
😄 Your personal Facebook page (or other social media--even a picture of the cover by your coffee is a kind of review)

And if you're just not one to review anything, whether that's light bulbs, music albums, or novels, then no worries. I grew up watching my mother send and receive books from her mother and brother and sister. Once one family member finished the book, the book was wrapped in brown paper and mailed to the next family member on the address loop. 

Send Hezada! through the post office

🎁  Give your copy of Hezada! to a relative or friend. You can ask on Facebook who would like you to gift you a copy. Or maybe you take part in those Buy Nothing groups. Offer it up there.
🕮  Ask your librarian to purchase Hezada! for your library;
🏠  Donate your copy of Hezada! to the Little Free Library in your neighborhood;
📬  Mail your copy to a faraway friend; Lord knows this is the best time to support the United States Post Office.

Whatever length of review you leave, for whatever book you leave it, use the time and space for the books you found worth reading and that you think others will, too. At least, those are the books I want to read. After all, books aren't light bulbs. 

Except for the best ones. 

And those never go out.

💓  

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Homesickness, Rural Spaces, and why I love Wendell Berry's Writing

Wendell Berry at his writing desk
From Look and See documentary (press kit)
Of course, I'd heard of Wendell Berry in the way a name seems familiar. I knew he wrote poetry. That was it. Then, a year or two ago, I watched the documentary Look and See when it was on Netflix and learned not only about Berry, but also why the farming town I grew up in was the way it was. Finally, I was given the larger context of the relationship between agribusiness and the family farm. It felt great to understand finally why my childhood was a landscape of fields marked by abandoned farmhouses, sun-rotted barns, and a small handful--if that--of family names who owned the land where, clearly, there was evidence of many more farmers who had once lived there.

In not knowing Wendell Berry's work, I had not known how much of a key he would be not only to unlocking the missing puzzle pieces required for real insight into the decline of rural town populations, but also for unlocking all that I've needed to find beautiful the wild landscapes I once biked through, walked through, lived among and now miss with deep heartsickness--and those trails I walk now.

During the pandemic while our city has been sheltering in place, I've found myself drawn to old comforts. Long walks by myself. Eating doughnuts. Reading. And I've been reading mainly Wendell Berry. I'd bought The Peace of Wild Things a while ago, seems like, but picked it up now. And I experienced it like I experienced Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, in that it felt so familiar--so right--that I tried to slow down the reading to make it last. Though, with Berry, it would be difficult to read any of his work fast. I think that's one of the reasons I find his poetry so comforting. There's no rush. None. No rush to move through the poem, and no shove into the next poem. There is only the silence and open air of thought left. To read the poem again is the only decision the poem seems to ask of the reader--and even that feels without requirement.

To read a poem by Berry is, for me, to live fully inside it, and at its end, live within the space created by the poem.

A nest, perhaps.

Here. A few weeks ago, I purchased a field guide for my son and I to learn the wildflowers and plants we encounter on our walks. I didn't grow up in the Northwest, so everything about its landscape lacks a relationship to my knowledge--I don't see a plant and have any childhood memory connected to it, much less any knowledge of its name, habits, etc. Even after a day of using the field guide, every time I see lupine, I think lupine. When I see grape hyacinth, I think not lupine--grape hyacinth, and I think of my friend Crystal who gave me the right word on a recent walk.

Now that I've read Berry's poems, though only a selection, I can feel a change in my experience of walking down by the river, in how I see the trees around our house, and how I think of home. Berry's poems are a kind of field guide to thinking not only about the natural world, but also urban spaces, which I've felt more and more separated from. More short-tempered about the sound of traffic on a busy street that runs by our house. More irritable about not knowing any of the people I encounter in the grocery store. More confused about why we have created these spaces chocked full of so many houses and roofs and powerlines and things that interrupt every thought, that demand our attention but provide little return.

This winter, our favorite neighbors across the street moved across town. We don't really know the other neighbors. I'm working on building those relationships now, but I couldn't match names to more than two faces. But our favorite neighbors were wonderful. We talked to them regularly, waved, smiled, exchanged small gifts--from cookies to blackberries from our backyard. They came to our son's ballet recitals. Like the best neighbors, ever. When they put their house up for sale, we were definitely full of feelings about their departure. And while I didn't assume that the next people to live across the street would be fast friends, I still had some hope. Maybe it would be a family with a child or two near our son's age. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But while the house sold within the day it was posted for sale, no neighbors moved in that month. Or the next month. Or the next month. From time to time a fancy black car would park across the street, but that was it as far as activity.

Then, we learned that the people who bought the house would never live there--no, they had bought it to become solely an Air BnB.

At least with a Bed and Breakfast, there would be the person or people who lived in the house whether there were guests or not.

But an Air BnB.

I've been bothered ever since I learned about it. But it wasn't until I finished The Peace of Wild Things and bought one of Wendell Berry's newer books, a collection of essays and other writing, The Art of Loading Brush, that I started to understand why I was so bothered by having good neighbors replaced by now-and-then strangers.

One thing Berry talks about in The Art of Loading Brush is how difficult, if not impossible, it is to start a farm these days. One of the reasons is that urban people are purchasing farmland for second homes at prices that are far above the cost of what a farm could return. The land's divided up, and sold as lots, so then you have the trouble of starting a farm with enough continuous acreage.
By increasing the wealth of urban investors and shoppers for "country places," it increases the price of farmland, making it impossible especially for small farmers, or would-be farmers, to compete on the land market. The free market lays down the rule: Good land for investors and escapists, poor land or none for farmers. Young people wishing to farm are crowded to the economic margins and to the poorest land, or to no land at all. Meanwhile overproduction of farm commodities always implies overuse and abuse of the land. (40)
He goes on to talk about the movement away from subsistence farming and toward commercial farming, and how commercial farming/big farming--with its reliance on economic supply and demand--leads to a way of thinking about the land that leads to its demise, basically:
In a natural ecosystem, even on a conservatively managed farm, the fertility cycle may turn from life to death to life again to no foreseeable limit. By opposing to this cycle the delusion of a limitlessness exclusively economic and industrial, the supposedly free market overthrows the limits of nature and land, thus imposing a mortal danger upon the land's capacity to produce. (41) 
This got me to thinking about urban zoning, and how different parts of a city will be designated for retail use or single-family homes, etc. And then, maybe it all came together when I was pulling weeds out front, and the stranger staying in the AirBnb that evening waved at me on his way to his truck. I waved back. Sure, a nice exchange, but I felt kind of like a person playing the role of neighbor. An actor-neighbor. Here to create the verisimilitude of neighbor in order to contribute to the AirBnb experience promised by the house's online ad.

I felt gross.
A kind of meta-neighbor.

When we lived in Texas, we lived in a house across the street from city housing, and so every duplex in the small lot had revolving doors of neighbors. Moving trucks came and went. Cars packed with boxes did too. Trucks from stores often visited to repossess refrigerators, couches, TVs. We watched the neighbors watch the men roll their belongings into a truck and drive away.

But even with ever-changing neighbors, there was still a longer time of having a neighbor before the pattern changed, one that feels different than the sense I'm getting off this AirBnb across the street.

I'm sure I'll get used to it. What pattern of life does a creature not eventually acclimate to, whether that's abuse or wealth or pandemic sheltering-in-place?

It seems, though, when whole houses are bought to be hotels in residential neighborhoods, that the hotel owner has made a decision for the whole neighborhood--has monetized the neighborhood and changed our agreement to living here. I know that the people who purchased the house are in real estate, that they paid quite a bit above the selling price of the house. In doing so, the surrounding houses have become more valuable, right? Which means higher taxes. Which means. And means. Of course, we couldn't afford our house were we to buy it on the market today. I suppose, in some respects, that someone would say that's a good problem to have. I don't know.

Maybe it's just that I've never lived in a city undergoing gentrification, and this is just part of the experience. Even in Texas, our town--caught between Austin and San Antonio--had not reached the levels of gentrification it is at now, ten years since living there. So we missed it. And now, to return to that city, is to miss the one we knew since it looks so different with its eight and ten-floor apartment buildings, its chain restaurants in places that had once been empty or used furniture stores, its new coffee shops that look so different than the one we used to write at every day.

I read somewhere that the neighborhoods where gay women live are often the first to raise in price and displace those same women.  I think about this. There are three queer/lesbian couples within two blocks. I think about this.

I know it's worse a few miles away where a whole swath of land between the river and one of the lowest-income neighborhoods has been developed into townhouses and an urban-chic retail space. There's even a clear dividing line between the affluent new neighborhood and the neighborhood that's existed far, far longer--I call it the Oz line, where you could stand in the street and one side is the green-green turf of the townhouse yards and on the other side, sits the dirt-showing, yellowing yards with their chain-link fences and houses with tired paint. Yards that sound dreary only because of the illusion of grass across the street.

As a kid, when I went to sleep-away camp, I never experienced the stomach-hurting homesickness that a few others would have. And this was supposed to be, or I interpreted this as, a sign of my strength, a kind of resilience in the face of loss. Or something positive.

But recently, I've begun having that feeling in my stomach, or what I assume to be that feeling. Of missing home. I miss thunderstorms with the steady rain going through the night. I miss quiet roads flanked by fields, even if those fields hold long-empty houses. I miss seeing the faces of neighbors and knowing their names, knowing who is the mother of who, whose children's faces match the faces of children I grew up with--to see the face of an old classmate peering out of her children's faces and to know, immediately, whose smile is running beneath that mouth. I see it on Facebook, but I miss being there. I do not miss being known by those who see me. That has always felt like the suffocating part of living in a small town. But more and more, I think I'd trade that for the sound of a train whose tracks I cross daily, for roads I know better than the back of my mother's hand.

Maybe nostalgia is what adults call homesickness. I don't know.

This is my trying to tell you why, right now, Wendell Berry's writing feels so vital to me. Why my throat has been lumping up. Why every day, I hurry to the river and its trees and lack of houses. Why I've started reading the village council meeting notes from Oblong, Illinois from 1978 and finding solace in the minutes.

I don't know if you'll love Wendell Berry as I do. You see, there might need to be something in you that already misses the land, misses what-was, knows what can't-be, and in that need is the voice of Wendell Berry saying, Yes, of course. Yes, but think of this. Yes, and this is what I was thinking the other day.

And it's a voice I'm glad for hearing.

The Plan (Wendell Berry, from The Peace of Wild Things)
My old friend, the owner
of a new boat, stops by
to ask me to fish with him,

and I say I will - both of us
knowing that we may never
get around to it, it may be

years before we're both
idle again on the same day.
But we make a plan, anyhow,

in honor of friendship
and the fine spring weather
and the new boat

and our sudden thought
of the water shining
under the morning fog.


Wendell Berry and daughter
From Look and See documentary (press kit)

🕮

Hezada! I Miss You in Publisher's Weekly

Two affectionate women reading in a field, used under CC license
Looking for books to read during your quiet time, your pandemic time, your restless night hours?

Hezada! I Miss You, my newest book and novel set in the rural Midwest, recently made an appearance in Publisher's Weekly. The article's writer included it in a list of fifteen books to add to your reading list. So, that's good news.

Read "15 New and Forthcoming Indie Press Gems" here: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/83013-15-new-and-forthcoming-indie-press-gems.html

Purchase Hezada! and all your reading through your local store by using IndieBound.org.

🐘

Thursday, April 16, 2020

In April: Sharma Shields and Erin Pringle talk Hezada! I Miss You

A new article about Hezada! I Miss You, from its beginnings to its connection to my own love and grief, is out in the April 2020 issue of Spokane Coeur d'Alene Living. Thanks to writer and friend, Sharma Shields, for taking the time both to read the book, blurb it, and now invite me to speak about it in her column.


The article is on page 30.

Screenshot of the article by Sharma Shields:
"World Remade: Erin Pringle's New Novel, Hezada! I Miss You"

Please note that if you read this when we are still sheltering-in-place that there are only two ways to purchase the book, as the distributor is not shipping to bookstores right now:

  1.  There are several copies on the shelves at Fact and Fiction Books, and Mara who runs the Missoula bookstore continues to send mail. I fully endorse this method of purchasing the novel. https://www.factandfictionbooks.com/book/9780997193886
  2. From Awst, the publisher. Wendy holds a small inventory of copies to use for trade shows, book festivals, etc., and continues to visit the post office. https://awst-press.com/shop/hezada 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Pandemic Reading: Hezada! in your mailbox

Hezada! I Miss You (cover design by L.K. James)
Hi Readers,

I just received word from a friend across the ocean that his Amazon order for Hezada! I Miss You was cancelled. There are a number of possible reasons (pandemic/essential/supply chains/etc.).

As such, if you'd like to order a copy of Hezada! I have some copies and live close to a post office. If you've found yourself in a similar situation, message me through my website, and we'll arrange the details. I'm happy to send a book your way, including over oceans, and to sign it (or not sign it, if you'd rather not).

If you're in the states, and your local bookstore continues to fill online orders, please purchase Hezada! through your bookstore's website or IndieBound.org (https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780997193886). I've been ordering my reading this way, and have since broken my Amazon addiction.

And, of course, you can always order the book from my publisher, Awst Press, as they always have a few copies on hand for local events, promotion, etc.: https://awst-press.com/shop/hezada

Cheers!
Erin


Friday, April 3, 2020

Fiction Friday: Losing, I Think in Whistling Shade Magazine

Photo by Kurt Bauschardt, used under CC license
For the next however many Fridays, I thought I'd run a small series in which I share stories of mine that are still available and free to read online. 

This week, the story is "Losing, I Think," which I wrote in 2002 or 2003 as an undergrad at Indiana State University. I guess this would mean it's part of my juvenalia. 

In 2005, the story appeared in Whistling Shade, a literary journal out of St. Paul, MN. The story appears in my first book, The Floating Order (Two Ravens Press, 2009).  

Thankfully, Whistling Shade is one of few magazines from my early writing career that are still alive and continue to share writing with its community of readers. It's also one of the few paying markets my work found place in.

Support Whistling Shade simply by reading and sharing it with your friends; start reading at http://www.whistlingshade.com/. There's simply nothing to lose.



🕮

Hezada! I Miss You on The Writer's Block Radio Show of L.A. Talk Radio

The Writer's Block Radio Show via L.A. Talk Radio

The Writer's Block is a weekly interview show broadcast by L.A. Talk Radio. Hosted by Jim Christina and Bobbi Jean Bell, the show features a different author every week, no matter the genre--from poetry to western novels to story collections to circus novels like mine.


I first met Jim and Bobbi Jean when I discovered the show during my book tour for The Whole World at Once. Due to the show's popularity, they were booking a year out, but booked me they did, and I joined them in March 2018; I felt an immediate bond as we talked. So much so that last night, I happily returned to discuss Hezada! I Miss You

When the show came to its natural end, I wanted to extend our conversation past the run time--for hadn't we just begun? An hour is not so much when spent with kindred spirits.

Highlights: the laughter, the discussion of overwriting in order to under-write, their giving me the space to speak about why I felt driven to write this book, despite its psychological toll. 

So much thanks to Jim and Bobbi Jean for taking the time to read my work and caring about it and how we talk about it. I appreciate you both so much, and look forward to the time we meet again. 

Listen to our discussions (click title link)



Jim Christina
Bobbi Jean Bell

Listen to The Writer's Block every Thursday, no matter what time zone you live in. And, of course, you can listen to the recordings at any time: https://www.latalkradio.com/content/writers-block

🕮

Friday, March 27, 2020

Fiction Friday: Looker at The Adirondack Review

Fiction Friday 

Photo by Renée Johnson, used under CC license/Flickr
For the next however many Fridays, I thought I'd run a small series in which I share stories of mine that are still available and free to read online.

Let's kick off the story with one of my favorites, "Looker" which was originally published at The Adirondack Review and remains available for reading.

I originally wrote "Looker" in 2003 while attending the MFA program at Texas State University. "Looker" would later appear in my first collection, The Floating Order (Two Ravens Press, 2009). While the book itself has gone out of print, at least some of the stories still breathe online.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Free PDF of The Whole World at Once: Stories by Erin Pringle

In early March, AWP was scheduled to run in San Antonio, Texas. AWP is an annual conference where about 12,000 writers, presses, editors, and instructors come together and share new writing, writing ideas, teaching ideas, and new books by small presses. Every year, AWP is set in a different city. This year, San Antonio was undergoing the emergency of the corona virus and while AWP still marched on, about half as many people participated as usual--if that.

The publisher of my second collection, The Whole World at Once, decided to stay home but offered a free PDF of the book to others who opted out of AWP. 

As the pandemic expands its reach and those ordered to shelter-at-home, that offer still stands; while I don't think that a story a day will keep the Coronavirus at bay, I do find myself drawn to reading articles about the crisis, and that it isn't contributing positively to my attention span, mental health, or clarity about the world. Perhaps you find yourself in a similar position. If so, maybe a free PDF of strangely beautiful stories would serve you in your solitude, whether you're isolated at home or continuing to work due to economic pressures beyond your control. 
Either way of reading is appropriate. 

The Whole World at Once (2017, West Virginia UP/Vandalia Press)

About: Set within a backdrop of small towns and hard-working communities in middle America, The Whole World at Once is a collection of intense stories about the experience of loss.

From Kirkus Reviews“Readers willing to immerse themselves in sorrow, and sometimes in narratives that twist and shimmer before taking definite shape, will find reflected in these stories the unsteady path of coming back to life—or not—after loss.”

From The Wall Street JournalYou can feel that Ms. Pringle has labored over her sentences, giving them the strength of tempered steel. She has a knack for the cinematic image as well.

From Journal Gazette and Times Courier"People who grew up in rural areas will feel an eerie sense of stories they've grown up hearing or stories they've lived, a sense that this could happen or has happened here, and yet the pervasive thread of grief opens these stories up to anyone."

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

"An enchanting and absorbing novel": Laura Long on Hezada! I Miss You

"Graceful storytelling and poetic clarity make Hezada! I Miss You an enchanting and absorbing novel. I thought about these characters long after I finished the book. The lightness of touch belies the fact that Erin Pringle is a wise and fearless writer." 
--Laura Long, author of Out of Peel Tree

Laura Long

🐘

Writers in Fairy Tales

I am trying to remember a fairy tale in which a stranger who affects a character's life positively is present in the story yet remains a stranger to the main character. In Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack meets the stranger with the magic beans. There's the story of the two sisters who meet an elderly woman at a well who punishes one's selfishness by causing toads and worms and dirt to fall from her mouth every time she speaks or blesses the other's generosity and kindness by causing jewels and flowers to fall from her speaking mouth. But each sister interacts with the woman before receiving the curse or miracle. In Great Expectations, the benevolent stranger becomes known.

Here is why this is on my mind. 

The publication story of my last book, The Whole World at Once, begins not when I sent in the query and sample chapter into Vandalia Press/West Virginia University Press, but when, a year later, the editor contacted me about the manuscript, having discovered it in the slush pile. The slush pile is a place where unread manuscripts go to disappear, similar to lost socks or the one sock of a pair you don't know what to do with but keep, just in case.

Once my manuscript was pulled out, there were more required steps between then and the contract for publication. As the press is an academic press, even its fiction department participates in a kind of peer review and board discussion before the book's fully taken on. 

In this way, the manuscript of The Whole World at Once was sent to two writers already published by the press. Only the fiction editor knew I was the book's writer, and the names of the writers she sent the book to. One of the writers, I would later learn, was a person named Laura Long. She voted for the book and provided a page, maybe two, of feedback regarding the stories that I might take into consideration during revision. Later, once the board voted to publish, Long would go on to provide a blurb for the book. This is what she wrote about it: “A strikingly original collection. This book is poetic, yet has a deep sense of storytelling.”

Had she voted against the book, its journey at the press would have ended right there. It would have not even returned to the slush pile, but to the place where lost socks go.

Though it has been almost three years since The Whole World at Once was published, I still know very little about Laura Long. We are Facebook friends now, because I imagine contemporary fairy tales require at least a social-media form of kinship, but even then, the alogrithms rarely bring us together. I think she has a cat. At one time, she was asking about revision. 

You'd think I'd keep my fairy godmothers closer. 

Then again, the roles that people first play in my life have always been difficult to shift. My piano teacher, Mrs. England will always be my piano teacher, and I'd never imagine calling her Sue. The same with Noyes. I think of him first as my professor, and it always surprises me when I hear someone refer to him casually as Tom. 

In this way, Laura Long is my fairy godmother and so must be kept at the distance one reserves for such a person. 

But when it came time for Hezada! to be sent to writers who might find the book worth reading and sharing words about, I did what Cinderella might have done if she'd noticed a pattern between her behavior and her fairy godmother's appearance: I asked Laura Long if she would consider reading the book, and began to wait, sweeping my worries aside, until she replied that yes, she would.

Perhaps as a reader, you knew she would say yes.
But isn't there always the moment in a fairy tale when a person asks too much of the giver? When the genie decides to curse the beggar, or the magic fish returns the fisherman and his wife to their hovel. It is, perhaps, the moment at which the giver realizes that the beggar is taking advantage--and that what was benevolence has been turned into an expectation, a breach of the power contract. When the giving becomes a task, a job, an obligation. The transformation of need into desire.

So, when I received Laura Long's word that yes, she would read Hezada!, I felt relief.

One day, I may meet Laura Long. I might sit across from her at a table in a coffee shop, somewhere near a writer's conference that has lured us both from our opposite sides of the country. Or perhaps, and better, I'll find myself in West Virginia again, having once driven through it on my return from my tour with The Floating Order, and I'll maybe try to meet up with her, and maybe she'll say, Come over, and maybe, in the way I remember my piano teacher inviting me to sit by her kitchen window and watch the birds visit their birdhouses, we'll sit together, in the way fairy godmothers and their godchildren must do.

🕮  

Monday, March 23, 2020

Two Erins talk about Hezada! I Miss You on Must Read Fiction

At the book-release party for Hezada! I Miss You, I met Erin Popelka. She'd read about the party thanks to Spokane Arts bringing attention to the book and event. Then, this Erin Popelka came to the reading event at Boots Bakery. Soon after, we met up in the Terrain work-space, and she interviewed me for her author interview series, Must Read Fiction.

Get this. Not only is her name Erin, but she's also from the Midwest. Naturally, we will soon be very good friends. And if you can't tell, her energy is contagious. 

You can view the interview here. To enjoy more interviews from Must Read Fiction, follow on Facebook or subscribe to the YouTube Channel. If you found the interview absolutely delightful, be sure to let her know.





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Sunday, March 22, 2020

"An honest portrayal of people's lives in clear, poetic prose": A Person in Montreal Reads, then Reviews Hezada

"The writing is graceful, elegant, inviting and absorbing. Pringle’s writing style invites you into the book and keeps you there, even as it tears your soul to shreds. At some point towards the end I was scared that the novel would leave me emotionally devastated, but I was left instead with a peaceful sense of closure. It’s like I went through grief but I emerged out of it feeling strong and peaceful. It’s a bizarre feeling. It’s a beautiful feeling." 
-- GoodReads Review by LiteratureSloth 

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The other day, Phoebe from Awst texted me a new review of Hezada!, which someone left as a hiker might hide a beautiful rock on a grassy, tree-lined trail for someone else to find. And as the one who discovers it, I have turned this rock over and over in my hands until it's become quite polished by my mind. I thought I might leave it here now, for you. 

xo

Link to GoodReads reviewhttps://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3213757834


[Should your screen reader not work with the above image, please see the text from the image, below]

Hezada! I Miss You
by Erin Pringle (Goodreads Author)
58412731
LiteratureSloth's reviewMar 17, 2020
it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, lgbt-queer

I read this book in 4 days. I’ve thought of nothing but this book for 4 days. I’m still thinking about this book. I wish I could forget it right away so that I can reread it and experience everything I did while reading it again.

This novel is unique in many ways. I’ve read many fiction and non-fiction books about suicide, and this book treats the topic like no other. It’s rare to find the perspective of suicide survivors in a novel, when most others talk about the suicide victims.

The writing is graceful, elegant, inviting and absorbing. Pringle’s writing style invites you into the book and keeps you there, even as it tears your soul to shreds. At some point towards the end I was scared that the novel would leave me emotionally devastated, but I was left instead with a peaceful sense of closure. It’s like I went through grief but I emerged out of it feeling strong and peaceful. It’s a bizarre feeling. It’s a beautiful feeling.

I’ve read other novels about small-town America, but this portrayal of the Midwest was so nuanced, so honest. It depicted the terrible things people do to each other, while reminding the readers of why they do them — because of how difficult and devastating their life is. Not excusing them. Not judging anyone. Just an honest portrayal of people’s lives in clear, poetic prose.

This book will stay with me for a long time. It is so rare to have this experience while reading. Thank you to Erin Pringle for writing it, and to Awst Press for publishing it. I’m glad I came across it and I would recommend it to everyone.

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If your library is closed due to community health concerns, please consider purchasing Hezada! I Miss You from the following locations (these locations ship books to your home and need even more support during this time):

Sunday, March 15, 2020

"It's haunting. It's lovely." The Austin Chronicle Reviews Hezada! I Miss You

"It's haunting. It's lovely. It's an utterly painful and beautiful look at how life passes. Exploring the consequences of a suicide from those intimately involved to those on the sidelines, Pringle's unflinching view sets a summer circus as a backdrop for everything lost when life is gone."
Cat McCarrey on Hezada! I Miss You, The Austin Chronicle

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Delaying Home: Book Reading Changes due to Corona Virus

I've delayed my trip to Illinois until August in order to support community health. I'll now be at the Casey Township Library on August 29th. I hope to see you there. The sunshine will be nice, too. 

🥰 Revised Event Details: https://www.facebook.com/events/490311008241209/
🥰 Please see other calendar changes at http://www.erinpringle.com/p/events.html
🥰 To read Hezada! I Miss You before I get there, purchase from publisher website: https://awst-press.com/shop/hezada

Casey Library

Thursday, March 5, 2020

"Erin Pringle will leave you dazzled": Noyes on Hezada! I Miss You, and Why We Called Him Noyes

"With the cool-minded skill of a funambulist, the foolhardy courage of a human cannonball, and the secretive, poignant wisdom of a melancholy clown, Erin Pringle will leave you dazzled and bleary-eyed with Hezada! I Miss You. Your lesser half will want to keep this book to yourself. Your better half will want to share its wonders with the world." 
—Tom Noyes, author of Come by Here: A Novella and Stories
Tom Noyes

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We Called Him Noyes

I've known Noyes as long as I've been working on Hezada! A little longer. I only know this because the last time I saw him in person, about six years ago with a baby strapped to my chest, I told him I was working on a circus novel. He said, Erin, you've been working on the circus novel since Indiana State University. 

So, it's only because of Noyes that I have a timeline for the book. 

I call him Noyes because he was my creative writing professor. Well, I never took a workshop with him because, at the time, I had another creative writing professor named Howard, and Howard's feelings were hurt if any of his students took workshops with the new professor. So, I respected that, but then Noyes brought with him a short fiction class--one that was maybe required for the Creative Writing Minor. My best friend Alexa and I took it.

Yes, that Alexa. That best friend. The one who is always dead in the stories I tell of her, but this is a story of when she was alive and we were students and ran up and down the hallways of the English Department saying hello to professors in their offices, stopping to chat with the secretaries for long hours, and scooping up the free books that sometimes appeared in boxes outside an office--these wonderful breadcrumbs left for us to follow the best we could into the literature world our teachers were already deep inside.

If Alexa was sick then, nobody but her body knew it. 

It's Noyes's short fiction class where I read contemporary writers for really the first time, outside of what would appear at my hometown library.

The books we read were Best American Short Stories and Best American Poetry. Here I read George Saunders for the first tie, a tragic story of drowning. I encountered Ian MacMillan's story about a barn, two children, a rural strange place that felt stunningly familiar. It was the edition of BAP in which Anne Carson's town poems appeared in. The poem by Daniel Halpern that I can only find now after multiple google searches, about how his wife, in never arguing, now has a hole in her heart. Lines that are sealed into me the number of times I've read over them. 

- Noyes is the one who told me to read Susan Steinberg.
- Noyes is the one who read my story "Remember Ella" and said to submit it to Quarter After Eight.
- Noyes is the one who had a child, age three, named Josie, who said things like this at a faculty picnic, "Oh, no thank you, Pete," upon being asked if she would care for more cottage cheese.

When Alexa, a handful of years later, would have twin daughters, she would name one of them Josie. 
We thought Noyes's Josie was a fascinating person. We would take turns baby-sitting for her. I spent a good time on the floor beside Josie, staring at the ceiling and imagining what clouds were drifting above us. 

Noyes would calmly and with amused expression sit at his desk, setting down his pen as Alexa and I once more interrupted him, and I would go on impassioned soliloques about the trouble with traditional fiction, masculinity, patterns of story that were, in my view, getting in my way. Alexa would nod, laugh, roll her eyes, Oh, Erin. Oh, Erin, you're such a toad, she'd say, when I was lost again in my indignance.

His office, you see, was well positioned by an intersection of hallways. Just by the Writing Center where I worked. Just across from Nell's office--Nell who lived in Paris, Illinois and was not amused by anything unless you looked closely at her eyes and worked hard to make them glimmer. Alexa and I would sit between Nell's office and Noyes's office, in our too-large plaid trousers we'd brought home from Goodwill. 

Have I delayed sharing with you Noyes's blurb because he is so intricately tied to my love for my best friend Alexa? I miss her, friends. I miss her so much. I miss that time, before she was sick, or at least, before we knew it. Before I moved too far away, to follow the writer's path to an MFA program, to Texas. Before I knew I was queer, but she did, somehow, in the way we sense people we love but have no language to tell them how deeply we can see them. 

It's because of Alexa that I thought all English departments were like the one at Indiana State. I thought all professors set down their pens to listen to two best friends, two English majors, practice tirades about the lack of women in the canon, about the few women we were given, about all the things that the professors themselves were showing us to care about.

Of course, at that time, Howard was failing. He was past retirement but his life was teaching and his dogs, and he could not leave his office. His dogs were old. He'd buried one, but the rain kept unearthing it, and he kept having to bury it deeper. He was having small strokes, but we didn't know it. He would have one when he came to Chicago probably, when he was trying to tie his shoe but could not feel his feet and fell into the bathtub--telling me what happened when my boyfriend and I woke up later. 

Rumor was people had tried to tell Howard in the gentlest of ways that he was not well. And, of course, Howard had likely told them to go to hell. 

Howard's office was two doors down from Noyes's. So Alexa and I always made sure to visit Howard, or make sure he wasn't in his office, before we talked to Noyes. Because Howard knew what everyone knew, but he had only his office, had the sudden laughter that his students would bring him, had his method of teaching creative writing that he'd learned in the 1960s when he was a kid from Kansas attending the Iowa Writer's Workshop, when Vonnegut was his teacher. 

To tell you the story of Noyes and our friendship is to tell you of Alexa. Of Howard. 

Howard gone now, too. I would inherit his pocket watch, a dozen of the TV guides he'd had articles in, polaroids of him with friends in the faded yellows of that era of photography. 

It was Howard who would be alive and who I would meet in my first creative writing workshop a few months after my father died. I was 17. It was Howard who would underline places in my stories and write, GOOD IMAGE!

To tell you about Noyes is to tell you about Howard, about my father, about the era they shared of men born in 1935 who grew up to become young men who bet on horses, who chased women and were endeared for it, who would in the middle of silence burst out cursing. 

GODDAMMIT! Howard would yell from his office because somebody in admissions was trying to fuck over one of his advisees. Some asshole in admissions who didn't know a goddamn thing about credits was trying to say that Howard's advisee could not transfer course credits from there to here. And now, goddammit, Howard McMillen was going to have to call up that asshole or walk himself over there in the same gray jogging pants he wore yesterday and his purple K-state sweatshirt, and tell them why they would not fuck over one of his advisees, you better believe it. 

Because maybe Viking fucked him over with his book The Many Mansions of Sam Peeples in 1972, but he would not let anyone fuck over the filing cabinet of undergrads whose course of studies he helped ensure would lead to graduation.

It was Howard who saw creative writing as a team sport, who saw himself as the coach and manager of the ISU program. Howard was a recruiter. He grew the program, he said. He had proof. He'd found former students in bars and enrolled them the next day. He found this one and that one. He ran into Sarah in an aisle of Wal-Mart and they'd gotten to talking and NOW she was a minor in creative writing. (Sarah who, after Howard died, would send me a photograph of Howard that she'd taken.)

Howard with his monthly poetry reading at Pizza City. Howard and his friend Steve Cash who was working on a novel. 

But Howard can be a different story I'll tell you later. 

Noyes wrote one of the recommendation letters that would go to all the MFA programs I applied to. I applied only to programs in the South. Where it would not be like where I'd grown up. Where it would be like the place I'd visited with boyfriend Mark, like the place I'd visited with Alexa in the shadows of New Orleans. 

It was Noyes who, when I had my first workshop in graduate school, sent me an assuring email, one attempting to boost my confidence.

- And when Alexa became sick, I told Noyes.
- And when Alexa died, I called Noyes from Texas, where I'd gotten the call about her death, and I stood barefoot on the sidewalk outside my house where the tree in the front yard was perpetually dying.
- He didn't know what to say. 
- But what does one say?
- While I'd moved to Texas, Alexa had stayed in Terre Haute, moving into the masters program in English literature. She'd gotten married, had children, been diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension, moved home to Indianapolis as her body began fighting with the air, to take in enough, to stay steady.

Of course he'd lost track of her. He'd returned to the East with his family, settled into a new job in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Of course I'd not lost track of either of them, with my small-town ways, my tendency to keep everyone I meet in my address book for annual Christmas cards, just as my mother still does--crossing off old addresses and writing the new ones in the margins.

I can't remember whether Noyes read my first book when I defended it in graduate school, but he would later write a blurb for it when it was published. The stories in Erin Pringle’s first collection possess the charm of fairy tales, the wisdom of poems, the hope of prayers, the weight of eulogies, and the intimacy of letters home. 

He'd write a blurb for my second book. Erin Pringle’s stories leave you no choice. They sing so gorgeously, break your heart so perfectly, that you’re forced to revise your understanding of loss, luck, and love.

All the while, he would hear from me suddenly and then not, continue to write recommendation letters required of fellowships I'd apply for and only once win.

He'd publish more books, win prizes, now and then post pictures of Josie as a young teenager, now older, now with blue hair, now with a guitar. And a new child with a face reminiscent of the Josie I once knew.  

And now, here we are, I've asked him again, and he said okay, and even when the press was late getting the book to him and it was the chaotic beginning of a semester, he read the book, and he sent in the blurb--that one you see, above.

But under the blurb, he added a note that means more than anything. It's a wonderful novel, Erin. I'm proud and more than a little jealous of its brilliance.

So, the story of my friendship with Noyes is one of finding a person who will fight in your corner. And the corner where people fight for me is a pretty lonely place, I think. Which makes it really important to have him stay in it these past twenty years.

Thanks, Noyes.

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Learning links:

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

San Antonio, AWP, and the Night Erin Pringle runs from Web House to The Cove

Texas Presses at the Cove: AWP Offsite Reading,
San Antonio, TX
Right now, there is a huge writers' conference happening in San Antonio. It's the Associated Writing Programs conference, or AWP. It's an annual carnival of writers, books, readings, panels, wine, presses, new books, graduate students, writing professors, and existential crisis set in hotels large enough to have multiple conference rooms and the aura of business meetings that seem at odds with a writer's general aim to take out the knees of capitalism (or, one of my smaller but no-less-pressing aims).

It's mainly attended by university people--writing professors and creative writing students, and literary journals and presses that are also, usually, housed in universities or connected in some way to them. That's the book-fair portion, set in an arena-sized room sprawling with folding tables, free samples, and women in scarves and nose rings, men in beards and plaid, and the newest older generation of professors in jeans and T-shirts who've published many books but seem that they, too, would be happier at a baseball game than here. But here we are, and here they are, and there is where I'll be on Friday.

Awst Press Logo,
Austin, TX
On Friday, I'll stand still for a bit at the Awst Press table. There will be copies of Hezada! I Miss You for sale. I will sign copies for those who might be interested. I will try to interest people. I will swallow despair and the thoughts of death that find me whenever I'm in crowds of people delineated by folding tables.

- If you're already at the conference, stop by between 10 AM and 11 AM
- Awst is at Table #1522 with Deep Vellum.

The best aspect of AWP is after the day's schedule of events are over, and parties are thrown all over the city by presses and magazines. Usually, the press will have their writers share work from the newest book. Magazines will find contributors to past issues to read. Hundreds of invitations are handed out. Then, at coffee shops, bars, and restaurants all over the city-of-the-year, writers stand at microphones or in corners reading their work, drinking beer, or spilling back onto the sidewalk to find the next party-reading they wanted to catch or overheard someone saying that they should see.

On Friday night, I'll be moving between two parties.
  • The first is with Awst at Web House. I'll be reading from Hezada! at 5:15
  • The second is with the Willow Springs portion of a reading shared by them, Bloord Orange Review, and Fugue. I'll run to The Cove in order to read sometime between 6 and 8 PM.
AWP Offsite Reading: San Antonio, TX


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What I Remember about San Antonio
Although I lived in San Marcos for seven years, and the drive from there to San Antonio is only fifty minutes or so, I visited enough times to tell you about each one. The first time I went to San Antonio was with my best friend Alexa when we'd driven down to Texas to try to find an apartment for me. We went to the art museum and ate at Earl Abel's. From time to time, I run across the empty matchbook from that diner. It was a dusty place. Old-time touristy but with a feeling of abandonment. We loved it.

Another summer, now living in San Marcos, I would drive two or three times a week to San Antonio to teach piano to children at daycares. Much like the tennis coaching I now do, I would heft a large key-board and bag of music and activities from the car to the playroom and wait for my students to join me. It would be in this job that I'd learn how important it is to say aloud to a teacher that something is hard. A small girl I adored said just this when trying to play one note and then another.

- This is hard, she said.
- I paused. The world glowed with sense.
- Yes, I said. It is hard.
- And hearing that, she nodded, and we tried again. Since then, I've tried to vocalize the difficulty of learning for all of my students, whether they were learning half notes in a preschool or thesis statements in a college classroom.

The other times I went to San Antonio would be with visitors, usually. To take my mother to the Alamo, then up the River Walk, both beautiful and famous. We'd do it again with my friends Ashley and Ryan. I'd buy a ring in a souvenir shop for twenty dollars and tell my future husband that this is the ring I wanted, which I did because it was beautiful and shaped like a flower. It lasted as long as beautiful costume jewelry from souvenir shops last. But I still have it, no matter.

We went to see The Magic Flute at the San Antonio Opera House. Jeremy had a cold, and we'd stuffed our pockets with cough drops.

We drove again to visit the art museum, to see the Edward Gorey exhibit. (He would illustrate even the envelopes of letters he wrote to his mother, beautifully.)

We walked through a children's museum. My general memories are taxidermy animals in glass exhibits and recorded voices imparting facts. I set part of a story here. Sanctuary, in The Floating Order.

When my college friend Natalie would join the air force, she was stationed in San Antonio, and we met there once. I have a picture from then, of her eating a sandwich at the coffee shop. Surely, we walked the river, too. Talking. She told me she was gay. It would be ten more years before I told myself, then her, the same thing. (Natalie, Alexa, and I took the same class together in undergrad at Indiana State University--for those of you following these stories I tell of my life.)

Another time, it seems we wove the looping interstates to San Antonio and landed again in the center, near the Alamo, but wandered the old hotels that carried pictures of the past on their walls.

It will be good to return, now to show our Henry through this city, and to take Hezada! too, first to Web House, then to The Cove, and then in my bag back to the San Antonio KOA where my family is playing ping-pong or walking about or perhaps sleeps already in the small, familiar KOA cabin that most always mean I have a new book and am far from where I now live.

But, luckily, this time, I'll be close to where I live in my memory because, like every ghost, I once lived in this place and sometimes visit.