Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Robert Pinsky in Spokane, February 2012

Former Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky, will be in Spokane February 28 and 29.

Stock photo of laurel wreath
Laurel wreath,
from here
Gonzaga University: February 28, in the evening 7:30-8:30, Cataldo Globe Room

Spokane Falls Community College: February 29, 11:30-12:30, in sn-w'ey'mn, Building 24, Room 110

Both reading events are free and open to the public.

Friday, February 10, 2012

From the Child's Shelf: Sendak's No Bumbler

Sendak, Maurice. Bumble-Ardy. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

Maurice Sendak's new book Bumble-ardy is the story of a pig celebrating his first birthday party, which is his ninth birthday. The backstory, which is told in preface, is that Bumble-ardy's family "frowned on fun", which explains his lack of birthdays hitherto, and his parents were recently killed. Although his parents were butchered, the fact that humans would have been the ones to murder them isn't emphasized. And so, all readers of the book are immediately set up as the antagonists to this world. 

The story begins with Bumble-ardy moving in with his aunt and his decision, against her wishes and knowledge, to throw himself a birthday party. A masquerade party. The party lasts most of the book as the animals, dressed as humans, drink "brine", dance, and celebrate the life of Bumble-ardy--and, as such, life itself. But it's a strange dance to celebrate an equally strange life. Without surprise, as it is with any celebration of life comes life's comrade-in-the-wings: death. 

When any talk of controversy or irritability about Bumble-ardy rears, it's typically in regards to the presence of death (although, a cursory glance at the GoodReads page for the book suggests that adult readers are equally irritable due to Bumble-ardy not being Where The Wild Things Are). 

However, death is not a focus of the story, is never central to any page, stands in the background, and only becomes apparent on subsequent reads. Perhaps it is death's representation as natural and part of the scene that causes some readers to focus and dwell on it, and in dwelling, become concerned that their children are dwelling in the same ways. Perhaps if readers view death as unnatural and something to be feared, heckled, ignored, repressed, and otherwise stricken from reality, then Bumble-ardy works as a counter to those notions. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

EDITOR IN OZ: May be human, only behind curtain

When I attended the Dublin Phoenix Convention as a guest last year, I met John Kenny, co-editor of Albedo One magazine. During the convention he solicited a story from me, which I then wrote for the Aeon Press anthology he edited, entitled Box of Delights.  Because I had a good experience with him as an editor, I started following the blog he recently began.  And he recently wrote a good blog article on submission strategies for writers.

It stood out to me for a number of reasons, one is likely because I find myself in a rather new situation as a long-time submitting writer: I have a number of new stories, and all of them are thirty-to-forty pages long.  Most magazines no longer accept story submissions of such length, and those who do typically cut off at 10,000 words. The few remaining either charge a $3 "reading fee" to submit or don't seem really that interested in reading long stories to begin with.

Of course, what writer with half a thought in her head would decide to write long stories ("novelettes", suggests Duotrope) at the very moment everyone else has decided that a story the size of a dead leaf is best?

Image of Writer Submitting Stories Pre-Ebook
Needless to say, I've been spending some additional hours thinking about submissions and, in many ways, feel like I'm re-experiencing what it was to send out my stories when I was 15.  Except it's not as exciting, the dazzle is gone, I don't save all my rejections in a jean purse, and online form rejection letters are--as I'm noticing--often made to seem like they're not form letters, which makes the task of submitting (and managing them) all the more frustrating.

In the good old days, the rejection form, and its variants, implied a certain code to the writer based on how it was written and signed.  Little differently, I would assume, than how a writer's cover letter--its formatting, tone, and content--will say something to the editor about the professionalism, or lack thereof, of the writer.

But in regards to the code of rejection letters: A rejection addressed to "Dear Writer" and signed with a photocopied editor's signature (or simply "The Editors") meant that the story didn't merit more than this.  It was just another story, and so the writer would know something about what just happened and how to think about re-submitting.  The same rejection letter but with a real signature above the photocopied one meant the editor was sending a sort of compliment.  It was a rejection but the editor took the time because of this particular story.  And so that would tell the writer something.  Thus, a handwritten P.S. on an otherwise form rejection was really something.  This is what was meant by "I got a good rejection."

But many magazines are emailing form rejection letters (equal to a photocopied Dear Writer form rejection) but making them look personal.  And while I'll save my deeper thoughts on pseudo-personal form rejections for another day, perhaps you can see why automated online rejections that fill the writer's first name into the "Dear" field and the story's title in the Thanks for submitting your story ___________ can be a bit confusing:

Saturday, January 28, 2012

'The Floating Order Feels Significant'

Women: A Cultural Review recently published a review by John Regan, a Cambridge graduate and lecturer at University College Dublin.  His review, "More Than Women and Cats", regards two collections from Two Ravens Press: Regi Claire's Fighting It and Erin Pringle's The Floating Order.

In an overall positive review, about The Floating Order, Regan at one point calls Pringle "a master of tragicomedy" and later writes:

"Just as her stories thrive on a kind of profitable restlessness, The Floating Order feels significant by virtue of its narrative, structural and thematic variety."

Quite nice, quite nice.

Obviously, Dr. Regan has excellent taste.  Cheers!  

Thursday, January 5, 2012

International Ghost Story Contest 2012

 The Dr. Euguene Clark Library in Lockhart, Texas has announced its fourth annual ghost story contest, Scare the Dickens Out of Us!

Word count: 5,000 or less
Who?: Anyone (adult and junior divisions)
Entry fee: Adult division $20; Junior division $5
The money is used to benefit the library.

First prize: $1000.00 and a trophy

Second prize: $500.00 and a ribbon 

Third prize: $250.00 and a ribbon
Junior contest prize $250.00 and a trophy

Entries will be accepted only between July 1, 2012 and October 1, 2012 (postmark dates).

For more information, formatting guidelines, and a list of previous winners, visit the library's website (

To qualify, stories should be of the ghost-story genre.  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Read This Book: Space, in Chains by Laura Kasischke

Her husband brought this book home from the magical place where most all the books in their house have come from--the best ones that move from bookcase to bookcase, the ones carried most and that, most often, while she and he sleep, seemingly try to slip out the door--again and again and so they must be pinned down with little notes in the margins, dark lines under their feet.

Space, in Chains is a collection of 72 poems by Laura Kasishke, whom she hadn't read or heard of until now and now she thinks is one of the most brilliant writers moving among us.

From the publisher: Space, in Chains speaks in ghostly voices, fractured narratives, songs, prayers, and dark riddles as it moves through contemporary tragedies of grief and the complex succession of generations. [. . .] Kasischke has pared the construction of her verse to its bones, leaving haunting language and a visceral strangeness of imagery.

This is one of those breathless reviews, the kind where she doesn't want to, or cannot yet, explain why this book is good, why we must read it, why the writer shows her skill--her genius here, here, and here, too.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ho! Ho! Oh! The Floating Order Available on the Kindle

Click to Preview 
Two Ravens Press has recently released a Kindle Edition of her short-story collection The Floating Order.

Retailing at $7.99, the Kindle Edition is half the price of the print version.  A short preview of is available as well.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Man Types a Painting

A man has typed a painting.  To do this, he had to rebuilt a typewriter.  It's a lovely idea, she thinks, especially because the image below is pretty representative of how she imagines her writing process as she's inside it: the page as she writes, just before the ink dries from clouds into letters.

It's a lovely idea.  

Read the interview with the man over at and view his non-typed paintings at his website.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

From the Child's Shelf: Holiday Books for 2011

Tonight, she went to the bookstore with a mission to find a good holiday book for children... published this year.  As it went, she didn't find that book.  She did find an excellent, non-holiday book that was published last year entitled A Sick Day for Amos McGee, but she's saving that to review for another day.

The holiday books at this particular shopping-mall-bound bookstore were rather disappointing.  All of the Night Before Christmases were either cartoony and bubbly or artful but all were dull in their choices: as in, she felt like she'd already looked through these books even though she hadn't.  A mouse, stockings from a mantle, a man running to the window.  Got it.  Books that would require a lot of rationalization or cash to burn before buying.

There were books there she recognized.  She didn't bother picking up the Mercer Mayer book because she loved Little Critter  books as a child.  And she skimmed through The Night Before Christmas, illustrated by James Marshall, and it was also great (a chicken sleeping with the children, and all the usual and excellent detail that makes the illustrations integral to the story but also their own separate stories). But all of James Marshall's books are witty, creative, and interesting, and this one was published in 1985.  She set it down, glad to be reminded of it, but still wanting to find a great recent book.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Began at 1104 South Linwood

My mother, 1939
Since I interviewed my mother a few years ago, hers has become the most popular post on What She Might Think. Because of this and because I won't see her this Christmas, I wanted to interview her again. 

To prepare, I searched online for images of the house where she grew up in the 1940s and '50s, and where I would spend many of my Christmases through the 1980s and '90s.  

I located the house on google maps, and stood in front of it in a virtual world. A junk car was parked outside. A destitute grocery cart was kicked up on the curb. The tree blocked most of the porch where a swing once hung and my grandmother's plants grew in heavy planters, and where I roller-skated back and forth one visit. The house like a gravestone, a wind-block for someone else's faded flowers.

Built in 1915, only a few years after my grandmother was born, my grandparents' house was first my great-grandfather's, Great-Grandpa Steffee. Evidently, when my great-grandmother died of tuberculosis, my grandmother decided that, as my mother says, great-grandfather "couldn't boil water", and so she insisted that she, her husband (my grandfather) and their young family move in with him. 
holly flourish

Q. Often, I feel like many of my Christmas memories take place in Evansville, and I don't know if that's because we went to visit your parents every Christmas or because I would imagine Evansville when you told me stories of your life. Do you have a similar experience in that you have memories of Christmases that your mother would tell you about? What were Grandmother's Christmases like, as far as you know? Do you remember her telling any stories about them? What about your father?

My mother, her father, her grandmother
A.  . . . Mother. . . We did not talk big time in the family. The most talking we did was when we were doing dishes. If we wanted to embarrass mother, we'd ask embarrassing questions. Neither parent talked much about their past. I think mother's past was like ours. The Depression started in '29 when Dad was about to graduate high school, but I think things were already bad. No, Dad didn't talk about that anymore than he talked about World War II.

I remember you talking fondly of your childhood Christmases. I remember you saying you would get an orange in your stocking every year, and I think you also got candy. It seems that one year you got a doll but weren't very impressed with her: I think you'd wanted something else. Can you describe your Christmases more? 

Probably the expectation of everything-Christmas was as wonderful, if not more so, than the actual opening of gifts.  According to Mother, my dad started our tradition of opening our gifts on Christmas Eve. Then, while we slept that night, Mother filled the stockings with the above fruit, candy, and tiny gifts wrapped in the previously used wrapping paper from Christmas Eve.  I'm sure we went to Grandma Ryan's house on Christmas Eve (before the late-night worship 
service at church) or Christmas Day.

Part of the preparation was going to Dalton's grocery store a block away--before supermarkets were 'invented'--to choose a scrawny, short-needled pine tree for our Christmas tree.  Each tree was set in a block of wood (also prior to tree stands) and usually had one side with branches fuller than the other side--the one we put against the window so we wouldn't have to look at it! Mother also managed to buy or gather additional greenery to...