Thursday, May 25, 2017

Notes on Grief: The Whole World at Once at Necessary Fiction

I wrote a short essay on the writing of my new collection of fictions, The Whole World at Once, for the wonderful website, Necessary Fiction. Which means that I wrote an article mainly about the experience of grieving while writing fiction.

From the article . . .

Our everyday language isn’t made for talking about sadness with strangers. So, it’s hard to talk about my book to people without making them or myself feel uncomfortable. Death’s uncomfortable. Sadness is, too. At least in this culture. Which is what makes mourning so surreal. Because no one knows how to talk about it, what it means, especially if you don’t believe in god or have the language of ritual to help the conversation. The stories in The Whole World at Once try to create the language that can communicate loss, awkwardness, humor without making anyone feel wrong or strange. That’s my intention, anyway.

Keep reading "Notes on Grief While Writing Fiction" here

Rainy Windows 1 by Ömer Diyelim,
Used under CC license

Roadside Poppies on Memorial Day and, this weekend, The Whole World at Once

The only veteran in my family is my mother's father, who served in WWII and so was absent the first several years of my mother's childhood, and then a stranger when he returned. But so handsome, she says when she remembers meeting him, to her for the first time outside of the letters her mother read aloud from. I grew up in a town of veterans because I grew up in a rural town, and there are four typical directions for life after high school: the factory, the family farm, college, or the military.

Poppies via
What I remember about Memorial Day when I was a child was stopping at the one lighted
intersection downtown, and the men selling fabric poppies with small slips of paper wrapped around their metal stems. Sometimes my mother reached out the driver's side window and bought one, more often she didn't, because I remember wanting one but not receiving.

The other memory I have of Memorial Day, and this one, I don't know how accurate it is because it happens at every cemetery where I've lived near, is how the cemetery came to life on that day, with the small American flags on wooden sticks, the styrofoam wreaths of red fabric carnations erected on green wire stands that sold out of that one aisle in Ardnt's General Store. And then, after that day, the memorials stayed a little longer before I would find pieces of them, and other similar offerings, later that year or another year, faded and blown to the back of the cemetery or in the ditches.

When I was contacting bookstores about readings for The Whole World at Once, I didn't use a physical calendar that has MEMORIAL DAY blocked out in clear lettering. I must have referred to my phone calendar. Because I scheduled not only one reading, but also two readings for Memorial Day weekend, which for many people, is a weekend to celebrate the promise of late Spring becoming early Summer. Boats on lakes. Bags of charcoal emptied into park BBQs. Plastic tablecloths and plastic tubs of potato salad and baked beans. Sunburns. Family. Somewhere, a parade. And, for many, the quiet moments of choosing the wreath of carnations from the local general store or, more likely, an aisle in a superstore, before driving to the cemetery and sitting in the grass with memories.

Attending a book reading? Not typically on the list of Memorial Day must-do items.

But I will be reading stories in two bookstores in Western Washington, and I hope that you can take an hour to come listen. I'll be reading an excerpt from the story, This Bomb My Heart, which follows the lives of a sister, and her brother who returns after multiple tours of war to plant and dig up landmines in the backyard of the farmhouse where they grew up. I'll also read the full story, The Boy in the Red Shirt, which was motivated by the photograph of the Syrian boy, and all the people, who have been washing up on distant beaches since people have been evacuating Syria.

So, if you want a break from the BBQs and your family or the silence of living alone, or whatever the circumstances of your life, bring your life to the bookstore, and I'll read to you. Here is where I will be so you can find me:

Saturday, May 27: Lake Forest Park, WA
6:30 PM/Reading and Signing
Third Place Books (17171 Bothell Way NE) 

Sunday, May 28: Tacoma, WA
7 PM/Reading and Signing

Should you find someone selling poppies on your way to the bookstore, please bring one for me.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Whole World at Once is in the newspaper: Stories highlight beauty, awkwardness of grief

My mother flew from Illinois to Washington this week to be present at the book release party for my new collection of stories, The Whole World at Once. It is a long tradition in our family to exchange clippings from the newspaper. I remember my grandmother enclosing pieces of the Evansville, Indiana newspaper in her Tuesday letters to my mother, often cut with her pinking shears that she kept in the mug on the table-lamp by her recliner. And, in my hometown newspaper, The Casey Reporter, many of my memories are also recorded in grainy black-and-white newsprint. That time I tie-dyed T-shirts in a picnic shelter as part of Art in the Park. There I am, glowing up at the camera with the face I used for posing.

I have a complicated relationship with the newspaper, since much of a rural newspaper is the fact of people's stories ending in the obituary section. Everyone you know will be in it, eventually. And so will you. One time I typed obituaries for the newspaper when my friend Ashley was working there. That is another story. Or not.

My mother highlighted our names.
So, it wasn't a surprise when my mother arrived in my living room bearing copies of the hometown newspaper in full, in sections, or as stories clipped and folded. Not with pinking shears, though, because she doesn't sew like my grandmother did. My sister sewed like my grandmother. And taught herself how to garden like my grandmother. They both had beautiful gardens.

But the surprise was not that my mother brought the newspaper but the article she brought. It had run recently, in a sort of "On-this-day-back-in-time" collage of stories. There we are, my sister's name for a poetry award in 1987, and then me in 1997 in my show-stopping performance as Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn in The Music Man. In the articles, we're both alive. Now we're not. I am, she isn't.

If my sister were alive, or if her death weren't linked with the word suicide, how easily we would have passed over this article. All of us. Maybe my mother wouldn't have even noticed. Maybe Jennifer would have said, Cool. Maybe Mom would have written in the blank space, Send to Jennifer when you're done, and I would have dutifully forgotten or miraculously sent it back to the Midwest. Maybe other people in town who watched us grow up, sixteen years apart, and then for many years together, might have noticed our names and clipped the article and brought it to my mother at the McDonald's up by the interstate where she and other retirees visit every morning. If anyone did notice our names, so much prevents them from knowing what to do with this article. With suicide, everything becomes a clue. And then not. And then. And then. I don't know what to do with this article.

Neither did my mother. Which is probably why she cut it out, carried it 2,000 miles through the sky, and handed it to me the day before what would have been my sister's birthday. Or is still her birthday. My sister loved a good birthday.

Probably it's nothing. It's just one of those things. You know.

Today, I walked into the coffee shop where I write, having seen my mother off at the airport less than an hour earlier and after a week's visit. My barista friends and one of my coffee shop friends were smiling.
You're in the newspaper, they said.

Which shouldn't have been a surprise since I'd done the interview a few days ago, cross-legged in my car outside the same coffee shop so that I could hear the reporter on my phone. I have a new book, The Whole World at Once. It's dedicated to my sister. I'm reading from the book tomorrow downtown. My point is that all of this should have prevented surprise that I'm in the newspaper.

But on my drive to the coffee shop, I'd encountered a mother duck crossing a busy street, her ducklings following behind her. How beautiful, I thought, that all the cars are stopping once I knew why. How good. This is a good moment, I thought.

And I pulled over to take pictures, parking in the car wash, glad not to be in the way, exactly as my father would have done. My father gone, too. My father who took me across country roads, chasing twilight and beautiful angles. So that's where I was in my mind. With these ducks but with my father, too. Trying to position the camera as I've been taught. To capture the ducks as they are but also in a way that they would last, so that I could show my partner who loves animals, and then my son who doesn't yet know that ducks cross roads or that people will stop their lives to protect others'. What a nice way to start my day, I thought.

Mama duck leads her ducklings past the car wash on Monroe

You're in the newspaper, they said as I walked into my coffee shop.
You see now why I was surprised.

I'm supposed to share with you the Spokesman Review story. And I want to. I said all of it thinking you would read it, thinking of you before you knew of me. Like Whitman. Kind, gentle Walt Whitman.

But, it doesn't seem right or real, not to share this other story, too. Not that it's story. It's just a layering of time sifted into a morning. I guess. Grief and ducklings all of a morning, I guess. Here, friend.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

It's May! A Literary First Friday in Spokane with The Whole World at Once

I've lived in Spokane nearly seven years now, and one of the best aspects of living here is a monthly arts series known as First Friday. Before now, I have never lived in a city that has a First Friday, but evidently there are other places that do this. 

If you are not so lucky to have a First Friday, or if you have just found yourself in Spokane, this is how it works:
On the first Friday of every month, community members can attend an assortment of arts events scheduled for just this day, from visual art show openings, art film screenings, to tours of children's art at local schools. The point is art--art--art! 

And for May's First Friday(5/5/17), I'm participating at Auntie's Bookstore. I'll read from my new collection of stories, The Whole World at Once, followed by a discussion about grief, rural landscapes, and fiction with EWU instructor and singer/songwriter Liz Rognes (and my dear friend). Copies of The Whole World at Once will be available for purchase.

Hope to see you there!

Details in a nutshell:
Auntie's Bookstore
402 W. Main
Friday, May 5
6 PM - 7 PM
Reading, Discussion, Book Signing 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Spokane Scavenger Hunt: Find three book posters, win a book

I've been all around the streets of Spokane hanging up posters for the May 1 Book Release Party.

Now it's your turn to find them. 

How to play: Find three posters that look like this in three different locations. Take a picture of each exactly where you find it. Share them on this Facebook event page.
How to win: The first person to share three poster pictures on the event page, wins a signed copy of The Whole World at Once. Winner must attend book release party at Garageland on May 1, 2017 to collect this fantastic prize. 

If you take a selfie with one of the three posters, then you'll get an even more fantastic prize.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Summer Plans: Have Book, Will Travel

The Whole World at Once will be released on May 1, and so I'll soon remember how to pack lightly as I follow the book around this summer. I hope we'll meet soon, meet again, or meet for the first time. For the most up-to-date events and details, please check the events page

travel.3 by Helene Valvatne Andås
Used under CC license

Upcoming Appearances as of 5/30/17


May 1: Spokane, WA
Garageland, (230 West Riverside Ave.)
7 PM/Book Release Party
Reading and Book Signing, and music by Liz Rognes

May 5: Spokane, WA
Auntie's Books (402 W. Main)
6 PM/Reading and Discussion, followed by book signing (moderated by Liz Rognes)

May 27: Lake Forest Park, WA
6:30 PM/Reading and Signing
Third Place Books (17171 Bothell Way NE)

May 28: Tacoma, WA
7 PM/Reading and Signing

June 11: North Hollywood, CA
7 PM/New Short Fiction Series performance of The Whole World at Once 
The Federal Bar, North Hollywood, CA

June 15: Seattle, WA
Hugo House (1021 Columbia Street, Seattle, WA)
Reading: "Writers and Poets of Washington State"
7 PM
Readers: Gary Lilley, Ann Tweedy, Sharma Shields, and Erin Pringle
Facebook event page:

June 30: Austin, TX
7-8 PM
Reading and Discussion, followed by book signing (moderated by Owen Egerton)

July 1: Austin, TX
Agents & Editors Conference, presented by The Writers' League of Texas
Downtown Hyatt
(More information soon!)

August: Casey, IL and Detroit, MI (Details TBA)

For more frequent updates, follow on Facebook or Twitter.
The Whole World at Once is available for pre-order.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Another artist on the tree, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

I just discovered the art of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1912–2004). Every time I meet the work of another woman artist that moves me, I feel both excited about the discovery and frustrated about an education that did not teach me, or help me to find, this enormous tree of women artists that reaches back and back and back. So, here's another branch. In case your life somehow missed this artist, too. (But how lovely it is that learning never ends, and that there is an ever-supply of interesting artists to add to our lives.)

  • Website of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Charitable Trust, which contains collections of her drawings, paintings, and prints as well as biographical information and gallery showings (and an awesome feature that allows you to move from a drawing to the larger series of works the drawing was one part of).

Sea and Boat by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham (1988)

You can daily discover more women artists and their work by following @WomensArt1 on Twitter. (This is how I do it.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

May 1: The Whole World at Once at Garageland, Book Release Party

May 1 is the official publication date of The Whole World at Once! So, we're celebrating over here in Spokane with a release party. I'll read a few stories then sign books while the wonderful Liz Rognes sings her folk-swaying ways. Books will be available for purchase.

Join us!

230 W. Riverside Ave.
May 1
7 PM-9 PM
Click here to to view event on Facebook

Picture of book cover shows book author and title with an image of a girl being reflected in water while wearing sneakers. The pavement is cracked. The main color is blue.
The Whole World at Once (cover)
Picture of woman facing camera. Her hair is straight, just past ears. White woman in black and white picture.
Erin Pringle

Picture of white woman facing camera in front of a hedge. She has brown hair and wears a scarf and brown sweater. She is about age 30.
The Liz of Liz Rognes.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Building Book Movements, Not Fires: Q&A with Leader of Books Are Not a Luxury

black book cover with text in orange-yellow paint
If we all buy books twice a month, every month, a movement is built.

Within days of the 2016 presidential election, I received an email from my old friend Michael Noll about a huge, new project that would actively promote writers "with the single goal of promoting sales of books by writers from groups that Trump seeks to erase from our country." The name of the project would be Books Are Not A Luxury.

The website launched January 3, and now, the project is entering its third month of literary resistance and its third featured book, complete with shelf talkers, essays, links to reviews, author Q&As, and of course, links to multiple bookseller sites where readers & librarians can purchase the book. There is even a growing list of participating bookstores featuring and selling the books.

I'm pleased to welcome Michael to this little place on the internet, so that you can learn about Books Are Not A Luxury.

1. What motivated you to begin the website?

MN: I got the idea for the website a day or two after the presidential election. It wasn't the fact that a Republican won that bothered me but, rather, the fact that America had elected a man who had made abuse, ridicule, and violent rhetoric toward people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and disabled people a central part of his campaign. While Trump didn't talk a lot about LGBTQ+ issues, his vice president had signed a bill making it legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians as governor of Indiana. I really felt—and this may be naive—that if people in areas that predominantly voted for Trump knew people of color, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, and disabled people, then they wouldn't be so accepting of hatred and ugliness toward them. When direct experience isn't possible, books can at least offer a glimpse into worlds that aren't the reader's.

I also worried that, in terms of publishing, that those groups would have a harder time getting published now that alt-right rhetoric had gone mainstream. So, I wanted to help make those books more visible.

2. What has been the response?
MN: Incredibly positive—for a couple of reasons. People really want to support the groups being directly attacked by alt-right rhetoric. But they also want book recommendations. As the Lee & Low report showed, the publishing industry, from top to bottom, is almost entirely white, and so it's no surprise that people in that industry have a tendency to promote books that hew closely to their own experience. There are many smart, well-meaning people in publishing, of course, and many who advocate for diverse books, but the machinery that they're part of just isn't set up to promote diverse authors and stories. This means readers don't find out about many great books, and so people are hungry for books that reflect a broader range of experience.

3. What should readers do after reading the book? Are you encouraging donations to libraries, for example? 
MN: Readers should do what comes naturally—tell someone about the book and pass it along to people who might want to read it. If that means donating to libraries, that's great. I have a link at the website that helps people find the address for their local library. I grew up in a small town in rural Kansas, a place with a great library but no bookstore. For people living in my hometown—and towns like it all over the country—the only way they discover new books is at their libraries. And, these libraries are always strapped for funds, particularly in Kansas where the governor wants to cut and even eliminate their funding altogether. So, donations are great!

4. How could book clubs use the site?
MN: Readers and book clubs should check out the website for Books Are Not a Luxury. For each book, the site publishes an author Q&A and essays by writers responding to the book. The goal is to create a conversation around each book and place the books within a context of other experiences and ideas. These essays offer more perspectives and experiences, which makes for a richer reading and discussion experience.

5. What's a question you'd like me to ask?
MN: I'm sometimes asked—about Books Are Not a Luxury and about another site I run called Read to Write Stories—how I find the writers and books that I feature. It's always struck me as a surprising question because it doesn't feel hard to find them. Sometimes I will consciously read journals or book lists for something to check out, but it's more often the case that I can check a list I'm constantly updating with books that I stumble across and make a note to read. I stumble across them on Facebook (which is the nice thing about having lots of friends who are writers and avid readers) and through journals, both print and online, that I follow. And, of course, I find out about books through reviews.

It's true, as I said earlier, that the publishing industry can do more to promote diverse books, but that's not to say that it's only white, straight, able-bodied writers who are getting attention. Both of the first two books featured at Books Are Not a Luxury (Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith and In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib) were reviewed by The New York Times. I think part of the problem is that white, cis, non-disabled readers tend to see those reviews and not pause to read them or pause to think, "I should read that book." Of course, a book becomes more difficult to pass by when it pops up over and over, which is why multiple reviews are so popular. (Why else does anyone read Franzen? Because he gets reviewed so often that you think, "Oh hell, I'll just read the damn thing to see what everyone's talking about.") 

At some point with these blogs, I made a conscious decision to seek out diverse books, and so I tend to notice them when they're reviewed. I don't skim over them. Skimming is how unconscious racism/bigotry reveals itself. One bookstore manager told me that they'd carried In the Language of Miracles—a pretty mainstream narrative that anyone who reads thrillers or tense literary fiction would enjoy—and sold zero copies. Readers saw the book but didn't buy it, probably in large part because of the author's name. Diversity is all around us if we're just willing to witness it.

  • Have you read a new book and want to recommend to Books Are Not A Luxury? Go here: 
  • If your neighborhood bookstore would be interested in this project, send an email to booksarenotaluxury @ gmail dot com.

Featured Reads from Books Are Not a Luxury:

Michael is the Program Director for the Writers' League of Texas and the editor of the craft-of-writing blog Read to Write Stories. His book THE WRITER’S FIELD GUIDE TO THE CRAFT OF FICTION, is forthcoming this fall (Press: A Strange Object). His short stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, Chattahoochee Review, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Indiana Review, and The New Territory. His story, “The Tank Yard,” was included in The Best American Mystery Stories 2016. He lives in Austin, TX, with his family.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Narratives That Twist and Shimmer": Kirkus Reviews Reports on The Whole World at Once

"The characters dream intensely, waking in terror, and the stories themselves have a dreamlike intensity heightened by Pringle’s lyrical voice. [. . .] 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." Continue reading at Kirkus Reviews. 

The Whole World at Once will be officially released this May.
Pre-order from West Virginia University Press.

Now available!
Order now!
The Whole World at Once from 
West Virginia University Press 
Your local bookstore (IndieBound)
Barnes & Noble

(Updated 5/3/17)