Reading Report #2

Brooklyn climbs itself like an autodidact, like a vine using its own stalk as a trellis, like a bridge being built out across a river with no supports. The streets work the graveyard shift for the squeaky wheels dreaming self-improvement dreams, but the days thwart ambition with an inventory of niggling details: “Beer bottles and beer cans, liquor bottles, candy wrappers, crushed cigarette packs, caved-in boxes that had held detergents, rags, newspapers, curlers, string, plastic bottles, a shoe here and there, dog feces.” Or, rather, human feces? This is a civilized, late twentieth-century Brooklyn, but a Brooklyn in which men urinate out into the void from the windows of the upper floors of brownstones. A protagonist reminisces about a childhood hobby of shitting as a group pastime, an outdoor activity. Do the citizens of the borough, bum and burgher alike, take delight in shitting in the gutters, on subway rails, in the parks, on stoops, in the rivers, on sidewalks? Do we all stand and point and howl with the joy of our own unaided manufacture? Who was it who said that this is the only city in the world where the dogs can step in human shit? Brooklyn is a wise child, innocent and depraved, wild-eyed and sleepless, its Brooklynness impossible to box, wrap, or bottle. Brooklyn is a nation of immigrants and exhibitionists, escapees and cartographers, pirate lepidopterists and amateur gang leaders, petty thieves on sabbatical and nice guys who got stuck halfway; in short, life is not entirely wonderful here, and on that point, children and adults can agree, but they always get stuck squabbling over the particulars. Every curve of this marvelous place, a once and future garbage dump; each corner harbors ghosts; every crook vibrates with the history of the culture. (For example, did you know that part of The Warriors was filmed on one of the dead platforms of the Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop?) I love New York.

Deadline: October 31

I’ve neglected to mention, in the three weeks since I asked for your support, and the two weeks since the race itself, that:

1) I not only ran the whole five kilometers in the Komen NYC Race for the Cure on Sunday, September 10, but finished in time to make it to the fiction-writing class I’ve been teaching on Sunday mornings;

2) Sherri and I ran together, and had a very nice time catching up as we did;

3) it was a beautiful morning for a run, and Central Park was the same odd fusion of private remembrance and corporate sponsorship as last year, and the year before that;

4) the race seemed to go smoothly (the only mention-worthy details I noted being Semisonic’s not-exactly-appropriate “Closing Time” blasting through the PA system right before the start of the race, a very poorly thought-out port-a-potty line that ran straight out into the race course itself on Central Park West, and an obnoxious mustachioed older fellow on a bicycle, angrily trying to weave his way through a mostly female crowd of tens of thousands, yelling at all of us, demanding that we let him by, seeming, to me, to be seeking the fate of Pentheus at the end of The Bacchae); and finally,

5) thanks to all of you who sponsored my run—and if you haven’t yet, but would like to, you have until October 31!

Samoan Redux

Did you want to read my story “The Samoan Assassin Calls It Quits” but found yourself hesitant back in May, unsure of whether you wanted to make the commitment to subscribing to a magazine that cannot be purchased at bookstores or at your local newsstand, skeptical of the joy that eighteen stories might bring you over the course of a year for only twenty-one bucks? Did you find yourself wishing you had the option of paying only two dollars and fifty cents to purchase just that one story? You’re in luck. About a month ago the best literary journal ever added that very feature to its past stories page, where you can buy not just the aforementioned mixed-up love story, but eighty (and counting!) other wicked awesome works of short fiction by an all-star roster of writers including Kelly Link, Darin Strauss, Judy Budnitz, Scott Snyder, Alix Ohlin, Karl Iagnemma, and Joanna Hershon, among many brilliant others; like, e.g., did you read Austin Bunn’s “The Ledge“? I mean, holy potato, why doesn’t this guy—to the best of my knowledge, I should say—have a book deal yet?

Summer and Smoke; or, the Muppets of Tangier

Remember that party back at the beginning of the summer, or maybe it was the end of the spring, the party where at one point I was talking about how I misremember facts, get details fogged and discombobulated, maybe especially when it comes to the biographies or writers, like how I remember the story of Carson McCullers out on Nantucket in the summer of 1946 with Tennessee Williams and his companion, Pancho Rodriguez, and the two writers would sit every morning, all summer long, on opposite sides of the dining-room table, kitty-corner to one another, Tom with his typewriter and Carson with hers and a bottle of whiskey between them, during which stay she wrote The Member of the Wedding and he wrote The Glass Menagerie—except, reading McCullers’s biography I realize I’ve got it wrong, that summer she wrote a play based on her third novel, and he, rather, was working on Summer and Smoke (in a year when Menagerie was still running on Broadway); except, come to think of it, I might not have mentioned that story at all at that party (and I might actually be accurately remembering an old, pickled creative writing teacher’s inaccurate recounting of the story), but I think I did talk about my memory of Allen Ginsburg showing up at William S. Burroughs’s house in Tangier, finding Bill anesthetized and inconsolable, sprawled on his bed like a lovesick nihilist with a monkey on his back, pages upon loose pages, stained and trampled typescript, strewn about the apartment, which Allen picked up and started to read, and maybe Jack Kerouac was there too, and somehow, in the retelling, Jack and Allen took on the voices of Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear, if I’m remembering right, and Bill had the voice of Sam the Eagle, and Kermit and Fozzie thought some of Sam’s pages were pretty good, maybe they could put them together in some kind of order, like a novel, and Sam said no, no, it wasn’t worth it, life was misery and romance was a crock and boys were fickle and besides, there was no more decent hash to be had in all of Morocco, but Kermit and Fozzie gathered all the pages together and put them in an order that made sense and took them to a publisher in Paris, and that became Naked Lunch (although maybe I didn’t mention that story at the party either, maybe it came up that afternoon back at the beginning of the summer when we were talking on West 4th Street, not far from the library, while a bum sang variations on the old jingle our city used to use to advertise itself to the world, “I Love New York,” at us)? Anyway, that was a fun party.

Free and Clear

This past February I submitted two short-short stories to Another Chicago Magazine. Aimee Bender, Steve Almond, and Emily Raboteau have all had stories published in its pages, and although I’ve never been a subscriber, I’ve thought that the issues I’ve looked at before seemed interesting, well curated, and smartly put together. Then in March, while in Austin for the AWP conference, I was introduced to one of ACM‘s assistant fiction editors by one of the editors of Quick Fiction. He’d read my story “Lost Childhood” in QF #8, he said, and liked it; would I submit to ACM? I already had work in their slush pile, I said, but I gave him a copy of my little pink book as well, in case he was curious to read more of my writing. (I should probably note that I’m not going to use names here, because my intention is not reprisal, but rather, ideally, a small furthering of the larger goal of a generous and mutually supportive transparency in the literary world.)

In late March, this assistant fiction editor wrote to say that although he thought the two short-shorts I’d submitted were good, he was more interested in the title story of my manuscript; had I placed it anywhere yet? I had not, I wrote back, although I was a little uncertain of how well that story’s ending worked. Three e-mails over three weeks went unanswered; finally he wrote back in late April to say that he agreed that the story might benefit from some fine-tuning. I e-mailed two new versions of the story the first week of May, to which I heard no reply. An e-mail at the end of May was also met with silence, as was yet another follow-up in July. Then I wrote to the magazine’s general mailbox to see what was going on; a week later (now August), I sent an e-mail to that same address withdrawing the story from consideration, which bounced back with the error message “mailbox quota exceeded.” I then forwarded my withdrawal to the magazine’s chief fiction editor’s e-mail address at her university job, and I printed out the e-mail and mailed it to ACM‘s USPS address. Naturally I wondered what was going on; perhaps the magazine was dead? Their Web site hadn’t been updated in what seemed like years, but when I recently went to check it again, the site was gone completely, with a Network Solutions message saying that the URL had expired on September 7, 2006 and was “pending renewal or deletion.” So I did a Technorati search, hoping to learn something more from the blogosphere; I didn’t find an answer to the question of ACM‘s moribundity, but I did discover a post by Jason Sanford at the storySouth blog, “The fast and slow on submission responses,” which mentioned a new Web site that I’d never heard of before (and which is, I suppose, the real subject I’m long-windedly circumambulating), Duotrope’s Digest. (See also Sanford’s first post about the site, here.) An online voluntary consolidation of the poetry- and fiction-submission scratch sheets of all interested poets and fiction writers, and a standardized presentation of the compiling of those data? Brilliant! A site that might prove even more useful, ultimately, than the New Pages listings! And ACM, I discovered, is listed on Duotrope’s Digest as “temporarily closed to submissions”—which is, perhaps, the lit mag equivalent of the distant sound of death throes.

(Still with me? Glad to hear it! Unless there’s some larger story I’m not seeing, I suspect this is all too mundane to be worth writing an article about—but it seems nevertheless worth mentioning in a public forum.)

A lingering question, though: to paraphrase to words of William Goldman, who are these Duotrope guys? Perhaps I’m just not seeing it, but I can find nothing on the about, contact, or legal pages of the site that identifies who the “we” that pervades the site’s copy might be. Adding to the mystery, the registrant and administrative contact in the WHOIS database is listed simply as “Duotrope,” 911 Michigan Avenue, Socorro, New Mexico—an address that, according to Google Maps, does not exist. The town is real, and looks about halfway between Albuquerque and Truth or Consequences, which would seem to be an unlikely home for anything having to do with the rather New York-centric literary world—but perhaps this is just my East Coast bias talking.

Which brings me to another question: If a Web site is ostensibly about openness and information sharing, shouldn’t its owners and operators tell you who they are?

This seems obvious to me—but then, I pay Network Solutions the extra few bucks a year for private registration, so who am I to talk?