Good News: The Massachusetts Review, Pine Hills Review, Poets & Writers

The Massachusetts Review

Three good things, all at once! My story “This Is a Test of the System” is in the spring issue of Massachusetts Review; Pine Hills Review published my story “What Would John the Evangelist Do?” (you can read the whole thing online); and 200 words that I wrote in praise of Hannah Tinti‘s editing are in the March/April 2015 issue of Poets & Writers, as part of a feature titled “The Moment of Truth: Eleven Authors Share Stories of Life-Changing Retreats,” edited by the great Kevin Larimer.

This all makes me feel kind of mid-aughts-ish: I wrote “This Is a Test” in 2005 at the Albee Foundation, “What Would John” feels like a story that could only happen in the early to middle years of the last decade (the two female characters met at the Radcliffe Publishing Course, for example), and my contribution to “The Moment of Truth” is a (true) story from April 2006. I’m going to include it here (with permission):

In 2006, I spent the month of April at the Ucross Foundation in Clearmont, Wyoming. A friend of mine, writer and editor Hannah Tinti, also happened to be there at the same time. I’d gotten my MFA from NYU the year before, and since I knew how to make a galley from my work at a small press, I’d self-published one hundred copies of my thesis: perfect bound, small trim size, matte pink cover. I’d been giving them away to friends, and I gave one to Hannah at Ucross; she liked one of the stories in the book enough that she wanted to run it in One Story, the literary magazine she co-founded and edits. We worked on “The Samoan Assassin Calls It Quits” over the course of a few evenings, when we were done with our writing for the day. I had the great experience of watching Hannah make masterful edits to the story. She made it better than it had been. In a small way, it felt like how George Saunders responded to the news that he’d won a MacArthur: “I feel smarter already!” I hope always to have brilliant writer and editor friends like Hannah, and I hope that unhurried, meticulous editing, and the slow time and beautiful isolation of places like Ucross, never go away.

More mid-aughts: here’s a picture of Hannah and me at AWP Austin in March 2006, taken by indefatigable indie publishing genius Shannah Compton:

Hannah Tinti, AWP Austin

And some related, mid-aughts-y old posts here: a picture of the little pink book, Some Notes on Wyoming, and a number of photos I took with a tiny, terrible camera that I loved, but that was rendered totally obsolete by new technologies like the iPhone: Wyoming One, Wyoming Two, Wyoming Three. (Also my idea for Red-County Tourism, inspired by Wyoming, which I still think could work.)

All posted back in the olden times, before blogging, too, was rendered totally obsolete!

Neighborly Knots

Has anyone ever heard [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant],” Laurel asked, “of an artists’ colony or retreat that will allow a writer with children to bring her children?”

I wrote her in an e-mail: “The new edition of the Artists Communities guidebook has a handy chart on p. 264, in the indices section, showing you which colonies allow partners and/or children and/or pets for visits or for the full stay.

“Hope that helps!” I said.

“It totally does,” she replied. “I didn’t know there was such a guidebook.”

Not just a guidebook, but a Web site, I wrote her back, which has detailed, and presumably up-to-date, information on all the communities listed in the book—although as far as I can tell, the indices, which cross-reference all one hundred or so entries by discipline, region, seasons of operation, stipends and fellowships that are available (or fees that are charged), and so on, are only available in the print version.

I bought the book right around when I graduated from NYU last year. I went through it systematically, entry by entry, eliminating any place that would not accept 1) applications (as opposed to a nomination-only process); 2) writers; 3) people at the beginnings of their careers; and 4) men. I also eliminated any colony that charged a residency fee of any kind, or that had an application deadline over a year and a half in advance of any proposed residency.

This left me, out of the original one hundred or so, with six places. (I might be missing one or two, because of the sometimes convoluted language communities use to describe themselves; I’m glad, of course, to hear that a particular colony honors and nurtures the exploring child within without obligation in the gift of the passionate and unfettered journey, but does it take writers who haven’t published a book?) Since then, I’ve applied to, and have been rejected from, four of those six. But on the positive side, I’ve had residencies at the other two. And during both those stays, I got more work done than I ever would have if I hadn’t gone.

Laurel’s post reminded me of what I believe is one of the most valuable things writers can find at a good MFA program, if they’re lucky: small and amicable groups of artists working in the same discipline, networks of peers (or, maybe more accurately, networks of networks of peers), and the aggregations of practical knowledge that only exists in, and can only be conveyed through, such networks. There are some things you can find on the Web, or stumble across on the Web, like this post on the blog of a writer named Claire Light, which is the most comprehensive single list of residencies and fellowships that a fiction writer at the start of her career is eligible for that I’ve ever found. But I never would have ended up on that page if I hadn’t already known the names of half the places she lists—many of which I would never have known about if it hadn’t been for conversations with other writers.

This is an insane pursuit. It helps to have colleagues in insanity.

Some Notes on Wyoming

—My new alarm clock: a woodpecker who seems to be drilling a hole in the eaves directly above my bedroom. It’s loud, like shuddering plumbing. He begins work at six, kicks off at half past seven. I’ve tried to discuss his schedule, but he refuses to negotiate.

—Cows enjoy watching you as you walk by them, as if you’re the cow equivalent of television. Once you’ve been in a landscape this still for a while, though, you start to look at them the same way.

—Last week we visited a tack shop. The walls were covered with spurs, stirrups, bits, whips, and bridles; the floor of the shop was full of saddles. I said, “I can’t look at this stuff and not think it’s all B&D gear.” Then I felt bad, like a snot-nosed easterner, and hoped the saleslady hadn’t hear me.

—I rode one of the bikes up the hill by the polyhedron house to the sand pile the other day to see if I could get a signal on my mobile phone. I could not, at least not at the base of the pile, but I didn’t climb to the very top, because then I got scared of the cows.

—Walking on the main drag downtown, and also over at the Wal-Mart, we noticed a number of cowboys sporting Lincoln beards. My first thought was, how cool for this to be a trend! Then I wondered if it would catch on back east. Then I realized that these guys were most likely actually Mennonites.

—Cows lowing in the night sound like a mobile phone set on vibrate going off in your bag. (Or vice versa, depending on how you look at it.) When they’re giving birth during a midnight snowstorm, though, it sounds like something else entirely.

—Yesterday morning at around eight we heard the whistle of a train that sounded close enough to plow right through the kitchen, like something out of Chris Van Allsburg. But where are there tracks? Up by the silos? Or was it maybe an eighteen-wheeler with a customized train-whistle horn? Is that even possible? I ran to the porch, scanned the horizon: nothing but the usual Angus-peppered hills.

Tom Hop: Out of the Office

Hi, thanks for stopping by. For the month of June I will be an Edward F. Albee Foundation Fellow at the William Flanagan Memorial Creative Persons Center. Web access, I’m told, will be difficult to impossible. So for new postings, please check back in July. (For the three of you who check this page on a regular basis, I apologize, and I promise I’ll make it up to you.) Thanks, and wish me luck!