Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Readings in October

I realize now I dragged this out way too long, but here is the cover of the novel. Allison Saltzman, who also designed the cover for Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, did the cover design, and the art is by Julie Morstad. I have been a fan of Morstad's work, mostly because of the two children's books she's illustrated, When You Were Small & Where You Came From, which are so beautiful, so it was a thrill to see the illustration of the Fang family.

Here's a description of the book, which I did not write:

Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief.

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as along as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world.

When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance—their magnum opus—whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.

Filled with Kevin Wilson’s endless creativity, vibrant prose, sharp humor, and keen sense of the complex performances that unfold in the relationships of people who love one another, The Family Fang is a masterfully executed tale that is as bizarre as it is touching.

I'm also going to be reading in the midwest this month. I'll be reading on Thursday, October 14, with Nami Mun for the University of Cincinnati's Emerging Fiction Writers Festival. Holly Goddard Jones and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum. They are all writers I really love, so I'm excited to be hanging out with them.
The following week, I'll be reading at the University of Missouri-St. Louis on October 20th. I begged the people at UMSL to take me to C&K Barbecue, which is supposed to have incredible pig snoots and ribs.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Annie and Buster Fang

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Family Fang

Here is a teaser image for my novel, which Ecco is publishing in the summer of 2011. I'm really excited about this book and I'll give more details when it becomes official.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Been a Long Time

I haven't written in a long time. My 9 to 5 job is as the secretary of the Sewanee Writers' Conference. Things get crazy once the summer arrives. I stop sleeping. I get agitated at the slightest thing. I don't update my blog. But I'm clear of it for a little while and back to getting other work done.
I had some good news:
1) I was the co-winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for a short story collection. I tied with Robert Shearman; his work is amazing, so I'm really happy to be mentioned alongside him. Shirley Jackson is one of my all-time favorite writers, so this was an amazing thing. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of my top five books I've ever read. I got a really cool award with my name on it, as well as a black rock.
2) A story I wrote, "Housewarming", appeared in the 2010 edition of New Stories from the South. It's the fourth time I've been in NSFTS. Amy Hempel chose the stories this year and that made me very, very happy.
3) A story I wrote, "Skin", appeared in Best of the Web 2010. My wife was in the first BotW, so I was excited to be included. It's got a ton of amazing writers in it.
I have two copies of New Stories From the South 2010 and if you want a copy, leave your name in the comments of this post and I'll randomize the names at 12:00 pm on September 6th and send the two winners a copy.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Stole A Line from Suzanne Vega

I have this story in Hobart called "My Hand, Dead Tissue, Severed at the Wrist". There's a line in there that reads, "I bloodied a nose and kicked one girl so hard in the gut that she made a sound like two babies had fallen out of her." I had been thinking about this line, having read it somewhere as a teenager, for many, many years, just waiting for the chance to use it.
Just recently, I was trying to remember where I'd stolen that line, where it had come from. And I found it. Suzanne Vega wrote it for an article in Details Magazine. It's an awesome essay, called "Fighting". It's basically a child's list of rules for fighting. Holy god, tell me this section isn't amazing:
Girls are crazy and mean. They don't fight fair. Fighting fair means hard, tight fists and regular punches. But girls will slap, bit, pinch, pull your hair, rip the buttons off your shirt and the earrings out of your ears. There are no rules in fights with girls. Just hurting.
The one exception was the fight with Carla W., when she challenged me. We never even touched each other. I just stood there staring at her as she wound herself down, and she eventually began speaking nonsense. "I'll kick you in the guts and two babies will fall out!" Eventually the crowd around us began to laugh, and I won.
In high schol, I read Details all the time because I was obsessed with how to comb my hair and I liked looking at men wearing suits, which seemed like the strangest attire in the world at the time. Now, I can clearly remember reading this essay, and I can clearly remember wanting to marry Suzanne Vega. So, sorry for taking that line, Suzanne, but I could not help myself.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shirley Jackson Awards

I just found out that I am nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. The awards are given for "outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic," and I'm nominated in the category for Single-Author Collection. I'm up against Brian Evenson, Paul Witcover, Robert Shearman, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, and Otsuichi. What I'm saying is, I'm not going to win.
But I'm really excited because I love Shirley Jackson's work. "The Lottery" was a story I read when I was in sixth grade and it, along with reading "A Good Man is Hard to Find" in fifth grade (a teacher at my Catholic grade school read that story to us. She introduced it by saying, "This is a Catholic writer."), really shaped my idea of short stories long before I ever thought of writing any. I love, love, love We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House. So this is a good day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Scott McClanahan

Back at the end of January, I saw a post on Dennis Cooper's blog about a book called Stories II by a writer named Scott McClanahan. It sounded like a book I would really like and I made a mental note to grab it. Then, somehow, thankfully, Scott wrote me out of nowhere and sent me a copy of the book. So I got it last week, read it, and was amazed. I was so moved by the stories, felt a kind of electric appreciation for the world, or the world which Scott created in his stories. It made me want to cry a lot without totally understanding why.
Right after I finished the book, I ordered his first book, Stories, and I just got finished reading it and it did all those same things to me, but even more intensely. I love these two books so much. I'll try, though I won't do a good job, to explain why.
There is a simplicity to the writing that feels very much like traditional storytelling, like a conversation, the easy way the character allows you to come into his life for a little while to hear what he wants you to hear. Despite the humor, which sneaks up on you and floors you, the stories are bleak; almost all of them are set in West Virginia and the propects for most of the characters in the stories are not good. There is sadness everywhere in these stories. And what I'm going to say next is why I think I love these stories so much. Amidst the sadness, the ways in which everyone fails each other, there is such an amazing tenderness that lifts these stories up. I felt very tightly connected to these characters and was grateful for having been around their stories, because, even as awful things were happening, and sometimes they were totally responsible for the awful things, I felt like I understood them so clearly. Scott knows about ruined landscapes and he knows the people who inhabit these places intimately. And his love for these people, for these places, as complicated as it might be, did something magical to me.
I am not being very clear, I'm afraid. What I can say is that these stories are wonderful and I can't wait to read every single thing that Scott McClanahan writes from here on out. There are so many memorable lines, so many memorable images, that I can't stop thinking about the stories and wishing I had made them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Barry Hannah

Barry Hannah died yesterday. His fiction was some of the first stuff that really blew me away, that made me want to dig into weirdness and see what would come out of it. I read Airships in an undergraduate class at Vanderbilt and just went nuts for a couple of years, reading everything he had written, always being amazed at how much wildness he could allow into his fiction while still controlling it without any visible effort.
Barry came to the Sewanee Writers' Conference for many years and his readings were always the highlight of the conference for me. I heard him read "Testimony of Pilot". I heard him read "Constant Pain in Tuscaloosa." I heard him read "That's True". I made tapes of these readings and would listen to them in my car over and over.
One of the first years I was on staff at the conference, I got to read and, right after I finished my story, I walked off the stage and Barry made a beeline for me, a super-intense look on his face. I went numb because I thought, "Barry Hannah is coming up to me to tell me that I am a good writer and to keep it up." Barry walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Tony, I have broken my glasses and I would really appreciate it if you could find me a little piece of copper wire so I can fix them." So I got Barry Hannah a little piece of copper wire. "You're a saint, Tony" he said when I gave it to him.
When we found out that Leigh Anne was pregnant, she said that I could pick out the name. My two choices were Captain America Wilson ("We'll call him Cap," I told her) and Geronimo Rex Wilson ("We'll call him Rex," I told her). Leigh Anne then told me that she would pick the first name and I'd pick the middle name. That worked out, but, damn, I wish I'd stayed with Geronimo Rex Wilson.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Alex Awards

I just found out that Tunneling to the Center of the Earth received an Alex Award for "the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences". I'd heard about this award last year because Hannah Tinti's novel The Good Thief had been selected, so it's really cool to get picked and I hope tons and tons of teenagers read the stories now. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to start making little gold Alex Award stickers and going to bookstores to put them on copies of my book.

Cynthia Schad

A few years ago, I found an issue of Ploughshares from 1988, a special issue titled “Fiction Discoveries” that was edited by George Garrett. Established writers such as Fred Chappell, Andre Dubus, James Alan McPherson, and Pamela Painter nominated emerging writers who had yet to publish a book. While it was interesting to read early work from Noy Holland, Susan Straight, and Josip Novakovich, the most intriguing and memorable story in the issue was by a writer I had never heard of, Cynthia Schad.

Richard Yates provided the nomination for Schad, then a twenty-one-year-old graduate of Emerson College. The story, “Close to Autumn”, is a an impressive piece, a brief portrait of a young girl, Edie, who lives alone with her devoted father. Edie finds the outside world to be a suspicious, sometimes terrifying, place, and her fear is the engine that drives this story into uneasy places. School makes her nervous. At church, the sudden sound of the organ startles her so much that she begins to scream and her father has to carry her out of the building. And when, at a Dairy Queen, she is forced to walk past a group of laughing teenagers on her way to the bathroom, she becomes so paralyzed with fear that she wets her pants. In short, simple lines, Schad conjures up an exaggerated world that, through Edie’s eyes, hums with potential danger.

Teenagers hung out at the Dairy Queen, loud kids who smoked and chewed gum at the same time. They sat on top of the booths and put their black boots on the seats. They took up three or four booths in the back of the Dairy Queen and they never ate any ice cream. They kept cans of beer tucked between their legs that they’d tip to their mouths when no one was looking. The boys wore black leather jackets and white T-shirts, except for one boy who never had a shirt on under his coat. The few girls seemed just like the boys, smooth, hard, and unbreakable…She was in the middle of their booths now and their laughter swarmed around her. Their voices lowered to mutters and her eyes crept up to the table next to her. The boy with no shirt slid from the top of the booth to the seat and leaned toward her. “Hey baby,” he whispered. He smirked with one side of his mouth and greasy sweat dotted across his nose and under his eyes. He leaned closer and for a moment she was afraid he’d touch her. He reached out his hand and someone behind him snickered.

Her father, who has recently started dating a woman with whom Edie connects, seems to have his own issues. He accosts, with startling violence, those same teenagers in the Dairy Queen after the incident with his daughter and then, on his 30th birthday, reacts to the sight of his girlfriend with a cake she has baked for him by shouting, “Get that thing away from me,” and hiding in the kitchen. In short, Edie and her father seem wounded by circumstances just beyond the edges of the story. Yates addresses the story in his introduction by saying that “almost nothing is explained to the reader, but then, explanations have little value in the dynamics of the heart.”

Since reading this story, I have searched for more work by Cynthia Schad but have come up empty. I think that she might have published a story in the literary magazine Witness in the same year as her Ploughshares publication, but have been unable to find a copy of the particular issue. I can find no books attributed to her. And perhaps she never wrote again, but the amazing promise of “Close to Autumn” makes me wish I had the chance to discover more of her work. Schad, in her contributors note in Ploughshares, says, after attributing the shape of the story to “repeated playings of a record album by Tom Waits,” that “I don’t really think of writing as a career; it’s just what I am.”

Having spent a good portion of my life feeling like I am a failure if I don’t write, that if I don’t produce stories then I’m just this lazy guy who reads comic books and argues about different kinds of barbecue, I feel a strange joy at the idea of someone, twenty-one years old, writing a nearly perfect story and moving on, doing something else. If there will never be any other stories by Cynthia Schad, there is “Close to Autumn”, and I am happy for that.

If I learn from one of you that Cynthia Schad got married, took her husband’s last name, and subsequently published dozens of books, I am going to feel very happy that I have the chance to read more of her work and, also, very stupid that I wrote this entry.

Monday, January 4, 2010

CellStories and X-mas Loot

"Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D." is the story of the day at CellStories, "a daily story delivered straight to your iPhone. iPod Touch, or other mobile device." This feels like the 25th century.

My Christmas haul included a lucha libre mask from Corazon Fair Trade (to replace my previous Batman mask for particularly rough writing days), the complete set of the new Hammer of Thor Heroclix, and this print by Patrick Leger to go with this print by Patrick Leger that I already have in my office. I find it helps put my students at ease to have them walk in and see a print of a man punching another man in the face so hard that his head seems to have exploded. I may be wrong about this, but I don't think so.