12 Winters Blog

Men of Winter paperback proofs, and ‘Melvill’ available again

Posted in November 2010 by Ted Morrissey on November 28, 2010

I received the proof of the paperback edition of Men of Winter, and it looks good. The back cover and spine are a bit out of whack and the printer will have to correct them before the presses roll — but it’s very close to being done. The ebook and paperback are available on the Punkin House Press website, specifically punkinbooks.com, listed in the fiction section. Now I’ll have to focus on finding places to read and otherwise promote the novel. I’d like to enter it in some contests for first novels, etc., but, looking online, several require copies of the book by early or mid December, which seems odd to me — why not mid January so that all 2010 novels could be submitted? Some accept bound galleys in lieu of the book itself, but I’m not really in a position to get something like that together either. These are small matters, however, and overall it’ll be good to get it out in the world.

Speaking of being out in the world, the excerpt from my novella Weeping with an Ancient God, titled “Melvill in the Marquesas,” is available again online. It was published in the journal The Final Draft, but was taken down after a few weeks. It now has permanent link (thank you, again, to editor Bob Rothberg). I hope to publish the novella along with a collection of previously published stories in the coming year. I was gratified that I received three offers of publication after The Final Draft had taken it (even though I’d immediately withdrawn it), and at least two other editors who took the time to say how much they liked it even though they weren’t offering to publish it. Perhaps, then, there will be some interest in the novella when it becomes available in full. For years novellas were very difficult to place with a publisher, but given our culture’s shrinking attention span, perhaps the twenty-first century will see a revival in the novella form.

Contributing to this revival may be the ereader. I’m reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and last week I stumbled upon another blogger, Diane Farr, reading the novel, but doing so via a kindle. In her blog, The Best by Farr, she talks about liking her new kindle, but, reading something like Anna Karenina, it’s difficult to get a sense of where she is in the book. I haven’t tried using an ereader, but I think I would miss the concrete sense of knowing I’m a  third through the book, or half, or nearly finished, etc. Perhaps, then, the boom in ereadership will make shorter works like novellas especially attractive. Diane makes some interesting observations about Anna Karenina and the experience of reading it, so check out her blog post (linked above).

I’ve also returned to some degree to the Quiddity fold. I had been an editor for the journal for its first four issues, but I resigned to focus on finishing my Ph.D. and devoting more energy to my own writing and publishing. I was especially involved in producing the journal. They’d encouraged me to come back to that post, of producing the journal, but I didn’t want to invest that much time (and brain power); however, I have started reading for the journal again. I have a batch of newly arrived poems, for example, that I’ll take a look at this afternoon. Luckily, one of my former students, Laurel Williams, was able to take the production job; I know she’ll be a tremendous addition to the Q crew.

On the creative writing front, it took about six weeks but I finished a draft of chapter 19 of my novel in progress, the Authoress. Part of that time was spent reading and researching Romeo and Juliet, so it wasn’t, strictly speaking, all writing time — but the reading and researching were necessary parts of the composing process. With all the hubbub  associated with bringing out Men of Winter, I’ve nearly forgotten about my story “The Composure of Death” that will be appearing in Pisgah Review — but I’m very pleased to be a part of Pisgah‘s pages, edited by Jubal Tiner. I suspect the issue with “Composure” will be out in the spring. I’m also proud and honored to have a how-to piece coming out some time in the next few months in Writers Ask, a publication of Glimmer Train Press.

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Tolstoy a century later; Men of Winter to be released soon

Posted in November 2010 by Ted Morrissey on November 21, 2010

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of Tolstoy’s death, and as a matter of coincidence I’ve been reading Anna Karenina. One of my followees on Twitter posted an English-language Russian news segment reporting on the author and what an industry he’s become, especially his home, Yasnaya Polyana, as a tourist destination. The news reporter interviewed Tolstoy’s great grandson, who talked about the irony of the fact that very few of the tourists who enthusiastically flock to Tolstoy’s home have in fact read any of his work. Then he went on to discuss how it’s a shame that the vast majority of people only read classics that are required of them in high school. He made sure to take nothing away from contemporary books and authors, who should be read too, but insisted that classics, like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or War and Peace, still have much to offer modern readers. My favorite author, William H. Gass, also laments that too few people today read classic literature, which he believes helps to develop the mind in ways that popular fiction is unable to. I’m on the other end of the spectrum in that I’m drawn to classics and don’t read new authors as much as I feel I should — but there are only so many hours in the day: with working three jobs and giving daily attention to my own writing, there’s not nearly enough time left to read as I would alike. I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t take a newspaper, though the idea of sitting down with a big thick paper, like The New York Times, and a good cup of coffee is very appealing. To find that time, however, I’d have to forfeit time spent reading other things (like the three hours I spent with Tolstoy this morning) that I find nourish both my intellect and my soul.

Speaking of my writing, Men of Winter is supposed to be out this week (though I’m not holding my breath). It is fair to say that it will be out soon. Meanwhile I’ve uploaded videos of my reading chapter 1 of the novel to both Vimeo and YouTube; so far neither site has garnered very many hits, not surprisingly. Also I launched Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work as my Punkin House author’s blog, though I’m not yet listed among their blogging authors (I believe PHP is redoing their webpages). On the one hand, I’m looking forward to having my novel out in the world, but on the other I feel a bit handicapped in trying to promote it as neither my three-job lifestyle nor pocketbook easily lends itself to aggressive promotion in terms of scheduling readings and attending book fairs, etc. I will do my best, however. (This past week I did receive an invitation to read the first chapter of Men of Winter at The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 in February — now just to find some way to pay for attending the conference. . . .)

I continue work on the Authoress, soldiering my way through chapter 19. It’s slow but I like what I have, which isn’t to say it won’t need much revision. It will.

In a bit I’m headed to the local Barnes & Noble for a school library fundraiser — just what I need: a good excuse to buy books.

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Vimeo, new blog, Dracula, and a touch of Tolstoy

Posted in November 2010 by Ted Morrissey on November 14, 2010

With the release of Men of Winter just days away (though I’ll believe it when I’m holding a copy in my hands), I’ve been working on increasing its (my) web presence, and one project has been to make a recording of myself reading the first chapter of the novel. Originally my thought was to embed the mp3 file at my website, but it seems WordPress doesn’t support that sort of link (or I’m just an idiot). Then I thought I’d turn the audio file into a multimedia file combining it with the image of the book cover, which I did, and embed that file at my website. However, that didn’t seem to work either. So … I uploaded the video to YouTube, except it turns out YouTube has a fifteen-minute limit, and my video is over sixteen minutes. Persevering, I’ve had an account at Vimeo for a few months but haven’t done anything with it except comment on various filmmakers’ projects and subscribe to a few of my favorites. Anyway, I uploaded my video (which is mainly audio) to Vimeo, god bless ’em, and I put the link on my webpage. Also, I’ve made an abridged audio file of my reading so that in the next couple of days I can transform it into a video and upload it to YouTube, just to have a bit more exposure.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, my publisher, Punkin House Press, encourages its authors to maintain a blog, so the question became, do I continue to use 12 Winters Blog only, or do I also start a special blog (on Blogger) that will be linked to PHP’s blogpage? Figuring that, perhaps, more is better (after all, this is America, people), I went with the latter option. I pondered for a few days how I might make my PHP blog different from 12 Winters Blog, which I use as a sort of online journal of my reading and writing life, and it occurred to me that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of practical information on the web about the mechanics of finding a publisher for one’s shorter work. I’ve come across a lot of sites that give writing tips, and there’s a lot of information about how to shop a book-length manuscript; however, for the so-called “new” writer/poet who is wanting to start seeing work in print, there doesn’t seem to be much out there. Hence, my Punkin House blog, which I launched yesterday — perhaps you heard something about it on the evening news. (Disclaimer: We seem to be having some technical difficulties related to its being a shared site, and thus far I haven’t been able to spruce up the generic template — but, fear not, I’m working on it.)

With my current writing project, the Authoress, a new novel, I’m toiling away on chapter 19, which is set during an … unusual performance of Romeo and Juliet. It’s taking awhile to compose my way through the scene, but I’m getting to spend some quality time with the Bard’s words (always a plus), and, in a strange way, I’m getting to stage the performance. In other words, I’m essentially the director/choreographer of this fictionalized nineteenth-century production in my head, and that in itself has been a lot of fun. (Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll try to stage an actual production of the play as I’m imagining it for my novel — it’d be interesting.)

Speaking of staging, last night I saw the final performance of Dracula at the Community Players Theatre in Bloomington, Illinois. To quote the website:

Adapted from the novel by Bram Stoker, this stage adaptation served as the basis for the 1931 Universal horror film classic starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. Written in 1923 with the blessing of Stoker’s widow, this critically acclaimed version presents the classic Dracula we know so well today. The 1977 Broadway production, which won Tony Awards for Best Revival and best Costume Design, featured Academy Award nominee and three-time Tony Award winner, Frank Langella, as the nefarious Count Dracula.

The 1923 stage version was the first to present Dracula as a suave and sophisticated figure, and not the monstrous persona that Stoker wrote in his 1897 novel (according to my former dissertation director, Bob McLaughlin, who played Dr. Seward in the Community Players production). In a sense, then, this stage version laid the groundwork for today’s vampire craze with its plethora of sexy vampires. It was a small cast and deserves what little recognition I can provide here: Leah Pryor (Miss Wells, the maid), Gerald Price (Jonathan Harker), Bob McLaughlin (Dr. Seward), Joe Strupek (Abraham Van Helsing), Brian Artman (R. M. Renfield), Jeff Ready (Butterworth), Kristi Zimmerman (Lucy Seward), and Paul Vellella (Count Dracula); co-produced and co-directed by Bruce and Kathleen Parrish. As I said, it was the final performance, but the Community Players have several other shows planned for the season, including a one-weekend performance of “Art”, November 18-21 (that’s next weekend).

Finally, I’ve been wanting to read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1878) for a long, long time, and I’ve taken the plunge. I’m on Part 1, Chapter 14 — so far, so great. My favorite line to date: Oblonsky observes, “All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow” (p. 42, Barnes & Noble Classics edition, 2003; 1.11). For me it captures something that for the last couple of years in particular I’ve been working to get across to my students, who seem increasingly to see the world as black or white, and have little sense of (or use for) nuance, contradiction and complexity. Thus, literature becomes a calculus problem to be solved, to be reduced to its lowest, most simplified expression; but the purpose of literature is not to be solved per se — rather literature invites us to ponder and embrace the irreconcilable contradictions of being human. As I say at times, we don’t fully understand our own behavior, our own feelings, let alone other people’s. Yet we must try, for as we come closer to knowing them, we come closer to knowing ourselves. Heavy.

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Women Writers reading, and release date for Men of Winter

Posted in November 2010 by Ted Morrissey on November 7, 2010

Last evening the Women Writers Association of Central Illinois, in conjunction with the Sangamon Watercolor Society, held an open-mic reading with the release of Mosaics 3: Art anthology of short stories and poetry.  The reading, held at Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Illinois, was well attended, and I daresay no one could have been disappointed in the material presented by the poets, writers, and watercolorists who came together for the event. The Women Writers Association is marking its twenty-seventh year.

The event was MC-ed by Dr. Rachell N. Anderson, formerly of Springfield but now residing in Mississippi, who has been a member of the WWA for twenty-five years. In addition to her MC duties, Rachell read a memoir piece from Mosaics, “For the Kindness of Strangers,” that was humorous, touching, and insightful. She writes of nearly running out of gas while driving through Arkansas, discovering, in a sudden panic, that she’d absentmindedly left behind her purse and with it the wherewithal to fill her tank. Other readings from the anthology that impressed me very much were Kimberly K. Magowan’s long poem “The Pebbled Path” (dealing with the tragic effects of Alzheimer’s disease), Pat Martin’s poem “Life Line” (about waiting for a call from a daughter who’s in the path of a tornado), and Debi Sue Edmund’s memoir “Moving Day” (in large part about the family cat who refuses to enter his pet carrier to be transported to his new abode).

In listing these, I leave out many worthy others. Other contributors to Mosaics 3 are Kathleen O’Hara Podzimek, Linda McElroy, Celia Wesle, Anita Stienstra, Jennifer C. Herring, Cindy Ladage, and Jean Staff. I want to make special note of not only Anita Stienstra’s remarkable reading of two ekphrastic poems that she wrote in connection with watercolor pieces by Sangamon Society members, but also that she edited and produced Mosaics 3, a lovely book that features cover art by Kathleen O’Hara Podzimek. Anita is editor and publisher of Adonis Designs Press, which does the important work of bringing out local voices who otherwise may not be heard. As a teacher, I’m especially appreciative of Anita’s efforts to produce The Maze, an anthology of work by local teenagers.

On the Men of Winter front, the publisher, Punkin House Press, has indicated my novel will be officially released November 23. PHP’s founding CEO, Amy Ferrell, and I will talk tomorrow about marketing and so forth. Somewhat along those lines, I’m playing around with making an audio recording of my reading the novel’s first chapter to post at the website. If it goes well, I may record myself reading one or two of my short stories also. Obviously, I hope the recordings might bring some (positive) attention to my work — but also I just enjoy reading aloud. In class these days we’re reading Frankenstein, and I especially love reading Mary Shelley’s prose aloud. (An editor who rejected my work said that he liked it, but my prose was “overheated” — which I took as a compliment as it is exactly how I would describe Mary Shelley’s style in Frankenstein — hmmm, does that mean that I write like a 19-year-old girl? So be it.)

On my current writing project, the Authoress, I’ve taken a few days away from composing to read, carefully, Romeo and Juliet, as the play seems to want to colonize my novel as a subtext. Before diving into the play itself, I’m glad that I read Gail Kern Paster’s essay “Romeo and Juliet: A Modern Perspective” in the Folger Library 1992 edition of the play. In it, Paster makes the case that Juliet’s rejecting her father’s plans for her marriage and her choosing her own marital path is a challenge to long-standing patriarchal order, or in Paster’s words, a “conflict between traditional authority and individual desire” (p. 255). Paster’s essay made me more keenly aware of challenges to traditional authority in the play, and this is precisely what my novel is looking for in directing me toward Romeo and Juliet. I’ve been especially interested in issues of identity and naming in the play. In the iconic first orchard scene, for example, Romeo’s identity is “bescreen’d in night,” and when Juliet asks him pointblank, “Art thou not Romeo and a Montague?” he is ready to shed both “if either thee dislike” (2.2). An especially provocative image, given this reading of the play, is Juliet’s declaration that if she awakens in the Capulet vault and discovers that her and Romeo’s desperate plan to be together has not come to fruition, she will “dash out [her] desperate brains . . . with some great kinsman’s bone” (4.3).

I’m just about done reading/annotating the play, so hopefully I can get back to writing chapter 19 on the morrow.

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Quiddity fall release gala, and Men of Winter proofs

Posted in October 2010 by Ted Morrissey on October 24, 2010

This past Thursday I attended the fall issue release gala for Quiddity international literary journal and public-radio program at historic Brinkerhoff Home on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield. As usual, it was an enjoyable and stimulating evening (even though the guest of honor, issue 3.2, was a no-show as its cover was still drying at the printer’s — a not uncommon occurrence at release parties). Most of the usual cast of characters were present: Joanna Beth Tweedy (founding editor and host of the radio program), David Logan (prose editor), Judi O’Brien Anderson (poetry editor), Michael Gammon (layout and web design), Pamm Callebrusco (associate editor), and Marianne Stremsterfer (art editor), plus loyal interns John McCarthy and Stacie Lynn Taylor.

Best of all, there were readings by David Bertaina, poet and translator of Semitic languages; and by Tracy Zeman, “nature poet of the sublime.” As if that weren’t enough, Croatian artist Magda Osterhuber was present to discuss her paintings that were being exhibited in Becker Library Gallery, a short walk from (historic and haunted) Brinkerhoff Home.  Throw in some food and wine and acoustic-guitar folk music, and you’ve got a pretty splendid way to spend a Thursday evening.  Work by Bertaina, Zeman and Osterhuber are included in Quiddity 3.2.  Here is 3.2’s table of contents, which also allows you to hear some of the work included in the issue — a feature that most literary journals don’t offer. The Quiddity radio programs are archived here.

On the Men of Winter front, the publisher sent me the page proofs, which I returned yesterday with corrections — so a release date begins to loom larger and larger, though it isn’t set in stone just yet.  I mentioned in a previous post that the first chapter of my novella Weeping with an Ancient God was published in The Final Page. A new edition of The Final Page has since been posted, and it seems the journal doesn’t archive their older issues — in other words, the excerpt, “Melvill in the Marquesas,” was available online for a few weeks, but, alas, is no more. A couple of editors of other journals expressed an interest in it after it had already been taken by The Final Page, so I may see if someone is interested in “reprinting” the excerpt; or I may just archive it here at 12 Winters Blog. I was really hoping it’d be floating around on the web for a few months, in anticipation of the novella’s publication.

In my novel in progress, the Authoress, I surpassed the 300-manuscript-page mark, and I’m very much enjoying the writing process. I had come to a chapter (the nineteenth) whose function I understood, but the narrative particulars of which were fuzzy, to put it mildly. But I’ve worked through some of those issues and now have a definite bead on the chapter, which is a much better feeling than the murky one I had just a few days ago. I liked another idea, but the narrative timeline just wouldn’t support the development I had in mind — which worked to my benefit as the new trajectory is superior in just about every way. For me, writing a novel is a bit like filling up a hallway closet with stuff, and everything I need to complete the project is in there — sometimes it’s just a matter of sorting through its accumulated contents to find the items I need.

I’m still reading — and enjoying! — Adam Braver‘s Crows over the Wheatfield (though I cheat every now and then, and read some Gogol).

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Filmmaker Jovanna Tosello and a little Gogol

Posted in October 2010 by Ted Morrissey on October 3, 2010

In my last posting I neglected to mention a recent (exciting!) development regarding my forthcoming novel Men of Winter — perhaps it slipped my mind because it’s just too darn cool to be true. A couple of postings ago I mentioned attending the Route 66 International Film Festival and seeing a short animated film, The Magical Porno Theater, that was a real mind-bender. As I watched the film, I started ruminating about the fact that I really wanted to have some sort of video piece associated with my novel (I’ll use the somewhat crass term “a book trailer”), and wouldn’t it be terrific if the Magical Porno filmmaker, Jovanna Tosello, would develop something incredible based on Men of Winter? So I took a chance, found her on the web and hence her gmail address, sent my heart-felt kudos about her film and gingerly floated the idea of her putting something together based on my book, if she had the time and interest (expecting, quite frankly, for her to say thanks, but no thanks). I suspect you can guess where this blog is headed: she said yes. Wow. As I told her in my email, I would rather there was a video out there that drew attention to my book that was also a piece of art in itself, as opposed to any old trailer whose sole purpose in the cosmos is to sell a couple copies of Men of Winter.

Jovanna apparently originally hails from Reykjavik, Iceland, but now lists her location as Los Angeles. According to her website, she has a BFA in character animation from California Institute of the Arts, and she’s working on her MFA in animation and digital art at USC. You can check out The Magical Porno Theater on Vimeo, along with some of Jovanna’s other animated film work — and I highly recommend it. You can also find out more about Jovanna and view her work at her blogger site. To say that I’m thrilled to have Jovanna’s talent and creativity lending their services to my modest novel doesn’t begin to describe it.

In other news, I’ve been reading Adam Braver’s Crows over the Wheatfield, and his work always reminds me of the Russian masters, and as such I developed a yen for some Nikolai Gogol and have been reading a bit from Dead Souls (1842), a novel I’ve been curious about for some time. I wasn’t expecting it to be so downright funny. One of my favorite lines thus far occurs when the main character, Tchitchikoff, and his driver have lost their way at night in a terrible rainstorm, and they come upon a house, immediately to be greeted by some “ill-tempered” dogs — Gogol writes, “[O]ne, throwing back his head, gave a prolonged howl, with as much care as though he had received wages for it” (p. 41, 1966 Airmont edition, trans. Zoe Girling).

Meanwhile, I’ve been working away on the Authoress, my novel in progress, and am feeling very good about the way the narrative is shaping up. The writing is slow, but it progresses. I’m nearly finished with chapter 18 and am at the 290-plus manuscript page mark. It’s all rather nebulous, but I hope to have a complete draft of the novel by next summer, in about another 100 pages or so.

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“Melvill” finds a home, more on Braver’s Crows

Posted in September 2010 by Ted Morrissey on September 26, 2010

Since the last posting, I found a home for “Melvill in the Marquesas,” the first chapter of my novella Weeping with an Ancient God, and in fact it’s already published: the wonders of electronic journals. It is in the current edition of The Final Draft, edited by Bob Rothberg. The Final Draft has a magazine look that I like. Bob has generously played up the coming release of Men of Winter, which Punkin House Press is planning for November. The front cover is set, and graphic artist Julie McAnary is at work on the spine and back cover; meanwhile, I presume work is also being done with designing and setting the pages, but so far I haven’t seen any galleys. Referring back to “Melvill,” the tentative plan is for PHP to publish Weeping with an Ancient God along with a collection of a dozen previously published stories in 2011.  Right now, of course, the focus is to get Men of Winter out (and promoted).  Weeping, by the way, is a highly fictionalized “biography” of Herman Melville’s encounter with cannibals in the Marquesas Islands in 1842. To write it, I researched Melville, especially his childhood and his time spent on the whaling ship the Acushnet, but also I carefully read his debut novel Typee, which is his own highly autobiographical account of the event in the Marquesas Islands. I elected to spell Melville’s name minus the last “e” as that was the family’s original spelling — before the “e” was added to make it look more American in hopes of improving their business prospects (I believe it was Melville’s older brother who made that decision, but I’d have to refer back to my research on that one).

In any event, it feels good to have a bit of Weeping out there in the world, and I appreciate the professional job that Bob Rothberg has done in presenting it in The Final Draft. I don’t seem to find an archive button at the journal’s site, so I’m not sure if it will be possible to access “Melvill” after the next installment of the The Final Draft is uploaded, but I hope there will remain a permanent link.

While I’m posting, I want to give a quick shout out to M. R. Branwen for having her poem “Flora, Fauna” nominated by Metazen for the 2010 Best of the Net Anthology. It is a well-deserved honor; check out her poetry.

In addition to continuing my work on the Authoress, my novel in progress, I’ve been reading Adam Braver’s Crows over the Wheatfield and enjoying it very much. I’m especially enjoying its intertextual nature as Braver mixes the novel’s main plot, about a professor/scholar of art history, with excerpts from the professor’s manuscript (one presumes) on Vincent van Gogh — the juxtapositioning is provocative and engaging. Then of course there is the novel’s overarching intertextual relationship with van Gogh’s famous painting, Wheat Field with Crows. Braver’s clean and concise prose style belies the book’s thematic complexities, thus amplifying those complexities even further. I’m sure there will be more to follow on Braver’s superb novel.

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“The Double” in retrospect and Men of Winter status update

Posted in September 2010 by Ted Morrissey on September 12, 2010

I had some quality Amtrak time this weekend and was able to finish Dostoevsky’s long story, or novella, “The Double” (1846; trans. George Bird). I enjoyed it very much. Ronald Hengley, the editor of Great Short Works of Fyodor Dostoevsky (Perennial Classic, 1968), writes in his introduction that the story’s main character, Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, is a reflection of Dostoevsky’s self-image:

These [i.e., Golyadkin and the protagonist of “White Nights” (1848)] despised, feeble, usually poverty-stricken personages are all introspective in inspiration and may be considered as self-portraits of the author as seen in the distorting mirror of his imagination — portraits, that is, of the Dostoevsky who was the butt of his fellow cadets in the army engineering school where he received his main education, and who later provoked the sneers of Turgenev and other members of his literary set in St. Petersburg shortly after receiving notoriety with the publication of his first fiction. (viii)

Hingley goes on to say that Dostoevsky “resented . . . almost everyone he knew,” but that “he also appears to have courted [. . . humiliating] experiences with a certain masochistic gusto.” In my reading of “The Double,” I see the tenacity of one’s individual personality. Mr. Golyadkin (whose name means something like “poor fellow” in Russian, according to the translator) resolves time and again to cut all ties with his double, “Golyadkin junior,” a duplicitous, mean-spirited fellow who seems bent on Golyadkin’s professional and personal destruction, but the original Golyadkin continues to seek out his double or to place himself in situations where his encountering his double is all but inevitable. I see this as one’s inability to totally rid oneself of the darker (or at least less attractive) sides of one’s personality. We may be able to stray from our true selves for a time, but we must always return, even if it’s against our own will.

I’m looking forward to other stories in the collection, but for now I’ve turned my attention to a contemporary novel, Adam Braver‘s Crows over the Wheatfield (2006). I’m about forty pages into it, and I no doubt will be blogging further about it in the future. I’m a great fan of Braver’s first novel, Mr. Lincoln’s Wars (2003), a book I have taught in a couple of different college courses; and readers around the world have been becoming fans of Braver’s newest novel, November 22, 1963, as it’s been translated into several languages, including French and Japanese. As I said, more on Crows to follow.

While I’m at it, a quick nod to Vaudezilla’s production of Rollin’ Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque. I was in Chicago over the weekend and took in the show at the Greenhouse Theater Center. It was . . . bizarre — but great fun, especially for Big Lebowski fans (who aren’t plagued by cultural timidity). Frankly, it’s the sort of thing one doesn’t have an opportunity to see much (or at all) around Springfield.

On the Men of Winter front, I’ve been exchanging emails the last few days with the graphic artist, Julie McAnary, who’s designing the cover for my novel, and we’re just about there, so hopefully it will be ready for an unveiling very soon. I anticipate some page proofs soon as well, as the publisher, Punkin House Press, is planning a release this fall.

I continue to look for a journal to publish “Melvill in the Marquesas,” the first chapter of my novella Weeping with an Ancient God, and I continue work on my novel-in-progress, informally titled the Authoress, though I’m 99.9% certain of the formal title now. I’m nearing the 300-ms.-page mark and feeling very good about the story.

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More Turgenev and a proposed release date for Men of Winter

Posted in August 2010 by Ted Morrissey on August 15, 2010

I’ve been reading from the collection of Ivan Turgenev’s stories (though some have been described as short novels). After reading the collection’s titular story, “First Love,” I read an earlier-written tale, “Bezhin Meadow” (1851), then skipped to the final tale in the collection “Clara Milich” (1882), and now I’m reading “Assya” (1857). There’s been little rhyme or reason as to which stories I’ve read and in what order. I suppose I’ve been guided somewhat by David Magarshack’s (that is, the translator’s) introduction, and his assessment of the evolution of Turgenev’s style as reflected in these stories that span more than thirty years. According to Magarshack, in his earliest stories Turgenev was especially interested in describing scenery:

The interesting stylistic feature of A Sportsman’s Sketches, as well as of Turgenev’s other stories belonging to the same period [early 1850s], is the presence of the long descriptive passages which have very little relation to the subject matter of the story. Indeed, Turgenev was for a time so obsessed with his ability to paint landscapes in words that even his letters of the period abound in descriptive passages of the same kind. (pp. x-xi, First Love and Other Tales, Norton 1968)

On the one hand, I see in the stories I’ve read so far what Magarshack is getting at. His assessment, though, that the “passages … have very little relation to the subject matter of the story” is not one that I would whole-heartedly embrace. There may be little direct relation to the plot of the story, but it seems to me that Turgenev is operating in a way that would soon become known as impressionism in painting, and a bit later as impressionism in literature. That is, the descriptive passages are often meant to reflect some meaningful aspect of the characters who are operating within or observing the scenery — that aspect may be the characters’ psychologies, or it may be foreshadowing their narrative advancement. In the story “Assya,” for example, the connection between scenery and characterization is overtly made by Turgenev when the narrator says of Gagin, a young Russian fellow he’s met in Germany and who’s awakened him early on a beautiful morning, “With his wavy, shiny hair, open neck, and rosy cheeks, he was as fresh as the morning himself” (94).

Needless to say, I’ve been enjoying the Turgenev stories. I read a bit of Turgenev as an undergraduate, but he’s one of the many authors who’ve been just on the edges of my academic radar all these years.

A couple of developments on the creative writing front: My story “The Composure of Death,” which I just began sending round last month, has been taken by Pisgah Review, a beautiful little journal associated with Brevard College, in Brevard, North Carolina. The journal is edited by Jubal Tiner, whom I met several years ago at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 (though I’m not sure Jubal is making the connection just yet). According to Jubal’s email, the editorial staff is not in love with the title of the story so they’ve asked me to consider a different title, which I’m willing to do — I have no emotional investment in that specific title. I did reply with a brief explanation of the title’s origin, which is Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil,” a story I allude to in my story, and why I’d chosen that phrase. I don’t know if that will change their feelings about the title, but, if not, I’ll put my thinking cap on and come up with another. With the acceptance of the story, each of the stories in my collection Weeping with an Ancient God, a novella with collected stories, has been published. I’ve also been shopping around the first chapter (under the title “Melvill in the Marquesas”) of the unpublished novella, but so far no one has offered to take it to the dance. It’s still very early in the process, and I’ve only gotten a couple of rejections so far.

The other development: According to Amy Ferrell, CEO of Punkin House Press, Men of Winter should be out in October. Still quite a ways to go in terms of laying out the pages and designing the cover, but that will apparently get intense in a hurry. PHP also wants to do some sort of online workshop/contest that I’ll lead and judge for publication, in part to promote my novel but also to help other writers find publication. Right now it’s just a concept, so that too will have to be fleshed out in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on the Authoress, my novel-in-progress. I’m about 265-manuscript pages in, and a couple of days ago I roughly mapped out the final sections of the story. I have a long way to go, but I must resist the urge to rush toward the finish line. In a sense I’ve been working on the novel for four-plus years, but that’s misleading because for three years I (almost literally) didn’t touch the manuscript as I finished my Ph.D., specifically preparing for and passing comprehensive exams, then getting the dissertation topic approved, and researching, writing, and defending it. So, really, this is only my second summer of working on the novel. I must keep in mind facts like it took Joyce seventeen years to write Finnegans Wake, and William H. Gass worked on The Tunnel for nearly thirty years — not to imply that my book will be another Finnegans Wake or The Tunnel, but rather to remind myself that a novel worth its salt takes time to write, and rushing the process is counterproductive.

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Turgenev’s ‘First Love’ plus nostalgia for the days of paper

Posted in August 2010 by Ted Morrissey on August 8, 2010

I have just finished reading — and I mean just — Ivan Turgenev’s long story “First Love” (1860; translated by David Magarshack), and I found it hauntingly beautiful, especially in terms of what is sometimes called atmospherics. Turgenev almost emphasizes development of setting more so than characterization — though of course they are so closely entwined it’s difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. For example, Turgenev writes, “Meanwhile it was getting near dinnertime. I went down into the valley; a narrow, sandy path wound its say through it towards the town. I walked along the path.” The “I” is the story’s sixteen-year-old first-person narrator, and through his infatuation with the beautiful, young (though older than him) princess Zinaida, Vladimir does journey into the valley of his soul, his pysche — and the path is indeed sandy (unsure underfoot) and winding (making it unclear what is around the next turn); and [SPOILER ALERT], as it turns out, he is headed toward town. That is, he literally returns to town (Petersburg) at the end of the story, which is set mainly in the country, near Neskoochny Park; figuratively, though, Vladimir goes from the wild and organic experiences of one’s first love to the more orderly and staid position of maturity at having survived the tempestuous emotions.

I’ve gotten hold of a collection of Turgenev’s stories (Norton, 1968) and am looking forward to diving into another, probably “Bezhin Meadow” (1851).

On the writing front, I’m still at work on my novel-in-progress, the Authoress. I haven’t made as much progress this summer as I was planning, but I did bring together a new book-length manuscript consisting of my (as yet) unpublished novella Weeping with an Ancient God and a collection of (nearly all) published stories. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, it took more time and creative energy to bring the manuscript together than I’d anticipated; however, I’m glad that it exists, and I’m in the very early stages of finding a publisher for it. Meanwhile, I’ve been shopping around the novella’s first chapter as a stand-alone piece, and I’ve been sending around the one story from the collection that hasn’t been published, a short short story (2,000 words) titled “The Composure of Death,” a phrase borrowed from Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil.”

With the arrival of August, the proverbial floodgates have begun to open in terms of the number of journals and presses that are back to accepting submissions — the gates will open fully come September. I’ve commented before that the number of electronic journals is growing exponentially, but I wonder that there may be the beginnings of some backlash. That is, there seems to be some dissatisfaction on the part of editors and writers (most editors are also writers) with purely electronic literature; there seems to be some ache to have something made of paper to hold. There are a number of journals that are offering the best of both worlds by publishing material online (including as downloadable pdf formats) and via print-on-demand books (Oak Bend Review and Leaf Garden, to name two such journals who have used some of my work). Then there are web journals that do, say, an annual “best of” print collection (Spilling Ink Review, for instance). Book publishers, too, are straddling the fence, so to speak, releasing new titles in both electronic and traditional formats (Punkin House Press and Black Coffee Press).

There are journals and presses that are totally committed to epublishing. Here’s a link to the Directory of ePublishers — and this is understandable given the low cost of epublishing compared to traditional print publishing. Also, there’s no question that epublishing is gaining in popularity among readers. Recent announcements by book-selling giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble regarding their ebook sales compared to hardbacks were bouncing all over the Twitter- and blogospheres; see, for example, the Wall Street Journal‘s report on Amazon. Nevertheless, there seems to be something that isn’t totally satisfying about ebooks for bibliophiles (at least, bibliophiles of a certain age range). In fact, a new journal is launching in spring 2011 that is deliberately looking backward to an all-paper period. The Snail Mail Review, whose web presence seems to be mainly through Facebook, is accepting submissions exclusively the old-fashioned way (while more and more journals are going to email or online submission managers). According to Every Writers Resource, the Snail Mail Review editors want to recreate the feeling of submitting and being accepted via postal mail. They say, [sic]

We are a contemporary literary journal with “old-school” style. The editors at Snail Mail Review are committed to bringing only the best in poetry and short fiction by maintaining mail-only interaction with our writers. Given their past experience as being editors, they find much to be valued in sticking to traditional mail submissions. The editors believe that nothing can beat the joy of receiving submissions in the mail box and being able to hold those submissions physically in their hands as they consider the work. Consequently, we also know the joy of a writer when he receives an acceptance letter in the mail. This is the interaction that we wish to maintain with our writers, thus Snail Mail review was born.

I must admit that I find the approach engaging — and I know of which they speak — but I’m dubious of their success (though I’m not even sure what I mean by “success”). For the last issue that I was involved with as an editor for Quiddity, we had one poet that we published who was totally nontechnological. Her poems came to us via snail mail; we had to accept the ones we wanted via snail mail; her photo arrived via snail mail and had to be scanned; her poems had to be typed and the galleys sent to her by mail; her corrections came by mail; the corrected galleys were sent by mail. . . . In short, it really slowed the process down from a publishing and production standpoint — and that was for two or three short poems. I recall when I published/edited A Summer’s Reading (1997-2004), and for the first few issues everything regarding interaction with the writers was done the old-fashioned way, including my laboriously typing accepted prose pieces that were several thousand words long. On the one hand, I think something can be gained from the experience of typing another’s manuscript (I remember being told that Hemingway thought his experience as a typist for the literary journal the Transatlantic Review was invaluable to his development as a writer himself), but it’s difficult to imagine going back to that process. Though I believe one of the downsides to electronic exchanges between editors and writers, and thus copying and pasting being the main mode of production, is that there isn’t enough attention paid to the details (or even the correctness!) of language. I seem to be running across a lot of twentysomething editors who either don’t care much about correcting texts, or they frankly don’t know what’s correct and what isn’t when it comes to grammar, spelling, etc. — they no doubt reflect a readership that increasingly neither cares about nor likely knows such “rules.”

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