12 Winters Blog

Reflections on Best of the Net

Posted in February 2012, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on February 5, 2012

The last several weeks have been so busy that time for blogging was all but nonexistent. There was syllabus writing, and preparing my presentation on William H. Gass’s The Tunnel for the fast-approaching Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, and — most time-consuming, but also most interesting, of all — was reading fiction for the Best of the Net 2011 anthology, published by Sundress Publications.

Sundress was founded and is managed by Erin Elizabeth Smith (whom I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing her read her own poetry in the fall), but it was my friend and colleague Meagan Cass who invited me to read fiction nominations for Best of the Net, which strives to publish the best poetry, fiction and nonfiction that appeared originally in online journals. Journal editors must nominate the work (unless it was self-published, in which case the author may submit the piece). See Sundress’s submissions page for full guidelines.

Meagan had lined up several readers for fiction, so I was in a group that was assigned just under seventy short stories to read; in other words, I read about half of the total fiction submissions — so the observations I’m about to share are based solely on that half; perhaps the other half would have suggested different impressions altogether (though I suspect not). According to the email to readers that organized the reading, this was the largest number of nominations Best of the Net had received, a sign, it seems clear, that the anthology is catching on and more and more editors are aware of it and appreciate its mission to give kudos to work published online, as opposed to that which first appeared in print publications.

Strictly online publications (though many do their own “best of” print editions on, say, an annual basis) are gaining legitimacy to be sure. The Modern Language Association, for example, has been establishing criteria for online publication of scholarly work to assist in the tenure-granting process as more and more academics have been turning to peer-reviewed online and e-outlets. (See the MLA’s “The Future of Scholarly Publishing.”)

There remains a certain prestige to being published in traditional print, especially if by a long-established journal (this is true for both academic and creative writers), but I do believe electronic publication is catching up — thanks to a complex web (ha) of factors, including projects like Best of the Net that call attention to the excellent writing which is appearing in online venues.

It was an honor to be asked to read for Sundress’s project, and I knew it would be an educational experience. As a writer (especially as a creative writer) I’m very much interested in trends in electronic publication, and I had certain questions going into my reading that I hoped the experience would help me answer — and I believe it has. First and foremost I was curious about this legitimacy issue; that is, I wanted to know how online-published work seemed to stack up against work appearing in more traditional, and established, journals. I wondered about the writers themselves: Would they primarily be first-timers in terms of publication, or ones who had only published in obscure and eclectic online sites?

And I wondered about the journals and their editors and designers. I’m hardly a babe in the woods when it comes to my exploring and reading online publications (in fact, I like to think of myself as something of an expert, or as much of an expert as one can be in a field that literally changes by the minute); however, I knew the project would introduce me to journals I’d never encountered, in spite of my regular trolling of Duotrope’s Digest, NewPages.com, and the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses’ member directory. I wondered where these journals were originating (from a university English department or from somebody’s basement or from somebody’s smartphone while sipping a latte at Starbucks). I wondered who their editors were, and I wondered what sorts of designs and formats were being used (and how reader friendly they were).

I’m about to get to my observations, I promise, but I should probably point out that I’ve been reading literary journal submissions for years, going back to my undergrad days at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale reading and editing the English Department’s Grassroots journal, but much more recently I published/edited my own chapbook-style journal, A Summer’s Reading, from 1997 to 2004, and since 2007 I’ve been editing then simply reading for Quiddity international literary journal and public-radio program.

So let’s just say I’ve supped deeply from the slush pile.

I suppose I thought reading for Best of the Net would be a lot like slush-pile reading in that I would discover early on in a given piece that I wasn’t smelling what its author was cooking, but this wasn’t the case at all. I said earlier that it was time-consuming, and that’s because I found I really needed to read just about every piece to the final mark of punctuation to try to decide yea or nay, and even then it was often a difficult decision. We fiction readers had been charged with finding only about twelve to fifteen “yeses” (in other words, we had to say “no” to around fifty-five in our own batch). I discovered that the writing was overall very, very good; and, for me, it was often the end of the story that moved my metaphorical thumb up or down — which I suppose isn’t surprising seeing that as a writer and teacher I know how difficult endings can be (much more challenging than writing an effective beginning).

The process was also time-consuming because by and large the submissions were full-length stories. Reading online, it’s difficult to gauge lengths as one might when reading from paper, but in my group there were only a handful that I’d call flash fiction or even a short short, and a roughly equal number were in the neighborhood of 10,000 words (which in paper manuscript would be about forty pages). As an editor and publisher of print journals, I’ve been frustrated by space limitations and have had to say “no” to many a worthy offering because there simply wasn’t room for it in the journal; and, as a writer, I’ve been curious why more journal editors didn’t take advantage of the infinity of cyberspace by publishing longer pieces (to be read by whom I’m not precisely sure — but that’s a whole different issue).

In terms of form, I’d say that in contrast to the cutting-edge nature of online publishing, the stories themselves tended to be very traditional. Again, I’d say only a half dozen or so of my seventy-ish were what I’d term experimental in narrative structure or style. I suppose since writers tend to write in a way that would be publishable by either print or online journals, the web editors receive pieces that have also been sent to their print counterparts. And even the story-writers who did play with form did so in a way that would translate to paper-print in essentially the same manner. (Here I am, I should acknowledge, writing quite specifically for the web, and yet I’m composing almost exactly as I did thirty-five years ago when writing a sports story for the Galesburg Register-Mail newspaper, so it seems the medium itself has not greatly affected how we write and process text, regardless of whether we are a forty-something or a twenty-something.)

Thus it’s fair to say that I was surprised by both the consistently high quality of the nominated pieces and also by their consistent ties to their print forebears. Perhaps online editors had published numerous highly experimental pieces but chose to nominate their more traditional ones. My sense, however, from both my Best of the Net reading and my usual snooping about online journals, is that the vast, vast majority of what’s being published on the web would be equally suited to traditional print.

As far as the writers themselves go, I only scanned bios after I’d read the piece and made my yea/nay decision, but I found quite a mix, just as one does in a print publication. There were writers who had not published before and ones who had only published in barely-on-the-radar venues, but there were also many, many writers who had impressive lists of credits and awards. Also just like their traditional brethren, the editors of these online journals tend to be academically trained and, often, affiliated; they are writers and poets themselves, with their own publishing credits and accolades; many are MFAs and PhDs, or are candidates, respectively.

I found that many of the journal sites were attractive and very readable, but at the same time there were those whose designers didn’t appear to believe that people would actually be attempting to read what they were publishing — with tiny, highly compressed text that seemed to say “Go ahead, just try to read me … I dare ya!” Reader fatigue was a problem I often struggled with, and I tried not to let it affect my judgment of the individual story. I should say that editors tended to nominate pieces in two forms, both in text documents and with links to their publications; I generally toggled back and forth to determine which would be easier on my eyes (even if I opted for the text document, I was curious about the journal itself and would poke around a bit).

Here are just a few journals I encountered due to my BOTN reading that I was especially impressed with in terms of design and, in some cases, general mood or aesthetic philosophy, but it is hardly an exhaustive list: Juked, Cha, Serving House Journal, Fiction Weekly, Ghost Ocean Magazine, and Up the Staircase Quarterly.

The bottom line is that there’s a lot of excellent work being published in online venues, thanks to the loving labor of a lot of dedicated editors and web designers, and as a consequence web-based publication, at least in the creative arts, is quickly achieving the prestige which had been granted exclusively to traditional print journals.

So kudos to these writers and editors; and to presses like Sundress that are dedicated to recognizing online excellence.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding: a blog dedicated to helping new writers find outlets for their work

The Pharmacy has quickly become a site of literary energy

Posted in December 2011 by Ted Morrissey on December 18, 2011

The Pharmacy art studio, located at the corner of Pasfield and South Grand in Springfield, Illinois, has quickly established itself as not only a site of visual artistic energy but literary artistic energy as well. In addition to hosting readings, often in conjunction with University of Illinois at Springfield’s creative writing program — in recent months poets Stephen Frech and E. E. Smith, and UIS’s undergraduate and graduate creative writers — The Pharmacy has hosted and/or organized writing workshops and open-mic events. Spearheaded by Andrew Woolbright and Adam Nicholson, The Pharmacy Literati have already had a profound impact on promoting and producing literature in Springfield. And all this, of course, is in addition to The Pharmacy’s primary mission to promote visual artists.

Most recently, The Pharmacy hosted novelist (among many other things) A. D. Carson, who read from his novel Cold. I’ve italicized “read” because it was really more of a performance than a simple reading, including wrap, slam poetry, and often accompanied by recorded musical tracks, composed and in large part performed by A. D. In fact, Cold has companion CDs and MP3s (see A. D.’s Amazon page). A. D.’s multifaceted reading was emblematic of The Pharmacy itself in that it’s a creative space which places no boundaries on imagination, regardless of form or content. Art, some completed, some in progress, adorns the walls and various nooks; here, there and everywhere are the various implements and supplies for making art, plus manual and power tools, food stuff, a hodgepodge of furniture, and, of course, books, books, books … on shelves, on tables, on couches. In addition to the artwork, the walls are also home to graffitied quotes.

In sum, The Pharmacy is wonderfully, beautifully messy — it’s sort of like the bedroom of a hypercreative teenager. In other words, it’s like the mind, both conscious and unconscious, of the true artist — whether an artist of images, of words, of sounds: they all come to The Pharmacy to play, and incredible things happen. If you’re creative and/or crave the fruits of creativity, you have to find The Pharmacy in Springfield. (I suspect the name “The Pharmacy” was chosen largely because the old building was indeed a pharmacy, but the founders chose wisely in that it has once again become a place of healing [spiritual and soulful], and the name further suggests the mind-opening and mind-altering effects of certain kinds of pharmacology [some legal, some not].)

I mentioned the readings done by UIS’s student creative writers, and I should add that they were quite good and made for a most enjoyable evening, especially when combined with macaroni and cheese lovingly prepared by the students’ teacher, Meagan Cass. Meagan recently received the good — and much-deserved — news that her story “Girlhunt, Spring 1999” was nominated by Devil’s Lake for a Pushcart Prize. Treat yourself right, and take a few minutes to read “Girlhunt, Spring 1999.”

On my own writing front, since completing the manuscript of my novel “An Untimely Frost” back in June, I’ve been writing a series of loosely connected short stories (four thus far), and one, “Primitive Scent,” was picked up by The Tulane Review, while another, “Crowsong for the Stricken,” was accepted for presentation at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 this coming February. I’ll also be presenting a paper on William H. Gass’s novel The Tunnel at the conference as part of the PsyArt panel. In other news, my publisher, Punkin House, has added Barnes & Noble to its sellers, along with Amazon, and as such a Nook version of Men of Winter is now available. Punkin House’s CEO Amy Ferrell has also informed me that an audio-book edition is in the works.

Meanwhile, the article I was invited to write for Glimmer Train Press’s Writers Ask series has come out in #54: “Researching the Rhythms of Voice.” I wrote about using the collected letters of Washington Irving to assist in capturing the narrative voice I wanted for “An Untimely Frost,” whose first-person protagonist is Washington Irving-esque. Also, the interview with me that Beth Gilstrap wrote for The Fourth River has come out, thanks in no small part to the journal’s fiction editor Robert Yune. Beth talked to me about both Men of Winter and Weeping with an Ancient God, a novella that Punkin House will bring out in 2012, paired with a collection of twelve previously published stories.

I’m at work on a fifth short story, though not of the same fictional ilk as the previous four, but I also need to get my Gass paper shipshape for the Louisville conference. Once those two projects are completed, I’ll turn my writing attention in full to the next novel I have in mind, a work that will be connected with “Primitive Scent” and “Crowsong for the Stricken.” So many tales to tell, so little time … but hopefully enough.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

Vachel Lindsay Association and upcoming Pharmacy showing

Posted in November 2011 by Ted Morrissey on November 6, 2011

It’s been such a busy fall in the local literary and art community, here in Springfield, Illinois, that it’s been a challenge to find time to blog about it (much to everyone’s disappointment, I know). I’ll only hit a few of the recent and upcoming highlights.

Last week was particularly bustling with Halloween-related doings. Last Thursday, Oct. 27, was the Midwest Gothic Costume Ball on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield. I donned a get-up in honor of Herman Melville, and in spite of the well-worn copy of Moby-Dick protruding from my coat pocket, and my “Hello. My Name Is ‘Herman'” sticker, most folks needed a little assistance to connect the dots. That’s all right. I was joined by fellow authors Edgar Allen Poe and Hunter S. Thompson (complete with manual typewriter and verbatim suicide note — talk about commitment to a role), among a host of other costumed revelers.

Held in historic and haunted Brinkerhoff Home, the highlight of the ball, for me, was a discussion and reading by Jodee Stanley, editor of Ninth Letter literary journal, who is co-editing, along with Brian Kornell, an anthology of Midwest Gothic literature (in other words, creepy stories set in the Midwest). Her talk was fascinating, and her selected readings appropriately creepy. Check out Jodee and Brian’s website. The Costume Ball was hosted by Quiddity international literary journal and public-radio program, which also released its new edition, 4.2, featuring the paintings of my favorite local artist Felicia Olin.

Then the following evening, Meagan Cass, of the University of Illinois at Springfield, organized the first annual Horror Reading, held at Cafe Andiamo in downtown Springfield. Attendees could read from their favorite horror stories or their own original prose and poetry. It was well attended by UIS faculty, graduate students, and a host of others.

Meanwhile, Springfield Poets and Writers, Prairie Art Alliance, and Sangamon Watercolor Society have been quite active, including some joint ventures. There’s been too much afoot to even adequately summarize here, but check out their various websites, especially for upcoming events.

Last night I proudly joined the board of the Vachel Lindsay Association, which is devoted to maintaining the poet’s family home and promoting the work of one of the twentieth century’s most influential poets. The Association’s meeting and dinner was held at Maldaner’s, a historic restaurant in downtown Springfield; and the featured speaker was Louisa Lindsay-Sprouse, the poet’s granddaughter. Louisa gave a spirited, informative and entertaining talk on her grandfather’s influence growing up, though she never knew him as he took his own life in 1931.

I was asked to join the Vachel Lindsay board by my friends and colleagues Lisa Higgs, who became board president last night, and Tracy Zeman, also a board member. Lisa and Tracy are exceptional poets in their own right.

I fear I may be burying my lead, but I’m looking forward to the upcoming showing by artists of The Pharmacy, which will be this Friday, November 11, at the wharehouse, 1022 S. Pasfield Street in Springfield, just a couple of blocks north of The Pharmacy. In addition to being an artists colony, The Pharmacy has been very active in promoting creative writing as well, hosting workshops and readings.

In terms of my own writing, I continue to tinker with stories set in a bizarre Midwestern town — though I believe they’re clamoring to be a novel, and they’ve pretty much talked me into it. I have a paper on William H. Gass that I need to write for the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, so I’ll get to that shortly, and when it’s done, I’ll turn my full attention to this bizarre Midwestern town … thing … project (yes project sounds better). Somewhat in preparation for the paper, I read Gass’s book-length essay On Being Blue, though mainly my paper will focus on the author’s long and dense novel The Tunnel.

One last note, I received a text message from my publisher, Amy Ferrell of Punkin House, that my novel Men of Winter is going to be released, eventually, as an audio book (Nook and Kindle versions were recently made available).

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

Hearst Center reading, and a busy literary October

Posted in October 2011 by Ted Morrissey on October 2, 2011

I’ve just recently returned from Cedar Falls, Iowa, where I had the honor of reading for Final Thursday Press‘s series at the Hearst Center for the Arts. Jim O’Loughlin, the publisher (and editor and just about everything else) of FTP, organized the reading; and I was originally put in contact with Jim via Jeremy Schraffenberger, whom I’ve known for a number of years thanks to our mutual involvement in the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. The Hearst Center, which is the former home of poet James Hearst, is a wonderful venue, with its art gallery and performance stage, among other features; and there was a sizable and attentive crowd that came out for the reading. I read a slightly edited and pared down version of the fifth chapter of Men of Winter.

Toss in some great conversation along with terrific pizza and Iowa’s own Millstream beer (plus the late-September beauty of northern Iowa foliage), and it was a memorable trip to be sure.

Speaking of Men of Winter, my publisher, Amy Ferrell of Punkin House, has been hard at work for the last several months reorganizing the press and expanding the house’s markets; as a consequence, my novel is available once again via Amazon, with the added bonus of a Kindle version, plus it’s now available through Barnes & Noble, including a Nook version.  Punkin House will be bringing out my novella and story collection Weeping with an Ancient God in 2012.

While I’m on the topic of my writing (fascinating as it is), I’ll mention that I’ve been circulating the manuscript of my novel An Untimely Frost, which I finished over the summer; and I’ve been working in earnest on a conceptual story collection, of which I have two stories out and about, hopefully making friends, and I’ve been writing a third (highly experimental) story. Right now I’m envisioning a collection of thirteen interrelated tales, but obviously we’re still a long way from home.

I stated in the title of this post that it’ll be a busy literary October in Springfield, Illinois, and indeed it will. Here’s a quick overview of a few of the upcoming events:

Monday, October 3: Poet Stephen Frech will be reading at The Pharmacy at 6:30.

Thursday, October 13: Poet Erin Elizabeth Smith will be reading at The Pharmacy at 7:00.

Thursday, October 27: Quiddity lit journal’s Midwestern Gothic Costume Ball, featuring Jodee Stanley, editor of Ninth Letter. Festivities will begin at 7:00 in the historic (and haunted) Brinkerhoff Home on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield.

Friday, October 28: A horror reading by Meagan Cass, of the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Creative Writing Program, at Andiamo Cafe, 6:00.

October  in general and Halloween in particular have been more or less my favorite time of year for-,well, ever; and this 2011 installment sounds like it’s going to be a hoot. (I’m a big fan of winter, too, but it’s always diminished by Christmas and New Year’s — however, not so the fall.)

Before closing I want to add that I’ve been attending some terrific showings sponsored by Prairie Art Alliance. Check out their events and exhibits page to see what’s on the horizon (that’s a landscape reference … get it?).

One last thing (because apparently people have been concerned): I did, at long last, finish reading War and Peace. I enjoyed the seven months of my reading life that I devoted to the infamous classic, but I must say Tolstoy’s longish treatise on historical theory was not the most emotionally satisfying way to conclude the (roughly) 1,200-page novel — though I understand what Tolstoy was up to, and as an experimentalist myself I appreciate that he was experimenting with genre and form. Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you. One of the first things I did after finishing War and Peace: read a wonderful novella by Denis JohnsonTrain Dreams — finished it in only two glorious sittings.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding

Returning to The Tunnel, and the Final Thursday reading

Posted in September 2011 by Ted Morrissey on September 11, 2011

For nearly a year now I’ve been devoting myself to my creative writing, putting my scholarly interests on hold, but I’ll be scratching that itch to some degree by presenting a paper with the PsyArt panel next February at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. I plan on presenting a paper titled “William H. Gass’s ‘Very Long Winter’: The Cultural Trauma of the Fallout Shelter Frenzy as Expressed in The Tunnel” — which will deal with ideas and images of enclosure in Gass’s award-winning novel, nearly thirty years in the writing. Consequently, this fall I’ll get back to some Gass reading, in addition to research on the fallout shelter phenomenon in the United States, especially in the 1960s, the decade in which Gass began writing The Tunnel, for which he won the American Book Award in 1996.

This paper will be a companion to a paper I presented in 2010 at the University of Louisville’s conference on the Atom Bomb’s influence on Gass’s work, with that paper focusing chiefly on his classic short story “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country.” I thought of submitting this fallout shelter paper for last year’s conference, but I knew I’d be in the throes of writing my novel, An Untimely Frost, and wouldn’t want to derail that line of thought to write the Gass piece. By the way, I was invited to participate in the panel by Andrew Gordon, who’s on the editorial board of PsyArt: An Online Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts.

It will be the fortieth anniversary of the Louisville Conference, and as such there are several special events planned — so it should be even more fun and rewarding to attend than usual. I’ve also submitted a creative piece to the conference, my short story “Crowsong for the Stricken,” but it’ll be awhile before I hear if it’s been accepted.

Speaking of “Crowsong,” I read the story to an enthusiastic (and indulgent) group at Athens (Illinois) Municipal Library August 28. I was there ostensibly to talk about researching and writing Men of Winter, but concluded by reading some new work. I appreciated the fact that a couple of my Quiddity and writing cohorts, Pamm Collebrusco and Meagan Cass, took the trouble to attend the talk and to add their experience and expertise to the conversation. Pamm is an associate editor for Quiddity (and one of the best proofreaders/copy editors I’ve had the privilege of working with), and Meagan has just begun teaching creative writing at the University of Illinois at Springfield (she’s a gifted fiction writer whose work I admire very much).

I’m currently working on a story that is a companion to “Crowsong for the Stricken” (and another recently written story, “Primitive Scent”); I’m thinking more and more that I want to write a collection of these weird stories which are conceptually connected. On the one hand, this current piece is really putting up a fight, but, on the other, I’m experimenting liberally (wildly) with narrative technique … so, anyway, we’ll have to see what comes of it all.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be headed to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to give a reading for the Final Thursday Reading Series, organized by the University of Northern Iowa’s Jim O’Loughlin and Final Thursday Press. The reading will be September 29 at the Hearst Center for the Arts. It begins with an open mic at 7:15; then I’ll do my thing at 8. It should be a good time, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

I don’t have any readings or talks planned for October (currently), but it should be a great month for literature and art here in Springfield, Illinois — I’m trusting those two facts are not related. Poet Stephen Frech will be in town October 3 and give a reading at The Pharmacy at 6:30. Then October 13 poet Erin Elizabeth Smith will also give a reading at The Pharmacy at 7:00. (The Pharmacy, by the way, is a new addition to Springfield — so new I’ve only recently learned of it and have not yet darkened its door with my presence … soon, very soon.) What is more, Quiddity is planning a unique literary event for October 27 — intriguing details to follow.

The Prairie Art Alliance continues to organize a series of terrific events. I attended “Abstractions: A Collection of Member Work” last week; and “Paper Works” is coming up October 7. See their events page for complete details.

I can’t stop writing without plugging one of my favorite local events, less than a week away: the Route 66 Film Festival, September 16-18, featuring 62 films in three days. Download the festival’s program schedule.

That’s about all I have time and patience to talk about for now (anyone reading this is probably feeling the same way), but I’ll be back at it again, I trust, before long.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding

Book discussion at Athens Library, and sending out new work

Posted in August 2011 by Ted Morrissey on August 21, 2011

I’m looking forward to meeting with a book group at Athens (IL) Municipal Library August 28, starting at 2 p.m. I’ll be there ostensibly to talk about Men of Winter, but in particular I’ll kick around some ideas about writing fiction in general, especially writing historically based fiction; and I plan to read a newly written short story, most likely “Crowsong for the Stricken,” which I finished toward the end of June. I’ve invited several of my writer/poet buddies in hopes of including their insights and expertise into the discussion.

Speaking of new work, I’ve been busy this weekend sending out a couple of new stories, “Crowsong” and another that I wrote in July, “Primitive Scent.” They’re both set in the same bizarre little village. I’d had the story that turned into “Crowsong” on my mind for years (on a low simmer on a back cerebral burner while finishing my dissertation, then writing An Untimely Frost), which is perhaps why it came together with relative ease. “Primitive Scent” put up more of a fight, though not much more. I’m currently writing a third story set in this same weird place, and it’s not working out well at all; in fact, I’ve decided to pretty much chuck everything I’ve written so far and start over. I’m still attracted to the basic concept, but the narrative keeps wanting to get away from me and turn into something longer than a story — but yet I’m not attracted enough to the idea to commit to spending the next three years or so turning it into a novel. Also, I haven’t been satisfied with the mood of the … thing I’ve been writing.

I had planned to start a new novel this fall, but if this third story turns out reasonably well, I’ll consider writing a kind of conceptual novel, with all the stories having the same setting and some of the characters popping up now and again.  We’ll see.  As I mentioned, I finished the manuscript for An Untimely Frost, and I’ve started looking for representation. I like the completed novel a lot (thank goodness, as I only devoted the better part of five years to it), but it’s … odd, and much more experimental than Men of Winter — which may make finding an agent and/or publisher especially challenging. But ultimately it ain’t about the publishing; it’s about the writing.

On the academic front, I had a paper proposal accepted for the PsyArt panel at next year’s Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. The paper is about the psychological impact of the fallout shelter frenzy of the 1960s on William H. Gass’s novel (mainly) The Tunnel. I also have a paper on Beowulf that I want to write this fall; it’d be a sort of warm-up for writing the full-blown novel I have in mind.

Meanwhile, I continue reading War and Peace (and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, with which I’m nearly done). I surpassed the 1,000-page mark in War and Peace, and only have about 200 pages to go. It’s a monster, and it’s taken me some time to get through it — but I’m not in any hurry, so I’m reading it slowly and carefully; and I’m enjoying it. Its complexity is remarkable — ranging from intimate human relationships, to religion, to critiquing various historical analyses of the Napoleonic wars, to … everything else — but what I wasn’t expecting is its humor: Tolstoy is often funny. When I finish, I want to return to Joyce for a while — but I’ll also need to be doing some reading for the Gass paper, and for the Beowulf paper. So many books, so little time.

tedmorrissey.com

Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

Readings for Men of Winter scheduled, and some new titles

Posted in March 2011 by Ted Morrissey on March 13, 2011

I’ve been actively trying to schedule some readings for Men of Winter, and I have two local dates set: One will be Wednesday, April 20, at Sherman Public Library, my “home away from home.” I’ll be reading along with my University of Illinois at Springfield colleague Lisa Higgs, whose collection of sonnets, Lodestar, has recently been released by Finishing Line Press. Lisa and I are working on setting up additional dual dates, but my other scheduled reading will be solo at Benedictine University at Springfield Thursday, May 26. The dates are listed on my Readings page at tedmorrissey.com. I read the first chapter of Men of Winter in Louisville last month, at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900; and I plan to read the first chapter at Sherman Public Library. However, I’ll do a different selection at BUS in May.

Not to dissuade any readers from coming to the Sherman Library event, but there is a video available of my reading chapter 1 at both Vimeo and YouTube (a slightly abridged version).

On the writing front, I was interviewed by The Fourth River, which (if I understand correctly) will run online this summer some time. The interviewer, Beth Gilstrap, talked with me about both Men of Winter and Weeping with an Ancient God, my novella that is slated for publication, along with a collection of short stories, next spring by Punkin House. Beth was a capable interviewer, asking intelligent and interesting questions (I only hope I responded in kind).

Meanwhile, I continue to work on the Authoress, the project name for my novel in progress. I’ve really been enjoying the writing process. I recently reached a climactic section that I’ve been working toward for 200 pages or thereabouts, and as such I’ve started getting up earlier just to leave myself a little extra time in the morning to write; if I get up at about 5:15, I can carve out 40 to 45 minutes to write, Monday through Friday. Generally, then, three or four evenings a week I can type up my handwritten pages produced in the mornings. It’s hardly a lightning-fast process, but with about two years’ work on the manuscript, I’m at the 375-page mark.

Having finished and truly enjoyed Anna Karenina, I dove right into War and Peace a couple of weeks ago. It’s taken me a little longer to develop an affinity for the text than it did for Anna Karenina, which happened from the first page, but I’m about 130 pages into War and Peace and am beginning to feel connected to the characters and the storyline. I think two features delayed my emotional attachment to the novel: one, Tolstoy introduces a plethora of characters in the opening chapters, and it was difficult for me to keep them all straight; also, he uses a lot of French in these same chapters, which is footnoted, but I found it cumbersome to keep glancing down to the bottom of the page, then back to my place in the text — as often Tolstoy has his characters speaking French, but the exposition between bits of dialogue is of course in English (Russian), or the characters shift back and forth between French and English/Russian, sometimes within the same sentence; so one must keeping jumping back and forth between the text of the novel and the translators’ footnotes. There is some French in Anna Karenina, of course, but it’s not so extensive, and not ladled on so thickly in the opening pages when one is trying to get one’s bearings. The French has slowed to a trickle in the last few chapters I’ve read of War and Peace, and that has helped me to embrace the novel more … affectionately.

I’ve decided that one of the things I should do with this blog is highlight some recent works of fiction and poetry that are available. One of my favorite pastimes when on campus at UIS is to go to Brookens Library and browse through the newly arrived books, many from small-press and university publishers. One book of poetry that I’ve found very engaging is Seven Poets, Four Days, One Book, which is the product of a group experiment in poetic composition. Another notable title is Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing: Stories, by Lydia Peelle. I’d also like to recommend two books from Coffee House Press: Extraordinary Renditions, a collection of three novellas, by Andrew Ervin; and Horse, Flower, Bird, an odd but engaging collection of very brief, fairy-tale-esque stories, by Kate Bernheimer (art byRikki Ducornet).

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Men of Winter

Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work

Notes on the Louisville Conference 2011, and visiting poets

Posted in February 2011 by Ted Morrissey on February 27, 2011

For a while I wasn’t posting much to this blog because frankly, in the depth of winter, there wasn’t much happening of note in terms of my reading and writing life — but the last few weeks have been so busy that I haven’t had time to keep up with documenting them. I will try to catch but will no doubt be giving people and things shorter shrift than they deserve.

I have just returned from the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, held annually at the University of Louisville, and I want to report on some of the people I met and presentations I attended. First, however, in the interest of chronology I’m going to write about a trio of poets who, individually, visited Springfield over a two-week period. This no doubt is where the short shrifting will commence.

The first was Carrie Oeding, a writing fellow at the University of Houston. I was among a group who dined with her at Augie’s Front Burner in downtown Springfield. I enjoyed her discussing some of her writing and teaching techniques, and also the new sequence of poems she’s just beginning to work on. Carrie’s first book of poems, Our List of Solutions, is forthcoming from 42 Miles Press, a new addition to Indiana University Press. The publication is the result of her winning the 2010 Lester M. Wolfson Poetry Award. Some of her work appears in The Poetry Center of Chicago’s Book 15, available as a free download from Plastique.

Another poet visitor to our fair city was Jayson Iwen of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. In addition to the dinner scene (at Lake Pointe Grill), I was able to attend Jayson’s presentation on cross-genre writing, which was especially interesting in that I consider myself something of a cross-genre writer. I enjoyed his easy-going, yet knowledgeable, manner. Among his published works is Six Trips in Two Directions, a poetry collection from Emergency Press. A brief excerpt from Six Trips can be read on the Woodland Pattern Book Center’s site. Another, longer, excerpt is available from webdelsol.com.

Last but far from least, I was able to attend a reading by Emma Bartholomew at historic Brinkerhoff Home on the campus of Benedictine University at Springfield, as part of the Quiddity visiting writers and artists series. Emma’s reading was delightful as she focused in particular on her interest in cartography and the poems that her interest has inspired. Some of the London-born poet’s work is available from 3:AM Magazine. Emma’s reading at Seersucker Live is also availabe on YouTube. It is very similar to her reading at Benedictine, which is fortunate because it was quite wonderful.

 

Continuing my short shrifting, I have just returned from the three-day Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. I attended and/or chaired several fascinating panels on a variety of topics, including experimental poetry, contemporary narrative theory, and trauma theory (which is one of my chief scholarly interests — it appears to be gaining momentum as there were several trauma-theory-related presentations). I also was able to hear some terrific prose and poetry readings, including Mike Barrett’s highly experimental — and imaginative! — work from his collection “Recto Verso”; Brent Jason Royster’s prose — and perfectly square, geometrically — poetry from his manuscript “A Rock and Two Boxes”; Mario Chard’s poems in progress from his “Caballero” series (at the risk of being redundant, quite wonderful); and Victoria Brockmeier’s readings from her manuscript “Magpie” (definitely risking redundancy, also quite wonderful). Just to say a touch more: Mario’s work focuses on immigrant experiences in the United States; and Victoria’s poetry is inspired in large part by classical mythology.

I also attended a reading by poet Rae Armantrout, winner of the 2010 Pulitizer Prize in poetry for her collection Versed (Wesleyan, 2009). She was relaxed and funny, making for a nice rapport with her audience. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend their readings due to scheduling conflicts, but I was happy to see my friend Jeremy (J. D.) Schraffenberger, poet and assistant poetry editor of North American Review; and also to meet poet Ewa Chrusciel, whose collection Strata will be out in just a few weeks from Emergency Press.

I read  the first chapter of Men of Winter at the conference. Some readings/book signings for the novel seem to be taking shape, but I’ll wait until I have some firm dates before discussing them here. Meanwhile, there appears to be some interest in my novella and story collection Weeping with an Ancient God, which Punkin House plans to bring out in spring 2012.

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Men of Winter (purchase at Punkin Books or Amazon)

Pathfinding (my Punkin House author’s blog)

Writer Meagan Cass in town, and some War and Peace

Posted in February 2011 by Ted Morrissey on February 13, 2011

This past week I was delighted to be among a group who took writer Meagan Cass to dinner at Bella Milano in Springfield, Illinois. The table arrangement did not facilitate my being able to talk much writerly shop with Meagan, but she was warm and witty, all the things a young visiting writer is supposed to be, and we all stayed long after the meal was concluded to continue to talk, in fact about three hours all together — so clearly no one was in a rush to leave her company. Earlier in the day, at a presentation I was unable to attend, she spoke of contemporary narrative’s forebears, like myth and fairytale, and how they can inspire and inform technique today. I was able to touch upon her topic at dinner, and she mentioned that her story “The Candy House of Roscoe, New York” (published in Carve Magazine) makes use of fairytale tropes in particular. I brought up her “Candy House” story as I had read it earlier in the day and enjoyed it very much. One of Meagan’s stories that I enjoyed even more is “My Highest Recommendation” (published in Minnetonka Review). The story is funny and touching and intriguing — all the things a great short story ought to be, which is no doubt why it won the journal’s 2007 Editor’s Prize.

Meagan has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and a PhD from University of Louisville Lafayette, and she lives in California, where one of her interests, apparently, is the LA Feminist Book Club.

I finished reading Anna Karenina last weekend, and even though my life runneth over with great books I’m eager to read I had to run out and purchase War and Peace, as I’m still very much in a Tolstoy kind of mood. Our local Barnes & Noble had several versions available, and I took several minutes to look them over before deciding which I preferred. I’d read the Constance Garnett translation of Anna Karenina and obviously liked it a lot, and her version of War and Peace was available in a couple of different editions; but ultimately I decided on the newer Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation, published by Vintage Classics. So far I feel I chose wisely. I like the liveliness of the translation itself, and I appreciate many of the edition’s special features, like a list of principal characters, including their various nicknames and their relationships to one another — my only complaint is the book’s weight: holy cow, it’s softback, but it must weigh twelve pounds; it’s like holding a bowling ball while you read. I feel like I should wear steel-toed shoes while lugging it around just in case it slips from my grip.

On the writing front, I continue to work on my novel in progress, the Authoress, and I continue to like what’s happening on the page. I’ve still yet to set up a reading in association with the release of Men of Winter. I spoke to the owner of a coffeehouse in Galesburg, Illinois (Carl Sandburg’s and my hometown), and he sounded very enthusiastic about hosting a reading. In fact, I got off the phone thinking it was a done deal and it was just a matter of finding a date. He wanted me to email him further information, which I did immediately … it’s been going on two weeks and he hasn’t responded. Who knows? On a happier note, my publisher, Punkin House, has found a major distributor for its books, and I’m looking forward to finding out more details. In a couple of weeks I’ll be at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900, where I will, among other things, read the first chapter of Men of Winter.

Also, an editor has expressed an interest in interviewing me with regards to my novella Weeping with an Ancient God, an excerpt of which was published in The Final Draft last fall under the title “Melvill in the Marquesas” (since archived at this blog); the interview is supposed to take place later this month or beginning of March, but we’ll have to see what happens there. I’m hoping to bring out the novella along with a collection of previously published stories later this year.

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Men of Winter (purchase print paperback edition)

Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work (my Punkin House author’s blog)

Getting Men of Winter out in the world, and more Tolstoy

Posted in January 2011 by Ted Morrissey on January 23, 2011

I haven’t been writing this blog with regularity of late, largely because it’s that part of the calendar that is most irregular, especially for us academic types — with one semester’s ending and another’s beginning, and that whole holiday season thrown in to boot. But 2011 has settled into place, and my schedule is normalizing as well. Technically Men of Winter was released in November 2010, but it was very late and with all the academic and holiday hubbub, it was almost like it hadn’t been released at all. I was hoping to enter the novel into some contests, like for first novels or just fiction of 2010, but I was surprised to discover that just about all of those sorts of contests had mid to late December submission deadlines; and I had difficulty getting a significant batch from my publisher, Punkin House, (in fact it was only this past week that a shipment of fifty arrived), so I missed the deadlines, as even first novels have to be submitted in the year of their publication. C’est la vie.

I spent some time over break trying to arrange some readings/book signings, and I can’t say that’s going especially well. I’ve contacted about fifteen bookstores and coffeehouses (known for their readings) in Chicago, Peoria, and Galesburg, and only one has responded, at all, and that was in the negative (they no longer host such things because they’ve decided their establishment wasn’t well suited to them). I need to step up my efforts, and now that we’re getting settled into 2011 I will. Men of Winter has been listed on Amazon, but sold via Punkin House as an independent seller. Punkin House is working on an agreement with a book distributor, and once that happens it should become easier to place books in corporate bookstores, like Barnes & Noble and Borders, and on Amazon proper. The publisher had been trying to sell exclusively through its website, but that’s just too difficult in today’s web-based, corporate-controlled world.

Quite frankly, as I’ve written here before, my three-job lifestyle does not lend itself to vigorous promotion of my book. I’m not really at economic or professional liberty to be gallivanting around North America pitching my novel. It’s also tricky to be a small-town English teacher and also a writer of serious literature, as there certainly are elements in the community that would disapprove, at times, of my subject matter or even my language. It puts one in the awkward position of needing to fly both on and off the radar — I definitely want people being aware of and reading my writing, but I don’t need a mob with pitchforks and torches marching up my driveway, metaphorically speaking of course (I’m pretty sure). That is precisely why tenure was established: academics and others who work in the arena of the human intellect (I just like the way that sounds — not even sure what it means) need to be able to explore and express ideas without fear of losing their jobs because somebody with a little clout takes offense. Of course, if education “reformers,” including those in Illinois, get their way, tenure will be abolished. That would be a pleasant day.

I have been invited to read the first chapter of Men of Winter at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900 next month at the University of Louisville. I’ve attended that conference, maybe, seven of the last eight years, and enjoy it very much. Normally I’ve presented an academic paper in addition to reading a creative piece, but I didn’t submit an academic abstract this time (though my brain runneth over with ideas for scholarly pursuits) because I knew I’d have to stop working on my novel in progress, the Authoress, for a month or longer to research and write a proper paper — and I don’t want to distract myself from my creative writing, which, by the way, is going along well. I just completed a draft of chapter 21 and am at work on the twenty-second chapter, with the manuscript now in excess of 350 pages (not that bulk in itself matters, but this is by far the most complex work I’ve done). I’ve contacted a couple of independent bookstores in Louisville in hopes of scheduling a reading while I’m in town for the conference, but, shockingly, I’ve heard from neither.

On the reading front, I’m still tackling Anna Karenina and enjoying it a lot. No doubt the snowy, frigid weather of the last few weeks has enhanced my enjoyment of Tolstoy’s novel even more. I was marveling at a scene I read this morning because of its being so applicable to today, even though it was written in the 1870s, in Russia. At a dinner party, a guest is envious of the “American way of doing business,” which in essence means an expedited, informal way, minus a lot of bureaucratic oversight — exactly the unregulated style of business that led to our economic near collapse two years ago — and the sort of style Republicans would have us return to in earnest now that Wall Street tycoons are back on their feet, thanks to taxpayers.

Also at the dinner party, which is in section 6, chapter 22, they discuss the latest innovations in agricultural technology, specifically a new threshing machine, and how Levin, a wealthy yet hands-on landowner, is opposed to these sorts of innovations as they will, in the long run, be detrimental to farming and, more profoundly, socioeconomics in Russia. Basically he asks, If we replace the peasant class with machinery, what will the peasant class do? This is precisely where the United States is at in the twenty-first century in that our emphasis on computer technology has made obsolete many manual-labor and even skilled-labor sorts of jobs, like in manufacturing, for example, and educators, therefore, are charged with the task of making certain every student is college bound and ready for a high-tech-related job (the thrust really of the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” initiative). It all sounds quite lovely, except for the minor detail that not every student is geared to do that high-tech sort of work. Just as I will never be able to dunk a basketball, some students will never be able to write well or to work calculus (just as I cannot work calculus). But the sorts of decent jobs that these good young people could count on a generation ago are no longer available — they’ve gone overseas or have disappeared altogether.

In short, Tolstoy’s broad insights, from the economic workings of society to the romantic workings of the human heart, are quite remarkable, even a century and a half later.

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Pathfinding: a blog devoted to helping new writers find outlets for their work