12 Winters Blog

Looking back, and a bit of True Grit

Posted in December 2010 by Ted Morrissey on December 31, 2010

On the one hand, I claim not to put a lot of stock in the significance of certain dates for their own sake, but the last day of the calendar year seems to encourage reflection. From a writing standpoint in particular, it’s definitely been a good one. I placed the odd and off-color story “Unnatural Deeds” with Leaf Garden, issue #8. Frankly, it took several months to find a publisher for that one, but I’m proud of it in the sense, especially, that the story is a testament to honesty — life as it really is, and not a sanitized version of it. It raised a few eyebrows, that I know of. I also placed the story “Walkin’ the Dog” in the debut issue of Spilling Ink Review. In that story I’d experimented with narrative that rests more heavily than usual (for me) on repetition of specific images, especially the color orange. It hasn’t come out yet, but Pisgah Review took my story “The Composure of Death”; it should be out this winter or spring. I realize now all three stories have in common that I borrowed their titles from other literary sources: Macbeth (5.1), “Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles”; the title of Walter Mosley’s conceptual novel Walkin’ the Dog; and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil,” “[T]he corpse had slightly shuddered, rustling the shroud and muslin cap, though the countenance retained the composure of death.”

The biggest stroke of luck of course was finding a publisher, finally, for my novel Men of Winter, which the new small press Punkin House picked up in the spring and released at the end of November. Thus 2011 will be in large part about promoting the novel. I also hope to release Weeping with an Ancient God, a novella and story collection, tentatively taken by Punkin House. The first chapter of Weeping, titled “Melvill in the Marquesas,” was published in September in The Final Draft. (I meant to provide a link to the story, which was published online, but the link has become inactive again — a bit disconcerting, as I’ve been hoping it would be floating around in the ether promoting in its way the coming novella release.) I thought I would have difficulty placing the novella excerpt — it is a bit unusual, in essence a fictionalized biography of Herman Melville’s experience among cannibals in 1842, during the whaling adventure that led to his eventually writing Moby Dick — but The Final Draft picked it up pretty quickly, and even though I withdrew it promptly from other journals’ consideration, I received three other offers of publication, and two rejections with long notes of praise (highly unusual, from my experience). So maybe the novella itself will generate some reading interest.

I was also invited to contribute to Glimmer Train Press’ Writers Ask series, a well-respected how-to publication, and thus my piece “Researching the Rhythms of Voice” will appear this winter or spring. I wrote about the process I’ve gone through to write my current project, whose working title is the Authoress, as its first-person protagonist is modeled after the nineteenth-century American writer Washington Irving. In particular I’ve been reading an obscure collection of Irving’s letters in order to get the feel of his more informal prose style. I’ve written about 340 manuscript pages of the Authoress, and hope to finish within a year or so. One other writing development was my establishing a new blog via my publisher, Punkin House. I decided what the world may need is a blog devoted to helping new(er) writers find outlets for their work, thus Pathfinding.

The Authoress has taken up all my writing energy, so I haven’t written any shorter pieces, nor any scholarly papers — both of which I miss, but it’s important to devote the necessary time and mental processing to the new novel. I’m not short on ideas: I have several writing projects, both small and large, creative and scholarly, in mind.

Finally, I don’t normally write about cinema, especially contemporary American cinema, but the other day I saw the Coen Brothers’ newest offering, True Grit, and I found it quite mesmerizing and wonderful. The acting is superb (and why wouldn’t it be, given the cast?), but beyond that the cinematic style is quite engaging, epic and even biblical in its scope. I know there have been some naysayers who don’t like the idea of remaking the 1969 John Wayne classic, directed by Henry Hathaway — and I love that True Grit, too — but the Coen Brothers have remained truer, apparently, to Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, and have given us a film that is darker and, well, grittier, than the original film, great as it is.

On the reading front, I continue to make my way through Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and am enjoying it very much. Winter break is nearly over, and it will be back to the three-job grind, but I’ve managed to make a lot of progress on the Authoress.

tedmorrissey.com

Men of Winter

Thornhill, Hitchcock and more

Posted in December 2010, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on December 19, 2010

I had the treat of attending an acoustic performance of the local band Thornhill last evening at the Walnut Street Winery in Rochester, Illinois. In a word, they were terrific. They performed for over three hours, and I was there to enjoy every note. The band — consisting of sisters Tina and Lynna Thornhill (lead vocals, rhythm guitar; bass, vocals), Joel Zulauf (lead guitar, vocals), Patty Kniss (percussion), and Terri Patterson (backing harmonies) — did a variety of covers, from classics by artists like Carole King, Heart, the Carpenters, and Neil Young (to name a few), new artists, like Neko Case, plus several cuts from their debut CD, Center of Town. They also performed an a cappella version of “O Holy Night,” and had other local musicians join them on stage for inspired renditions of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and KT Tunstall’s “Big Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” In addition to Thornhill’s excellent musicianship, their rapport with the audience, which included long-time Thornhill devotees and newcomers like me, was easy-going, lighthearted and often laugh-out-loud funny. Throw into the mix the winery’s unique and intimate setting, and all in all it was a memorable evening to be sure.

Music-lovers in central Illinois should keep an eye out for Thornhill appearances, and check the band’s dates page on its website.

While I’m posting, I want to give a nod to Dr. Tena Helton’s graduate English class at the University of Illinois at Springfield for their impressive project presentations based on the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The students used a variety of technology/media applications to explore various aspects of such Hitchcock classics as Rear Window and Psycho.

As I’ve discussed recently, my novel Men of Winter has now been released in three formats: print paperback, Kindle, and ebook. Over winter break I’ll be starting to organize readings and other promotional projects. The Comments page of my website has been … light on traffic since I started it, but hopefully now that people are reading Men of Winter some folks will use the Comments page to initiate a dialogue about the novel and, really, anything related to writing, publishing, etc. It would be great to have an interactive readership.

I’m a little more than a third through Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and still enjoying it very much, and I continue to work on the Authoress, my novel in progress, feeling that I’m nearly finished with a draft of chapter 20. It has been a busy week, with final exams, writing portfolios, and research papers to grade — plus my home laptop was out of commission for a few days due to a nasty virus — so my reading and writing suffered a bit; but I hope to more than make up for the lost time over break.

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Punkin House Books

Men of Winter fully released, and a little Kerouac

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

Men of Winter is fully released, meaning that all three versions — paperback, ebook, and Kindle — are available from Punkin House Press at punkinbooks.com. I haven’t seen the finished paperbacks yet, but I trust they’re on their way. As I discussed in a previous post, Punkin House Press is experimenting with different approaches to green publishing, described on PHP’s blog page. The fact that Men of Winter is available in Kindle is important, I think, as it encourages a wider readership. I saw a video blog in which the blogger was from Australia and she was saying that she’s become a much more voracious reader of new fiction thanks to ereading, as Kindle versions of books are much cheaper “downunder” than even paperback releases. In short, she simply couldn’t afford to buy a lot of print books. My Punkin House blog, Pathfinding, is on Blogger, which lets you see where people are who’ve looked at your post, and while I haven’t had a lot of traffic, period, yet, I have had people checking in from places like Russia, Croatia, Singapore, Italy, and of course the UK and Canada. So if folks abroad are going to buy Men of Winter, it’s more likely they’ll buy the Kindle or ebook versions.

Last Wednesday, the Poetry Collective at the University of Illinois at Springfield hosted a screening of the documentary What Happened to Kerouac? (1986), which I enjoyed very much (even though it was pretty late after teaching all day, and night). For a time I was a Kerouac fanatic, beginning with my reading of On the Road (1957) when I was in my mid thirties. I went on to read several, though not all, of Kerouac’s books. Probably, after On the Road, my next favorite is Tristessa (1960). The film uses footage from The Steve Allen Show in 1959 when Kerouac read from On the Road to Allen’s jazz accompaniment on the piano; in a word, it’s moving. The clip is available on YouTube, of course:

For Kerouac fans, or students of American literature, especially mid-twentieth-century, the film is well worth seeing, as it has extensive interview clips and rare footage from other Beat Generation notables like Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Beat scholar and biographer Ann Charters.

On the reading front, I continue to read and enjoy Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina — it’s a wintry morning here, and ideal for a cup of coffee and Tolstoy (though I’m in a springtime section of the novel — drats the timing). On the one hand, I enjoy Tolstoy’s description of the simple and happy peasants, who get such great joy from working the land; but I know that for the peasants themselves, toiling away on the land chiefly for the benefit of the owner was hard, hard work and probably joyful less often than Tolstoy’s book would lead one to believe. Nevertheless, the complexity of the novel, in terms of the diverse range of issues Tolstoy works into the narrative, is astounding.

I continue to work on my novel in progress, the Authoress, and will perhaps have a little surge of additional progress over winter break.

tedmorrissey.com

Men of Winter

Punkin House Books

Print edition available Tuesday, PHP’s greenness, and more Tolstoy

Posted in December 2010 by Ted Morrissey on December 5, 2010

The ebook of Men of Winter has been available since last week, but Punkin House says the print edition will be available Tuesday. A Kindle version should be available soon. Punkin House took a big step forward this past week, too, in its goal to become a greener publisher. For one thing, the paperback edition is printed on 30% recycled paper stock, and, I must say, it looks very good. Beyond that, however, they’ve launched a unique publishing model called the ROGO Program (for Recycle One Get One). In a nutshell, when you purchase a Punkin House book, you can return it and receive 20% off your next purchase — in an effort to get more authors read, bookshelves less cluttered, and fewer trees killed. They have other innovative green initiatives that are explained in more detail at their Punkin Green Commitment page — please take a look. It’s serendipitous that a house that’s committed to green publishing has taken on me and my work, as I’ve been committed to greener practices myself for years. You go, Punkin House.

I’ve been working away on my novel in progress, and am enjoying the process very much. On the one hand, it’s moving in the basic narrative direction I’ve had in mind for some time, but it still surprises me on a regular basis. In fact, the chapter I’m working on right now (20) is in itself a surprise; originally I’d planned the protagonist’s next move after chapter 19 to be further along the temporal sequence, but instead I’m inserting an entirely new scene that occurred to me as a good idea as I was finishing a draft of chapter 19. What I had planned for chapter 20 will now be chapter 21 (as it stands currently), so the new addition isn’t altering the basic narrative trajectory, but I believe it will enrich the final chapters of the book.

On the reading front, I’m still making my way through Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and the more I read of it, the more I enjoy it. Even though really big novels are out of vogue — notable exceptions of late being Adam Levin’s The Instructions (McSweeney’s), and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) — there’s something to be said for delving that deeply into characters’ lives, and living with them for as long as it takes to make one’s way through the narrative. There are many short novels and novellas that I love, but a shorter work is a different reading experience than a long work. A key work in my dissertation was William H. Gass’s The Tunnel, also a big, wonderful book. Wow, I just discovered that Dalkey Archive Press has published a casebook for the The Tunnel, edited by H. L. Hix — okay, so now I know what to ask Santa for.

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Men of Winter

Pathfinding (my Punkin House author’s 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.

tedmorrissey.com