Alex Chilton is bad at talking to girls but really good at musically documenting it. That's always comforting.
My book has a face. Here it is:
Katie Duffy designed it and did a great job. We went through a lot of brainstorming, looking at book covers we admire and talking about big abstract ideas that gave me sweaty flashbacks to the times in college when I actually had to think about stuff. I've done some minor design work for local and touring bands when they come through the area--some of it good and some of it questionable--so I'm not a complete idiot when it comes to design. Still, Duff is a pro, both at art and at telling me that I'm a fucking dickhead.
With this cover, she hit all the key spots we talked about--ephemerality, time as a confuser, open space, redheads--and ended up with something I'm proud to have visually represent my first book. I'll let you do your own interpretation, but I like how it all blends, how there are blue spots between and tons of white space, a big redhead at the center of everything. I'm going to get her some pencils or mescaline or whatever shit artists use. Thanks to Holly Wilson and Terrance Maule for being the models.
I also got a galley of the newest issue of Fractured West, a UK-based literary magazine who accepted my story "--:--" late last year. The issue will be out soon and I'm excited for a number of reasons.
1) Fractured West is a really great magazine that publishes excellent writing.
2) I can now say that I'm an internationally-published writer.
3) Publishing a story with an unpronounceable title, in addition to calling myself an internationally-published writer, puts me in the running to be the biggest dickhead in literature, right next to Garrison Keillor and that dude from one of my college writing workshops who told me his novel doesn't need an editor because his mom read it and said it's good.
Seeing that galley actually made me want to get back on the submission train, but I used up almost all of my A-material on the book. I did find a piece of flash called "Western v. Eastern" and a long-form story called "Shoot Out the Bright Lights" that are both ready to go, so I'm working on sending them out. I also tested the waters with a revision of the story "Trace" (which I previously talked about taking through almost a dozen drafts over the course of four years) and a revision of the story "Backlit" (which is in the same revision purgatory as "Trace").
And, as I did with "Trace," here are two different version of the opening to "Backlit."
Backlit (DRAFT 1, 10607 words, circa fall 2009)
Assuming she was telling the truth, I knew three things about Jayne before she got into the car with us: she had been smoking since she was eleven, her shoes never fit right, and she was going to kill herself. The shoes thing was the easiest to believe. She was standing behind the counter at Venucci’s Vittles in Davenport at two in the morning, barefoot, when we walked in wearing leisure suits and sunglasses. Mikey saw her first, her face partially blank and mostly young, but pale, lined around the eyes, colored and segmented like cauliflower. He turned around to the rest of us and called dibs on her.
Backlit (DRAFT 7, 2200 words, circa summer 2012)
I was just as drilled-through with tedium as anyone. I got in the car and left, and the boulders of effortless routine were immediately replaced with an enthusiasm for new and simple movement. In an hour, I was wore out, wanted comfortable shoes, my favorite song to come on the radio. At the end, because it was like any other tired end, I wanted to go home and sleep for half a day, wake up slowly and then in one sitting eat the equivalent of both the meals I missed.
Some of this was boredom and some of it was boredom’s opposite, something between interest and pleasure. Satisfaction sounds right, but I still don’t know.
That first draft was more of a slow burn. It starts off with a nice line, if not too-easy line--that listing technique with an oddball third item. There's a lot of wasted space, though: that second sentence is essentially pointless, and the stuff about leisure suits and sunglasses doesn't add much of anything except a sort of "look at us being silly" quality to the narrator that isn't exactly appealing. The stuff with Mikey and Jayne goes nowhere after this, too, just some material for awkward conversation and bad segues. Also, whereas the opening section of Draft 7 stops right where it stops above, the first section in Draft 1 goes on for 2192 words, almost the entirety of Draft 7. I think it may have been worth it, to some degree, once the story got moving, but absolutely no one wants to wait four pages for a story to warm up.
The opening in Draft 7 is about as abstract as I get. I think the sentences are all great, though. "Drilled-through with tedium" is a nice phrase, as is "an enthusiasm for new and simple movement." As an introductory section, I think it serves its purpose better. We know none of the characters--even the narrator is obscured by the hazy summary of what is, essentially, the entire story--but because it's so short and the next section immediately goes into both the characters (Mikey and "the rest of us"--the narrator's two other friends--have been cut) and the story, it works. Or, at least, it works for me.
Let's not forget about the writing contest over at HAL Literature, too. It's free to enter and comes with a sweet prize. Here are the details:
"The theme is open to interpretation and can center around China, the history of China, life in China, life after China, life without China, fortune cookies (which actually are not Chinese, but whatever, we don’t care, we are open to anything), grandma’s china plates, Chinese take-out, Shanghai, being shanghaied, stuff for sale at Target, trade deficits, foreign affairs, NAFTA, firecrackers or gunpowder, silk dresses, opium dens or railroads in the American wild west, the struggle of Chinese immigrants to the West, Richard Nixon, Chinatown, or any other conceivable application of the theme ”China.” We might not be ready to read Deadhead stories about China Cat Sunflower, but if that’s what you’ve got, send it in."
Three finalists will be chosen, with first place winner receiving
1) $50 USD, or the converted equivalent to US dollars at the time the award is made
2) publication in Shanghai at www.haliterature.com
3) One copy each of HAL’s Party like it’s 1984: stories from the people’s republic of; and Middle Kingdom Underground: stories from the people’s republic of, as well as a copy, upon publication, of HAL’s forthcoming book I Am Barbie by HAL author W.M. Butler.
4) winning story will be read live, in whole or in part, at a H.A.L. Lit event in Shanghai, China by a regular contributor to HAL residing in Shanghai at the time of the event. Alternately, the winner may travel at his or her expense to perform the piece in person, or send an audio or video recording of the piece along like a literary postcard of freedom and joy.
Second and third place winners will be published online by HAL.
Deadline for entry is September 15, 2012 at midnight Pacific Standard Time. Winners will be announced by October 15, 2012.
FUCKIN' DO IT.
And that's it for me, folks. Stay raw.