I finally got to watch Lemmy, the documentary about Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister. What cool guy. "Don't die." Great advice, Lem.
I've got some new additions to the (Has Friends) page here. Such as poet Michael Lambert, who I sort of know from college but moreso know from him coming into the record store I worked at and talking about whatever dickheads in record stores talk about. Pavement or fucking whatever. Also, essayist Sean H. Doyle, who I know from the internet, where, I believe, dickheads were invented. Sean isn't one of them, though, as far as I can tell--even if he does like John Bush-era Anthrax. Last, and he's only last because I don't think he yet knows that he's my friend--we've exchanged several e-mails and he's following me on Twitter and JUST LOVE ME ALREADY, THOMAS COOPER--short fiction writer Thomas Cooper, whose flash fiction collection Phantasmagoria I finally ordered, after being a fan of his for years and only being able to read and re-read the few pieces he has online.
Seek these people out and admire them. Be their friend. It's what the internet is for.
I finally submitted a short story to Midwestern Gothic after talking about it for months. I found out on Friday that the deadline for their new issue--on the theme of "nostalgia" and, as always, the Midwest--was on Monday. I immediately thought of a story I wrote a few years ago called "Trace," in which a young boy's eclectic grandmother dies, leaving him and his grandfather to deal with a life without her. That story was awesome at the time--I learned a lot about characterization, shifting perspectives, and revision--but going back and rereading it kind of made me realize how much of a navel-gazing butthole I used to be.
So I hacked the fuck out of it. The story was about 4100 words in the most recent draft, draft seven, last edited on 8/21/2009, and I cut somewhere between 2500 and 3000 words and added somewhere between 500 and 1000 words. I added a character, an older sister named Wendy, and changed the narration from third to first. It's better, and I hope it's good enough.
I think this is actually my most revised story. The differences are pretty staggering. Here is the opening scene to a few different drafts.
TRACE (DRAFT 1, circa late-2008)
Grandpa told me that for the decade or so before Grandma died, she would spend all morning hi-lighting the obituaries. She’d drench the clichés in yellow and then say them—out loud, to no one at all—as if listing what she didn’t want in her own. She’d clear her throat if necessary and say “beloved” or “pillar of strength” and the words would fall into a box nobody wanted to open or look into. Then she’d continue with “light of his life” and a slash of the hi-lighter.
That was just breakfast. Around mid-day she’d go and stand in front of the mirror for hours with her arms crossed over her chest, a rosary entwined between her fingers, calling out to grandpa, “Hoyle, how would this look surrounded by purple satin?” I saw it once when I stayed over.
He came in and leaned against the doorway. “You look fine, Amelia.”
“I’m not supposed to look fine. I’m supposed to look dead.”
“Well, then close your eyes and quit talking.”
He left after that, but every twenty minutes she had a new pose. When she yelled the next time and the time after that, he came back both times. The fourth time, she put her left arm across her stomach and raised her right arm above her head like a spiral staircase.
“Like a dancer, Hoyle.”
“It looks like you’re in the middle of throwing the first ball at a Brewers game.” The rosary dangled from her right hand, and he continued. “You’re dead, not pitching, remember?” Grandma turned-up the corners of her mouth and whispered, “Strike.”
TRACE (DRAFT 7, circa late-2009)
For the decade or so before the boy’s grandma died, she would spend all morning hi-lighting the obituaries. The page always ended up creased and wavy from how slow she moved over the words—all clichés, all saturated yellow—before saying them out loud, listing what she didn’t want in her own: “beloved” or “pillar of strength.” Around mid-day she’d go and stand in front of the mirror for hours with her arms crossed over her chest, a rosary entwined between her fingers, calling out to the boy’s grandpa. “Hoyle, how would this look surrounded by purple satin?” The boy saw her do it the last time he stayed over. It was late-March and the heartland was thawing out, leaving mounds of gray snow in parking lots while people walked around in gym shorts and thin flannel pants.
The boy’s grandmother was posing in the spare bedroom as the boy watched television.
Hoyle came and leaned against the doorway. “You look fine, Amelia.”
“I’m not supposed to look fine. I’m supposed to look dead.”
“Well, then close your eyes and shut up.”
The boy’s grandpa winked at the boy and left the doorframe. Twenty minutes later the boy’s grandma yelled from a new pose and he came into the room. After twenty more minutes, it happened again, and when it happened the fourth time, she put her left arm across her stomach and raised her right arm above her head like a spiral staircase in a Spanish mansion.
“Like a dancer, Hoyle.”
“It looks like you’re in the middle of throwing the first ball at a Brewers game.” He watched the rosary dangle from her right hand. “You’re dead, not pitching”
She turned-up the corners of her mouth and whispered “Strike.” On the chest at the foot of the bed, the boy turned from the television and towards his grandparents, his grandma with her eyes closed in the middle of the room and his grandpa fixed on her from the doorway, the television giving way to a distant hum, a pulse hitting his temples when he tries to think it through.
The family said “old age” when she died a few weeks later, but they really meant heart failure. The boy’s grandpa told the boy that she woke him up in the middle of the night to say, “A shame, ten years late.” And that was that.
TRACE (DRAFT 9, circa yesterday)
My grandmother spent her last couple thousand mornings highlighting the obituaries. Around mid-day she’d go and stand in front of the mirror with her arms crossed over her chest and ask my grandfather how she would look surrounded by purple satin.
I would sit in the doorway sometimes and watch her put her left arm across her stomach, raise her right arm above her head like a spiral staircase.
“Like a dancer,” she told me.
My family said old age and the doctor said heart failure. For years I confused the two.
I found out later that, the night she died, she woke my grandfather up to say, “Rosebud. That’s funny, right?”
From first to third and back. Short to long to shorter. You can't see the space breaks in here, but there isn't one in the first draft at all--it was only a 1200 word story, 300 words of which were talking about popsicles (no idea). The seventh draft doesn't have one until page four, at which point it switches into a whole bunch of other bullshit that also sucks. This newest draft has one of my favorite tricks, the short first section, and then breaks up the rest of the story into several more sections. It's tighter all around, better sentences all over the place.
(I wonder if I can look back through my old writing and pinpoint the exact moment I began reading Amy Hempel.)
There's a writing contest over at HAL Literature that is 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.
The young adult writing workshop I run every summer ended this Monday. It was one of the best groups of kids I've ever had, and I'm already bummed that they're all going to get drivers licenses next year and not want to hang out with an old shithead like me. I hope they learned something other than "Just be better and you won't suck as much" and "When you grow up, get a shitty job and then don't do it."
In tangentially-related literary news, Ryan W. Bradley and I are working on some music together. He's programming the drums, sending them to me, and then I'm sending them back with guitars and bass. Then he's going to do some rad vocals. Then we're going to tour the world and probably be the best band ever. Either way, I'm going to bang a ton of chicks.
That's all. Party forever.