Category Archives: Fiction

Good Lord

I feel like all I do is post annually to say I’m rilly rilly busy you guys but yeah.

Otherwise, I’m hard at work on a Kickstarter slated for April for the next two volumes of the Women Up To No Good Series, and on St. Patrick’s Day I’m clubbing together with Reckoning Magazine and Brandon Crilly of Sunvault to do the first of a monthly Twitter chat on solarpunk, under #SolarpunkChat. Pretty psyched about both!

I’m also spending my activism energy on get out the vote activities, mainly through Postcards to Voters.

And, totally unrelated to all of the above, the medical mission I volunteer with, More Than Medicine, is going to Haiti and Kijabe, Kenya in the next couple months, so if you have some spare cash, a donation goes a really long way!

Snow day

It’s a snow day, Tennessee-style (which means we’ll get maybe two cm of snow, but tons of ice which we don’t have the infrastructure to combat), so I am home from work.

I’ve got a bunch of changes in my professional life planned for 2016: I am minimizing the number of titles Upper Rubber Boot Books puts out every year (in 2015, we had 5 titles including two anthologies I edited or co-edited, and in 2014 we had 11 titles—9 were short stories so less work than a full-length book, but still). For 2016 and 2017, I will be releasing two titles only: Floodgate and an anthology. 2016’s anthology is The Museum of All Things Awesome and That Go Boom, an adventure sci-fi anthology I am also editing (Facebook updates here), and 2017’s is not announced yet (but stuff is happening, and that one I won’t be editing).

All of this is in the service of being able to write more. I want to keep this site more updated, instead of (or in addition to) posting all my thoughts to social media where they effectively disappear after a few days. I have ideas for three different novels, two of which I’ve written a bit on, and about 20 short stories, and I need to do some writing (probably mostly poetry, and some non-fiction) about my trip to Kenya.

My day job is supporting four otolaryngologists (ENT doctors) who mostly concentrate on head and neck cancers and other issues of the head and neck. (I do a bunch of other stuff too, like running some lecture series, etc., but that’s not important for the purposes of this story.) They have medical missions in Africa (currently: Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda) and took me to Malindi, Kenya this past October to help with their two-week surgical camp in Tawfiq Hospital.

The University of Nairobi has an ENT residency, and Kenya has about 60 practicing ENT surgeons. What they don’t have is an equivalent for our head and neck fellowship program, and the State of Tennessee makes it difficult for us to provide fellowship training to doctors whose residency was done outside the US and Canada because we have to jump through too many hoops to get such doctors credentialed for it to be practicable. We have cobbled together some extra training for these surgeons which consists of them doing visiting observational scholarships at our hospital (observational means they don’t touch patients, because of the licensure/credentialing issue) and also attending our surgical camps, where we concentrate on education, so the surgeries are done by our doctors and their doctors in concert. The patients pay nothing, which is a tremendous benefit to them because surgical care is so expensive in relation to the average salary.

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The power keeps going out; they have a backup generator for the OR but not for the clinic. Here we’re using a surgical headlamp as a flashlight.
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A big keloid (a kind of scar that keeps growing). If I remember correctly, this patient had had jaw surgery and this keloid grew from his incision. Keloids are benign, but can cause problems—this one was painfully pulling on his face. Keloids are very common in Kenya, not for environmental reasons (afaik anyway) as people keep assuming when I tell them this but because they’re something like fifteen times as common in African-descended people than in Caucasians. As you might guess, Africa has a few more Africans than the US does; we saw a lot of keloids.
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Typical breakfast, including arrowroot, passionfruit, and these great little bananas that were way more flavourful than ours (and pineapple that was almost flavourless).
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A Swahili adult literacy class I was lucky enough to attend. The Caris Foundation, who paid for our hotel and helped a lot with logistics, took a group of us to see their other local projects.
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Bank book for a microfinance group for single mothers who run their own businesses. They had spent ten months paying back a 5,000 shilling (US$50) loan and had paid back 2,600 shillings in that time.
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We had the weekend off, and I went with a smaller group on a safari (privately paid for by each of us). Yay elephant!
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Giraffe.
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Lions.
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NBD, just me hanging out in Africa.

It was an amazing, humbling experience, and as I get pieces published about it, I’ll be sure to link to them.

In writing news: Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good, which I co-edited with H. L. Nelson, was nominated earlier in January for the This Is Horror Award (voting ends January 24—go vote now if you liked it!). That was really cool, and also surprising since I hadn’t been thinking of it as a horror anthology. We’d been marketing it as “dark fiction.” But once it was pointed out, I realized it’s totally horror—it contains slashers and zombies and people turning into animals and so forth—it’s just also genre-crossing. I’ll be surprised if it wins (the other anthology nominees are all really good too and probably better known) but it was lovely just to be nominated. ChooseWiselycover-print-front-1500

Intermittent Visitors: Ranbir Singh Sidhu

  Ranbir Singh Sidhu was born in London and studied archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Good Indian Girls (HarperCollins India/Soft Skull Press), a collection of stories (which has its own Tumblr!), and Deep Singh Blue, a novel (forthcoming 2014). He is a winner of the Pushcart Prize in Fiction and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and other awards. His plays include True East, Conquistadors, and Sangeet. His fiction appears in The Georgia Review, Fence, Zyzzyva, The Missouri Review, Other Voices, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Barcelona Review and other journals and anthologies. Stories are forthcoming in The Happy Hypocrite (UK) and The Literary Review (USA).

 

What is your writing process?

Messy and undisciplined, with no clear schedules. I write in bed when I can, and I often try and get away and write while traveling, where I can keep the laptop next to my head, wake, sit up with some pillows behind my back and pull the computer onto my lap and get immediately to work, often still half-asleep and remembering dreams. Last year, I was very fortunate to be able to spend several months living on Crete and in Berlin, which was marvelous. The latter city was far more productive, but the Greek island much more beautiful. When I feel I’m becoming too sedentary, I use an improvised standing desk, usually built onto a dresser at home. I hate sitting and writing. I suspect the latter reminds me of awful days as a child in school in England when I felt locked into a desk while a faceless teacher droned on about something useless at the head of the class.

 

What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

I’ve never received writing advice that was worth anything, and as a rule, I’d advise any writer starting out to ignore all the advice they’re given (there’s advice for you!). What has been important to me are the times I’ve worked with great editors. Three come to mind: Stanley Lindberg, the former editor of The Georgia Review; Monique Wittig, the French avant-garde novelist; and Lynne Tillman, the novelist and former ficton editor at Fence. All three were invaluable to me as a writer at various times in my life. As I was editing the manuscript of my new collection of stories recently, the one question I kept returning to was: What would Lynne Tillman do? This is amusing as this question is also the title of Lynne’s new book and at the heart of a viral poster campaign in New York City (so that I find myself walking down the street and discover the question shouting back at me from a wall). During the editing process, I took the question very seriously. If I thought Lynne would cut a line, out it would go. I am sure the book is much stronger for it.

 

Which writers inspire you?

I’ll give one example, though there are many. I remember reading the Scots writer Alasdair Gray’s epic novel Lanark when it was first released in the US in 1985 and knowing immediately that he had done everything I ever wanted to do, and done it much better. It was both extremely exciting and terrifying, because that novel was so good, so monumental, so all-encompassing, that it was a tremendous thrill to read, but it also left me with the feeling that I could never surpass, perhaps never come close, to what he achieved. I still hold Gray’s singular accomplishment as one of the stars I guide my writing life by, and I hope, with each passing book, that I come a little closer to its unique brilliance.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Intermittent Visitors: Christine Klocek-Lim

  Christine Klocek-Lim spends most of her time daydreaming—which isn’t much different from what she did as a girl in northeast Pennsylvania, as a college student in Pittsburgh, as a twenty-something technical writer in New York City, and as a young mother in suburban New Jersey. For the past decade or so she’s been dream-surfing in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. She’s published a pile of romance novels, a few poetry chapbooks, and a bunch of short stories.

 

1. What is your writing process?

If you’d asked me that question ten years ago, I would’ve said that I collect words. I wrote only poetry at that time so my focus was on imagery and metaphor. When I had enough words, I formed them into a poem.

Five years ago I would’ve said I think of a theme (astronomy, clouds, angels) and go from there. Three years ago I’d have told you that I write an outline, then work on a book chapter by chapter.

Now that I’m focusing so much on novel-writing, I begin with my characters. I give them names and a history and something that affected them greatly in their past. When I’ve figured out who they are, I put them into a situation of conflict. The characters decide where to go from there.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

Just keep writing. I don’t recall hearing this at some point in time and having some sort of realization. Rather, it’s the advice that everyone says over and over again. The more you write, the better you get at it. It takes a long time to grow comfortable with your voice. If you want to improve your skill, the only way to do it is through practice.

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Disintegrate?

Disintegrate began with a scene that appeared full-blown inside my head: a girl lost by a river, at night. I knew that I wanted to write about what it felt like to be right on the cusp of adulthood, and since I love paranormal stories, I gave Felicity the ability to manipulate matter in a certain way. Of course, she has no idea why she can do this or how important it would be for her in the future. All she knows is that she’s lost, she’s cold and tired, and suddenly, she hears music. She finds her way to a bar where a young man is singing. Jax isn’t what she expects. He’s nice. He likes her. They immediately sense a connection, but nothing happens easily when you’re seventeen, does it?

 

4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Yes. Lately, I’ve found that I don’t have much time to read anymore, and that’s been really strange. To suddenly go from reading two or three or more books a week to maybe two in a month has been extremely frustrating. On the other hand, the stories in my head have been clamoring louder and louder the older I get. I want to write them down. I want those characters to be heard.

 

5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

This is one of those trick questions, right? It’s both! Of course it is both. I didn’t start writing novels until I hit age forty, so I had a long time to learn about life. Even so, as I began to fool around with characters and conflict and narrative, I learned that to write from a character’s point of view required me to learn how to see things from outside my usual frame of reference. I needed to become the characters in order to write their voices and decisions into a novel. I’ve been writing poetry since I was a child, and while it is a demanding and exacting art, I found that I didn’t bother with other people’s perspectives as much when writing poems. I love what I’ve learned by tackling another form of writing.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Intermittent Visitors: Kathleen Alcala interviews Scott Sparling

This is a guest post by Kathleen Alcalá—she interviewed Scott Sparling for Intermittent Visitors.

 

Scott Sparling‘s first novel, Wire to Wire, is about love, glue, drugs, and freight trains in Northern Michigan and New York. It was published by Tin House Books in 2011 and won a Michigan Notable Book Award in 2012. His writing has appeared on OccupyWriters.com and Powells.com. He lives near the tracks outside Portland, Oregon.

1) Your first book was published last year. Tell me what it is about.

I’m probably not the right person to ask. I spent a long time writing Wire to Wire, and it was about different things at different times. At heart, it’s a very messed up love story. Michael Slater, the main character, falls for a seductive, self-destructive woman and struggles to figure out where his loyalties should be—and also where her loyalties are, since she’s living with his closest friend. The woman, Lane, huffs glue to escape some terrible things in her past. Slater’s friend—Harp—feels most alive when he’s riding freights, but he gets sucked into a very dangerous scheme in Wolverine, the small Northern Michigan town where Wire to Wire is set. Dynamite is involved.

Over time, it occurred to me that the whole town should be a place where the forces of sex and money have jumped the tracks. I began thinking of them as natural forces, like electricity and water. When they stay in their wires and pipes, everything’s fine. But when they burst out, they burn down the house or flood the place. That’s happening everywhere in Wolverine.

And underneath all that, it’s about my love for Northern Michigan and trains.

 

2) I met you over thirty years ago, and you were already working on this novel. Did it need to take this long?

Maybe not. There are many parts of the book that haven’t changed much since the late 1980s. But I was not the kind of writer who had the craft of story-telling under control back then. I would readily sacrifice meaning and clarity in favor of cadence. I had a few things I could do well – I had an ear for loud, incantatory sentences, and I could write dialogue well. I could write scenes, but it took me a long time to shape those scenes into a story.

I also spent a fair amount of time in those decades not writing W2W. I started a website that grew into a huge writing and editing project and which has been online for 15 years now. On an average day, the Segerfile (http://www.segerfile.com/) gets ten times as much traffic as the website for my book. I also got married, and my wife and I raised our son. For three years, I put W2W totally aside and wrote a different book, which I’m trying to finish now.

Beyond that, part of getting published involves catching the wave when it’s there. You might not be able to hurry it. In the late 80s and early 90s, a lot of publishers seemed to be looking for the next “Bright Lights, Big City” or the next “Less Than Zero.” It might not have been the best time for a book about two guys hopping freights in Northern Michigan. Maybe that’s just me making excuses—I’d cop to that in a heartbeat. Conversely, I’ve wondered sometimes if the success of Mad Men helped sell W2W, in the sense that it proved the public was interested in the sixties and seventies again. Again, if that’s a ludicrous idea, I stand ready to disavow it.

Finally, I admit to being a lazy and inept submitter of my own material. A good friend told me to send my manuscript to Tin House Books in early 2009. I didn’t do it. Six months passed and finally she took my manuscript and submitted it for me. That’s how a guy like me gets published.

 

3) When I started reading Wire to Wire, I thought, ‘This is highly illegal. And dangerous. How much of this is autobiographical?’ Then I decided I didn’t want to know, and sat back to enjoy the ride. Instead, I would like you to describe the role of music in your writing process.

I often play music when I write. There’s a terrific band, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, who happen to be from Seattle. Their music puts me in the lonely, trancy kind of mood that seems to help my writing. Jesse had four albums out when I was writing W2W (five now) and I put them all on one playlist and listened to them hundreds of times.

When I was editing, I started playing Jon Dee Graham, whom I’ve heard live many times in Austin. His music is incredibly good—so full of heart and life and honesty, and his lyrics are stunning. But it’s also loud. He calls his band, The Fighting Cocks. It gave me exactly the kind of energy I needed to cross the finish line.

Beyond that, there are probably a hundred songs that inspired parts of the books. Jackson Browne’s line, “What I was seeing wasn’t what was happening at all,” informed the frame story. Joni Mitchell’s line about “Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes and the lips you can get, and still feel so alone,” told me something about Slater.

Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” is the story in a nutshell: “Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?” And one night in the Tacoma Dome, Prince pointed at me during Purple Rain and sang, “It’s time we all reach out for something new, that means you too.“ I quit my job a few days later so I could write W2W. Basically, when Prince tells you to start something new, it’s not a discussion. That’s what you do.

The list goes on and we haven’t even talked about Seger. Let’s just say I’m under his spell and eternally grateful that I could use a few of Seger’s lyrics in the book.

 

4) You’ve garnered comments such as, “In the tradition of the great noir novels, Wire to Wire, is really something. Like being in a stolen car with no brakes in a world of train hopping, sex, violence, and drugs. It’s all edge from start to finish.” —Willy Vlautin, author of The Motel Life. And yet Open Letters Monthly says, “Wire to Wire ends up being what so many pulp writers think they’re making but end up missing: an exploration of the proper aims of existence.”

Is this a pulp novel?

No, I’m pretty sure it’s not. It’s also not a crime novel. It’s literary fiction. It happens to have a plot and some people get killed. It’s got drugs, guns, and dynamite. But I never wanted it to be anything but literary fiction.

That said, I’d also assert that the literary world gets a little weird about what’s considered a genre novel and what’s considered mainstream. Whatever you think of as mainstream is just a genre that’s defined itself as being the norm, which seems artificial to me. Is Franzen writing mainstream literary fiction, or is he working in a genre called Domestic Fiction—books that are mainly set indoors in living rooms, bedrooms, offices, and dorms. How about Suburban Fiction, Sports Fiction? Everything’s a genre, in my view, or else nothing is.

 

5) Tin House is such a good fit for your work that it is hard to imagine it published elsewhere. Did you submit Wire to Wire anywhere else?

Over the years, I sent the manuscript to quite a few agents and publishers. Maybe two dozen in all. But a lot of those were submissions in the 1990s when the writing and the story weren’t as finished as they are now.

In 2008, I sent the manuscript to nine agents, but there wasn’t any interest. Part of the challenge with W2W is that it has multiple beginnings. It’s not until Slater gets to Michigan, which is 100 pages into the book, that the plot really kicks in. So it was hard to give people a sense of the book with just a chapter or two.

I was very lucky to land at Tin House. From my point of view, it was a perfect fit. They understood the book completely. During editing they helped me improve it immensely.

 

6) You also made a great trailer to go with the book. Tell me about that.

Tin House and Juliet Zulu, a creative company in Portland, came up with the video concept and did all the work. They were fabulous – they just told me when to show up and asked me some questions. The hardest part, logistically, was getting into an empty strip club in the afternoon, so I could read from the book while my editor, Tony Perez, pretended to watch the dancer.

For the last scene, we went out to the freight yard, and somehow my book got left on the tracks, so it actually got hit by a Union Pacific train. The binding is all messed up and it’s got huge creases in it. The crew was apologetic, but I loved it. I’m just happy we didn’t cause a derailment.

 

7) Is there another book in the works?

There is. A splinter group from the Occupy movement is trying to steal a kidney from a banker, but what they end up with is not a kidney. The underlying theme is related to the economic collapse of 2008, in which financial instruments with no real value were sold as if they had a lot of value. The book is set in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

I’m currently calling it Dogs Run Free. About halfway through, I realized there were a lot of elements of Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers involved—no surprise, since Dog Soldiers is one of my favorite books. There’s the reference to Dogs in the title, and the accidental way in which the main characters acquire the MacGuffin—heroin in Stone’s book, the kidney in mine—and some character names. At first, I viewed that as a problem to be fixed. But now I see it as something worth exploring. Dog Soldiers is a masterpiece, a National Book Award winner, so why not be open about the way it’s influenced me? I hope to finish it next year.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

Unlikely Entomology

My story “The Candy Aisle” is out in The Journal of Unlikely Entomology! This is a story I wrote a million years ago, probably in 2004 or 2005, and which I have tweaked several times since. It’s probably the only thing I’ve ever written where the final line was the first thing I wrote. Anyway, I’m super psyched that it’s finally found a home. You should go read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, so, now that you’re back… my other big news is that I have finally (after about two weeks of struggling with Photoshop and iMovie to create a frame-by-frame 1:41 stop-motion video which you can now go stare at in all its obviously-not-professional-but-surprisingly-decent glory) finished and osted the Kickstarter campaign for Apocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days, an anthology my small press is publishing next month. If the campaign is successful we’ll have a print edition as well as the ebook editions. I’m not the editor, so I can brag a little: this book is SO GOOD you guys. I am pretty excited to be involved with it.

Facial Deficits and more

The Locus Online Roundtable has been doing a very nice series of posts on speculative poetry! Mine is here: “‘Literary’ Poetry” and F. J. Bergmann gave me a shout-out in hers here—they are all worth checking out.

Further, I was interviewed on flash craft by flashfiction.net after my face transplant story appeared in Pank Magazine. The interview is here, and they just reprinted the story yesterday: “Facial Deficits.”

The hundred hidden chickadees

Larix laracina Anaphora” was just accepted for The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee (Texas Review Press, 2013)!

Also! My short story “Facial Deficits” just appeared in PANK 6. I’m unusually proud (some would say smug) about this story, which is about a woman who gets a face transplant. It’s not one of my speculative stories—this is a real surgery, though very few of them have been done (two, in the USA, when I was researching the story). My day job is in academic otolaryngology, and I happened to be asked to escort one of the doctors involved in the first Cleveland Clinic surgery when he was visiting our campus to give a talk, and I asked him about it (some would say grilled) and then did a ton of research at PubMed and ended up condensing all of that into maybe 300 words in the story.

a multitude of daggers

My ebook “A Multitude of Daggers” is now available on Amazon!

It’s a Kindle edition only for now. Once I finish working out the kinks for epub I’ll put that up too, and add vendors (Apple istore, B&N, etc.). I’m having a few technical difficulties with my process for epub which I expect to straighten out by November. This is by way of testing my books and the various vendors before I publish other people’s work for Upper Rubber Boot Books.

It’s a fantasy novella set in a world where the ruling class can fly and the afterlife is real—and it’s a giant therapist’s office, run by the Boatman from my short story “The Boatman” (I really need to pick less obvious titles sometimes) and Greek mythology. A half-blind goddess with a devilish sense of humour basically effs up the life of another goddess’ acolyte to try to avert the war that’s brewing people the people who can fly and the people who can’t. The first 2 1/2 chapters are available for free in the “look inside this book” feature.

What is wrong with the Man Booker Prize?

The finalists for the fourth Man Booker International Prize were announced today. Irritatingly, of the thirteen finalists, only four are women. Even more irritatingly, my kneejerk reaction to that was to be pleased that so many women were nominated, so accustomed am I to only one or two gracing such lists (not the Man Booker specifically, just prizes in general).

Also irritatingly, their website doesn’t link to further information about the authors who were shortlisted. Don’t these people realize they’re on the internet? The finalists are: