My futon’s favorite people: Matt Bell & Brian Oliu, Amber Sparks, and Tyler Gobble.
Favorite Dance Party: Lit Party @ AWP- duh!
My futon’s favorite people: Matt Bell & Brian Oliu, Amber Sparks, and Tyler Gobble.
Favorite Dance Party: Lit Party @ AWP- duh!
Strategies Against Extinction
Queen’s Ferry Press
The stories of Strategies Against Extinction do just that. The protagonists of Nye’s tales arrive disillusioned, bored, alienated. In short, they’re like most of us: living. We recognize these plots: A man loses track of his daughter at the museum. A girl passes her final summer of college in her hometown with her mother. A man struggles with the distance between his sons as he faces his own mortality.
This is Michael Nye- not Emmy Winner Damian Lewis. Damian Lewis is an English actor born on February 11,1971 in St. John’s Wood England. Damian Lewis has starred in some nifty shows- most recently Homeland, but he will forever remain in my heart Lt. Winters from HBO’s Band of Brothers.
Anyway, like I said, this isn’t Damian Lewis, it is Michael Nye. He’s an author. His book, Strategies Against Extinction, was recently published by Queen’s Ferry Press. Michael’s name may be familiar because he was our Vouched Visitor in October. Also, he’s the Managing Editor of the Missouri Review. Oh yeah, and I can’t stop talking about how he’s reading in Atlanta this Friday.
So Michael, you’re really into hoops, right? Remember the game NBA Jams? If so- who was your go-to team? If not, how does it feel to know you haven’t played one of the greatest video games of all time?
BOOMSHAKALAKA!!! I actually have a version of NBA Jam on my phone, which is what I do when I should be writing, reading, working, cleaning, sleeping, etc. In the classic version, my go-to team was Charlotte: Kendall Gill and Larry “Grandmama” Johnson, who is the reason I started wearing housedresses to work. Also, I kinda like Double Dribble and NBA Live ‘95. So.
NO WAY THAT IS MY TEAM TOO!! Man, nothing like “Grandmama” Johnson. Whatever happened to that kind of showmanship in professional sports? The only weirdo athlete that comes to mind these days is Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants- who has a website dedicated to his beard. Gone are the days of professional athletes dressing in drag, endorsing hamburgers. Do you think there’s anything we can do to bring it back? SHOULD it come back?
First Andre Dubus, then Grandmama – it’s like we were separated at birth! Sadly, the NBA has really pushed a corporate image on the game, misunderstanding hip-hop culture and individuality as somehow being detrimental to the sport. Businesses are still making this mistake: see how Cristal tried to distance their brand from Jay-Z (oops).
If anyone could dress in drag and endorse hamburgers – who would be against this? – I think Blake Griffin could pull it off. I love his Kia commercials. I don’t know if I love Kia automobiles (I always read that as KIA which makes me think MIA which makes me think of those Chuck Norris movies) but Griffin seems to be comfortable making fun of himself. Professional sports are big business … but it’s still a game, not international monetary policy. It should be a blast. Griffin seems to understand this.
You seem to have put a lot of thought into this already. How do you think we could get Blake to move into action? Should we make some phone calls?
Sadly, my connections to the Association are with people that work for or cover the Chicago Bulls or my beloved Boston Celtics. Plus, all the kids use texts now. I can’t tell you how badly autocorrect mangles my words. So, instead, of:
“Eh yo, Blake, Laura and Michael (you know us) here. We’re thinking you should sell Big Macs while dressing like Lana Del Rey and donate all the money to cancer research”
It would probably read:
“Eh yo, Blake, Dr. Laura Schlessinger here (you know me). We’re thinking those ads where your Big Self gets shot out of a cannon indicates you’re a psychological cancer”
This might ruin the whole plan.
Yeesh. Autocorrect really puts you through the ringer, huh? Recently whenever I type “Yayyyy” (which happens quite frequently) autocorrect changes it to “Tatty” (adj. worn and shabby; in poor condition: the room was furnished in slightly tatty upholstered furniture.) a word I have never, ever, ever used in conversation- über frustrating.
Wait, I’m supposed to ask you a question.
Here’s something: Who are your top five favorite villains?
I’ll resist the temptation to overthink this too much, and consider whether favorite means “Wow, this guy is awesome!” or if it’s more of a “I hate this guy so much and wish he’d walk into oncoming traffic” and just go with this, in reverse order:
Mr. Milo (The Last Boy Scout), Ivan Drago (Rocky IV), Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood), Vladimir Putin (real, satirically and unfortunately), Hans Gruber (Die Hard). Honorable Mention: KHAN! (Star Trek 2)
Oh man oh man, that is a great list. Could you imagine them all battling Mortal Kombat style? Who do you think would win in a face-off: Ivan Drago vs. Hans Gruber?
Drago. Easy. I just hope Gruber gets to say something before he gets Fatalitied. Maybe, because Rocky Balboa won the Cold War with his speech at the end of Rocky IV, Drago is a changed man and gives Gruber the Friendship doll instead of ripping his spine out. In which case, Gruber would count to three (“There will not be a four”), shoot him, then go sit on a beach, earning twenty percent.
You have a pretty cut-throat imagination, Nye. What’s at the root of that?
Seriously, both of my parents were avid readers. My father loved spy novels, books by Tom Clancy and Jack Higgins and the like, and my mother read a little bit of everything, though, as I remember it, she devoured romance novels more than anything else. So, I read too. And, when I was in high school, I had a job in a video store and so I borrowed lots of movies. With that, I was always a pretty shy, quiet kid, which means I observed a tremendous amount and felt, generally, that no one really understood how I felt, or cared what I felt, and that leads to a tremendous amount of introspection.
I like both responses. Most of my friends with the most active imaginations happened to work at video stores/movie theatres at some point. THE MAGIC OF CINEMA.
Want to talk about Andre Dubus for a second?
If a movie came out in the late 80’s to early 90’s, I’ve almost certainly seen it. And one of my favorite things is that I like movies that don’t work. That should have been good but weren’t. I can think of lots of examples of this, from Sleepers to The Matrix Reloaded to Jumper to The Next Three Days and who knows where else. I’m both delighted by this movies and furious with how they failed, usually in glaring ways, and I think that has really helped my critical judgment of what makes for good narratives.
Let’s talk Dubus! I love that he only wrote short stories. I love that he was empathetic with all of his characters, that he examined people with such compassion and honesty. I love that he always seems to be writing the same story while always writing a different story. I love his use of semi-colons. I love his novellas, which are my go-to read on nights when I don’t have the energy or interest in doing anything else.
We love all of the same things about him. I really don’t know how to expound upon that. Wait here’s something- my parents got me a new copy of his short story collection last Christmas. (2011 Best Present Award Winner) Reading it- I compulsively marked up its pages. Underlined. Bracketed. Dog-eared. It was so full of gems! That’s a compulsion I can’t remember having since late in undergrad.
Do you still do that- mark up your books? It feels frowned upon.
One of The Missouri Review’s interns, Andrew Mangan, recently blogged about this very subject. He wrote “annotation and underlining allows for a persistent experience with a book” Why not mark the book? I mean, if it’s a first edition of House of Mirth, okay. Otherwise? It seems perfectly natural. I tend to underline and highlight rather than dog-ear; I’m a very neat person, and pages that are bent drive me crazy, not because the paperback is sacred, I’m just that type of person. I have a very neat sock drawer.
From what I’ve seen so far this semester, my students tend not to mark up their texts much. My guess is that they are hoping to sell their textbooks back (oh, how disappointed they will be in the bookstores buy back offer!) or the books are rented, which I believe is more common at colleges now.
Quick digression about the Dubus Selected Stories: how does it not include We Don’t Live Here Anymore?
I wonder that often. It’s mildly enraging. They did keep a lot of gems though. A Father’s Story, The Pitcher, The Winter Father. Is A Father’s Story still your favorite? How does your love of Dubus affect your own writing?
Asking for my favorite Dubus story is almost impossible for me, but forced to choose, I’d probably still say Yes. I turn to his novellas so often–he seems like a writer perfect for novellas, like The Pretty Girl or Finding a Girl in America–but A Father’s Story accomplishes so much, and its execution of point of view, voice, character, and that ending (yeesh) it’s tough for me to go any other way.
Dubus continues to remind me of two things. One, on the sentence level, is that semi-colons are good. I think Vonnegut hated them, and I’m sure several other writers do too, but I love how they create pause and continuity at the same time. I even like how they look. The other thing that Dubus reminds me of is empathy in our characters. The villains I listed above are cartoons, which is, of course, part of their pleasure. And why pure villains exist in literature too (Iago and The Judge from Blood Meridian spring to mind), my “bad” characters are damaged or flawed, not evil, not villians. Being able to drill deep into a character’s consciousness is something I love to do in my fiction, and I definitely learned that from Andre Dubus.
Digression, Part II: spellcheck is awesome – I cannot spell the world “villain.”
What other words to you have difficulty spelling?
So, so, so many. Absolutely. Certain and certainty. Maintenance. Conscientious. Broccoli. Privilege. Sacrilegious. Rhythm (why do I keep misspelling this one? I use this word ALL THE TIME)(No, not because I’m constantly writing about Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album, although that would be a good reason). Occasionally.
As a test, I just typed all those in. I had to correct the spelling on nine out of those ten, even though I knew, as I was typing, that these are words I frequently misspell. Ye gods.
What a fun experiment. For solidarity’s sake, here are some I frequently misspell: awkward, forward (which I also pronounce oddly. Best friends can attest to this) conscious conscience, conscientious- most long ‘con’s really… fervour… there are bunches.
Why don’t you write about Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation more often?
Also- what are you most looking forward to about the reading on November 9th?
I blame Tyler Perry. Once Damita Jo acted in those bloated unwatchable melodramas, Rhythm Nation lost a bit of its luster for me. But perhaps I’m making excuses. I think twenty years (holy moly …) is more than enough time to let pass before I can hope in my mental Delorean and start writing about all those weird industrial music videos of that era.
Most looking forward to about the reading? Hanging out with you! C’mon, that was an easy one.
With book publication comes book promotion. In the last ten days, I’ve given two readings, one in Chicago at DePaul University, and one in my current hometown, Columbia, Missouri, at Orr Street Studios Hearing Voices/Seeing Visions series.
I gave my first public reading when I was in graduate school, probably in 2004. This was in a small room at the Millennium Student Center as part of some kind of “Attend UMSL!” promotion. Or maybe it was for something else. Anyway, I read a flash fiction piece, my voice cracked, sweat poured down my arms, and I was grateful that it was over. Since then, I’ve maybe given a reading a year—for graduation from my MFA program, on stage with ten other readers at a public pavilion where I read dead last and it was so dark by the time I was up I literally couldn’t see anyone in the front row, with the poet Richard Newman at Chesterfield Arts in suburban St. Louis, at Dressel’s Pub along with five other readers, Get Lost Bookshop here in sunny Columbia—and, yes, actually, that might be it.
Not a lot of practice. And certainly not with a book in hand, which, I was warned (thankfully) is much harder: can’ t let that sucker snap shut on your fingers, the print is probably smaller than you’re used to, the spacing on the page is smaller, all things that I needed to keep in mind.
Chicago: I had to be in the Windy City for work anyway, the writer Amina Gauter invited me to read at DePaul University in a reading pitched as “Writers as Editors, Editors as Writers.” I read with Phong Nguyen, who runs the wonderful journal Pleiades. We were in one of the multipurpose rooms; windows to the right, good soundsystem with a mic (though both Phong and I used our “professor” voices and skipped the tech help), sandwiches and snacks (nomomomom…), plenty of rows of chairs, and a terrific crowd of about forty people, mostly made up of DePaul students and faculty.
Prior to the reading, Phong and I talked about reading preparation I said I was nervous; he said he never became nervous before a reading. We both had our “reading copy,” a version of our book that was dogeared and marked up, the passages and words, sometimes whole paragraphs, we didn’t need crossed out. I waffled on what to read: an excerpt or an entire story. Amina insisted I had time to read a whole story. Phong read first, and was phenomenal. I read second and was shaky: mispronounced words, a tendency to trip off my words, dry-mouthed (I forgot my water!).
After, we took questions about journal editing. I rambled, bounced from subject to subject, often forgetting what the question was, unable to come back to earth. Phong was a pro, answering questions with precision like Roger Federer chewing up an unranked opponent. Lesson learned: clear mind, clear reading. Also, sandwiches are good. I ate two of ‘em.
Columbia: A bonus of this reading is that I had been to the venue many times before—Orr Street is a reading series unaffiliated with an university, and I’ve heard a range of terrific readers there before. It’s intimate and cozy, with wonderful artwork on the surrounding walls. In Chicago, I didn’t bring my own books. This time? Sho’nuff! I also brought beer koozies with my book cover on ‘em (yes, yes I did), slapped a couple of PBRs in ‘em, set up my Mr. T figurine (yes, yes I did), and plugged in my Square thingamajig into my phone to hock some books. About as different from Chicago as it could be.
Once again, I read second, following Peter Gardner, an emeritus professor of anthropology And like last time, I was unsure what to read. Because my friend Alison was there, and she had the same affinity as I do for him, I read my story “Sparring Vladimir Putin.” I only had time to read the second half, which was okay with me, and while no one every comes up to you and says “Your reading blew goats” I got the feeling that people that were there did dig it. Still, some mistakes, some mispronunciations, tripped over words, etc. I’ll get the hang of it.
What mattered was that some of my close friends and favorite people (like this poet and this poet) were in attendance. That I had blast. That there were beer koozies! Hopeful my next reading, which is in my hometown, Cincinnati, at this joint, will be just as much fun.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye
I’m Michael Nye, the third installment/writerly person in the Vouched Visitors series, following in the steps of Robert Stapleton of Booth and Adam Robinson of Publishing Genius. I’m the managing editor of The Missouri Review, and this month (today, actually) my debut short story collection, Strategies Against Extinction, is out in the world.
SAE (as the kids call it) is published by Queen’s Ferry Press, a new small press publisher of literary fiction. You can bounce over here if you so desire and read the mission statement to get a sense of what QFP is all about. But I’m not sure this gives you a true sense of what the press is about, and the kind of wonderful work Erin McKnight, the press’s founder and publisher, seeks in the work she publishes.
Last week, I was on the phone with my mother. I had sent her a copy of my book and then waited a good two weeks before she called to say she read and wanted to talk about it. This is all new to me but I would imagine for every writer, there is a certain level of anxiety about what people who are close to us are going to think about our work. I’m sure other writers can say they genuinely don’t care. I’m not one of those writers.
My mother wasn’t embarrassingly effusive, but she also wasn’t entirely articulate either. She read all the stories, she said. She understood things better, she said. What things, I asked. My stories aren’t particularly personal, though all writers steal from their own lives (and others, of course), but my collection is comprised of stories that go back at least seven years. Which means much of the work was written, and before that marinating, in my twenties. I’ve always been a pretty independent person, but still, there is a separation from our childhood homes and parents that happen in our twenties that is a bit painful for both the parent and child. But she saw something there, in all those stories, the way they work together, compliment, create friction, deepen, and complicate each other. At least, I think that was after.
Which is what Erin McKnight saw, too, though she would say it quite differently. Publishers have a different eye than our parents, and knows the writer only based on the work. Erin promised to agonize over each word, and this ended being completely true, even if we were awfully pleasant about our agony (there’s a famous quote allusion there, I think). Publishers, of course, need to make some bank, and also have a vision of what they want their list to be. There’s something incredibly reassuring about a publisher who recognizes what I do as a writer—pacing, narrative arc, and character interiority. It made me comfortable with her editorial vision and the press. I couldn’t be happier with how the book turned out.
Of course, I’m not sure this tells you much about Queen’s Ferry Press. When asked what a story is about, the best answer is “Read it.” It shouldn’t be easy to sum up. Which is hopefully true of a collection and of a press. So to find out what Queen’s Ferry Press is about, it isn’t enough to say it’s a boutique press of literary fiction, focusing on short story collections. Instead, you should check out Bayard Godsave’s fantastic Lesser Apocalypses and its tales of broken survivors trying to hold themselves together. You should snag Kevin Grauke’s collection that’s on par with the masculinity of a Shaun Ray or Benjamin Percy. You should be anticipating the debut collection from Janice Deal and the latest and greatest from Ethel Rohan.
Maybe by reading all this terrific work you get a complete, true, and perhaps tricky to articulate sense of what Queen’s Ferry Press is about. The kind of work, as my mentor Lee K. Abbott would say, that’s as clear-eyed and honest as a fistfight.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye
More often than not lately I’ve found myself digging to get to the heart of every matter. It feels like I’m constantly wading through an endless amount of emails or trolling around twitter feeds and facebook timelines. This is a common argument: there’s just too much information out there. At the end of most days it is easy to feel that there is an abundance of dirt under my fingernails, and so little substance to carry in my hands.
The stories I’ve been craving are focused, honest ones. The Utility Room, by Michael Nye, is just the ticket. You need a break too, don’t you? Visit The Utility Room for a while. Meet Ellen.
On Thursdays, Ellen would find the sheets in a small pile by the door. The trash can was always emptied and relined with a plastic bag from the grocery store; the hall bathroom remained spotless. Other than the windows and the clump of sheets on the floor, it was as if they were never there at all…
Read the rest at the Atticus Review.