Archive by Author

I Would Read the Back of a Cereal Box if Ravi Mangla Wrote It

1 Nov

I mean, I suppose I read the backs of cereal boxes anyway. But seriously, every time I see a new story of Ravi’s pop up I get all giddy about it. And have to stop what I’m doing to read it right away. There’s something about the strangeness, the formality, the deep, deep sense of melancholy in his pieces that appeals to me utterly. There’s a sense that as humans, we can never really connect – that all we can do is try to understand one another and fail.

And this new one, in the always-wonderful Corium (Fall 2012!) is full of all of the above. It’s a surreal piece about families and love, about the way we grow into and sometimes outgrow the hearts of those who hold us. A bit of it:

At night I wake to quiet: the wheezing of springs bearing too heavy of a load, the insufferable snoring, both, strangely absent. I look out the window. The baby is sitting on the lowest branch of the oak tree, in his robe, gazing up at the star-freckled sky.

So go read! And then read the rest of the fall issue, too. Ms. Lauren Becker always does a sterling job of curating this magazine (at first I typed “magazing” and I think that’s kind of apt, actually) and this issue is no exception.

Their Peculiar Ambitions: Presidential Flash Fiction Series Now at Melville House

11 Sep

Steve Himmer on Washington, Lincoln Michel on John Adams, Jac Jemc on Jefferson, Christopher Higgs on Madison, and Brian Oliu on Monroe. YEAH. And that’s just the beginning of this fantastic run of fantastic flash fiction on our forty-four presidents.

Those of you who know me know that I’m obsessed with three things: politics, history, and literature. So when I got the chance, with the spark of an idea lit by Brian Carr, to edit this series, I was ecstatic. I put out a general call, got together some truly fantastic writers who answered it, and now Kevin Murphy at Melville House Publishing will be publishing these stories in installments, starting with the first batch today! Seriously, do NOT NOT NOT miss these. They are fantastic pieces, each and every one. You’ll forget all about Mittens as you read some of the wittiest, loveliest, funniest, and yes, saddest pieces on our nation’s leaders – the good, the bad, and the very very ugly.

And by the way, a thank you to Matt Bell (and to Abe Lincoln) for the assist on the title of this collection!

Go read them all now:

Part 1: The Founding Fathers

* GEORGE WASHINGTON, by Steve Himmer

* JOHN ADAMS, by Lincoln Michel


* JAMES MADISON, by Christopher Higgs

* JAMES MONROE by Brian Oliu

A New Obsession for an Old Thing That Everyone Else Probably Knows About

10 Aug

I know Lapham’s Quarterly is not exactly new. And I know everyone and their mother has been telling me to read it for a long, long time now. But here’s the thing. I always saw that thing on the magazine stand and it just looked so pretentious I felt unable, just unable to pick it up, let alone read it.

And now how stupid I feel for that. I finally picked up a few back issues, including this amazing issue The Future, and Holy. Shit. Friends, you are all right and I am terrible. It’s like Lewis Lapham made this magazine thing for me personally. It’s full of old great writing and weird marginalia and historical figures and especially, especially, some of the most amazing essays I’ve ever read. I read an essay about long term compound interest trusts, of all things, which blew my mind. Yes you read that correctly. Did you know that Jarndyce v. Jarndyce is based on a real lawsuit that went on for 62 years in Great Britain and tied up the courts for so long that Parliament actually passed a law against the kind of trust that engendered the suit? Or that Benjamin Franklin set up a trust that made millions by the time it had matured? There’s also a biography of Nostradamus which is just about us and our instinct for making patterns out of randomness. And finally, there is this marvelous, amazing essay on the future and science fiction, from one of my very favorite writers, John Crowley. He writes, wonderfully, about how science fiction always fails when it tries to predict the future, and that the way we write sci fi always says more about our present than it does about any kind of future. So I wonder what it says about us now that:

Today most serious science fiction–that is, the stories that put the genre to the most interesting and thoughtful uses–rarely presents itself as the bearer of news from the future, or seeks to acquire power from the act of prediction…New work labeled SF is more likely to be set in an alternative present, a world wholly unlike this one and not having evolved from our past at all…

And you can read it here!


Some Favorite Parts of Some Favorite Indie Books I’ve Read Lately

9 Jul

ImageFrom The Map of the System of Human Knowledge, by James Tadd Adcox, published by Tiny Hardcore Press

I’ve run out of dreams. For the past four nights, all that’s been in my head, the entire time I slept, was a dial tone. I tell my friends about this. Everyone congratulates me. They tell me they had secretly run out of dreams long ago. We go out to celebrate. My friend Thomas, who hasn’t shaved in days, leans in extremely close to my face. He’s had too much to drink. He tells me that all we can do now is wait for the night that the dial tone goes silent, when whoever is on the other side of our dreams answers.




Continue reading

Good Good Story and New Thing: Ben Marcus at Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading

23 May

If you don’t yet know, Electric Literature is doing a pretty awesome thing. They want to support and increase awareness of great writers, journals, and presses, and so: every week they’ll publish a great story by a great writer at

This week’s story is by the wonderful Ben Marcus, and it’s called “Watching Mysteries with My Mother.” As someone who’s growing older, watching my parents grow older still, this fearful and loving meditation on a parent’s eventual imagined demise struck a deep and painful chord of recognition with me.  Like so:

I did it to her as a child, too. I said good-bye and went to school. I said good-bye and went to camp. I said good-bye on a Saturday morning and who knows when I came home. When I did this, I left my mother dying. In doorways, in kitchens, in living rooms, on lawns. Sometimes even when she was sick with a cold in bed, I said good-bye from the bottom of the stairs, just as her chances of dying had crested to an all-time high. I said good-bye and went to college, when she was even more likely to die. And when I came home to visit, it wasn’t long before I departed again, leaving her to die. Just as tonight, after watching a mystery on PBS, I said goodnight to my mother and left her at home to die.

We speak of having one foot in the grave, but we do not speak of having both feet and both legs and then one’s entire torso, arms, and head in the grave, inside a coffin, which is covered in dirt, upon which is planted a pretty little stone.

Go here to read the whole thing. And check out the beautiful single sentence animation, too.


Story Alert: Jamie Grefe at New Dead Families

4 Apr

I’d never heard of Jamie Grefe before and now I’m all over that shit. Seriously. There’s a new issue of New Dead Families out, always a great read, and the best thing in it is this remarkable, moving, fever-dream of Grefe’s.

A bit and then you’ll go read the rest, yes?

we ascend and open the door to the roof, stand at the precipice, looking out at the fifty-four floors, each alight with people moving, people talking, people eating, people showering and people combing hair in brightly lit bedrooms and bathrooms, and from this building and other buildings bodies float across the sky through evaporating smoke tunnels like gigantic intestines, and they are growing larger, the news said, but our television was destroyed weeks ago when my partner smashed it with her fists, dissembled and rebuilt it as a weathercock which she threw from the window down onto an abandoned automobile that someone was using for shelter, and she heard screams for days after, but no one helped all those people, just took snapshots of them and the smoldering and slime-drenched city


To Read Now: “The Ship” by Stephen Sturgeon

2 Apr

If you loved Stephen Sturgeon’s beautiful, brilliant debut poetry book, Trees of the Twentieth Century, then you need to check out this excerpt at elimae from a new, longer work called “The Ship.” Here’s a bit to whet your appetite:

The letters I have written to the world
while traveling in this boat
contain the same message more often than not
The world is terrifying
and this boat is not much better
but it is better.


My AWP Haul: FJORDS Vol. 1

6 Mar

Like many of you, I spent an exciting and exhausting weekendish at AWP in Chicago. I read stuff, took in readings, slung books for the first time with the Vouched crew(!!) saw old friends and new friends, ate way too much food and drank way too much beer, talked until the wee hours of the morning about literature and books and movies and music, and cleaned up at the book fair. It was magical.

I took a couple of extra days off work after I got back on Sunday to just chill, detox, be inspired, write, and read. And I’ve been thinking–what better way to drag out the magic that is AWP than to talk about all the books I bought there, little by little by little? Yes, bittersweet. But also rewarding, in a way that I think you will like, too.

  • So, first up: Zachary Schomburg’s FJORDS vol. I. I have to admit, the Black Ocean table was the first one I hit up at the book fair. I was laser-focused, looking for this book like a questing knight. When I got it home, I immediately devoured it, and found it so painfully sad, so beautifully made, so original and funny and insightful and so even better than anything else he’s ever written, that I kind of wanted to just give up writing and buy a hundred copies of this book and hand it out instead, everywhere I go. The book focuses on a bunch of “little deaths” that live on the fjords of the title, coming for Schomburg slowly but surely, and concentrates on disappointment, loss, death, love, and the beauty in all of the sadness. The joy in all of the blackness. Schomburg keeps writing these things that just break your fucking heart, over and over and over, into little tiny shards of glass that glimmer and gleam in the light like his poetry. Things like this:

I don’t know how best to tell you about the angel, about what death really is. It seems so implausible until it happens. You start to sweat and you get swallowed into the dark. then you’re swinging on a rope over a beautiful cliff, only there’s no such thing as beauty.

Or this:

The truth is there is no such thing as spells. The world is always as it is, and always as it seems. And love is just our own kind voice that we whisper into our own blood.

The only thing to do with poems like this is absorb them into your body. Or the only thing to do with poems like this is to sit back, apart, and watch as they try to make you feel something. And be amazed and breathless and struck dumb when they succeed, utterly, completely. Ouch. And wow.

Yes, They’re Basically Bratty Teens, but It’s Epic Just the Same

14 Feb

Those of you who know me know that I hate most romance. I hate flowers. I hate hearts. I hate Valentine’s Day. I have many things in common with Elaine Benes (as in, we’re just about the same person) but nothing so much as our shared hate of the world’s most boring film ever, The English Patient. And don’t even get me started on romantic comedies.

So I know people always find it incredibly odd when I start passionately defending Gone With the Wind against all detractors. Yes, the main characters are bratty and impossible. Yes, Ashley is pasty and boring. Yes, Rhett is a jerk and so is Scarlett. Yes, she gets what she deserves at the end. Yes to all the above.

And yet. I love that damn book and I love that damn movie even more. I know. It makes no sense. There are exactly three movies that make me cry and that is one of them. (The other ones involve animals and a Bronte.) Why? What is wrong with me?

This essay articulates it perfectly. Perfectly! It’s not about their relationship, really. It’s about the surrounding elements. The book and movie, besides being a gorgeous spectacle (and yes, I’m a sucker for war films, too–I also love Casablanca‘s star-crossed romance) are an unsubtle metaphor for the sweeping destructive force of the future. People who claim it’s a monument to the Old South–I don’t think so. At least, I don’t think it works like that for us today.  Somehow I love Scarlett, in spite of everything, because of the weird elemental brutality of her being. She is the bulldozer of the future. She has some of the Old South in her, yes, but with her comes the destructive force of change. She is the world, moving on, utterly practical, always hungry. And I like that. I root for change.  I feel for Ashley and Melanie because they are the done-and-gone past, those who can’t change, those stuck behind the false front of gentility and grandeur while their lives fade out like wallpaper. The whole damn war and the aftermath, music and grand costumes and sets and all, is not just a  grand spectacle, but the burning of the old ways, the old America, the turning point in our history. And even more than that, to me, as someone who loves classic film, it’s one of the last of the epic films. The kind that got made like this. The kind with intermissions and choreography and three bajillion extras. It’s 1939 as much as it is 1865, and it’s the sad blazing unapologetic end of an era when seen today, just as it was in a different sense for Flannery O’Connor when she used it in her own story.

There. Can I just link to this post from now on when people express their confusion about my love for Gone with the Wind? I think that I will.

The new PANK is pretty awesome.

3 Feb

I mean, have you seen this monster yet? It’s amazing. The table of contents is like a jillion pages long and full of goodness.

My favorites so far are the winners of the 1000 Words contest in the back.  There’s a really, really good story by our own Tyler Gobble, and also a fantastic piece by one of my favorite writers (and one of my Shut Up/Look Pretty co-authors) Erin Fitzgerald.

If you don’t own this yet, you need to remedy that. Lit mags are expensive so I’ve had to stop subscribing to many–but the one I make sure and pick every year is PANK. Roxane and Matt and crew do such a nice job and it looks so damn good every time and the writing is just unreal. You guys. Get it.