Reblogging to the Mugsters!
Now, let me toss off my writer hat and bust out the math:
AGENT QUERY STATS
Total submitted: 33 agents
Sources: Writing in the Margins Query Contest Winner (6 agent requests);
#DVpit Twitter Pitch Contest (19 agent requests); various other SCBWI resources
Timeline: I submitted to agents in March and April 2016, and then signed with an offer in May 2016!
Full requests :15 *happy dance followed by sheer panic at waiting for responses*
Offers:3 (Yes, THREE! This was a hard choice, and in the end I went with the agent that I connected with the most and knew would be an advocate for my work and bring diverse voices to mainstream fiction because #WNDB. Plus, Erin Murphy Literary Agency is a fabulous agency for the Children’s and YA book market!)
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Kelly Magee is the author of Your Sick and The Reckless Remainder, a collection of prose poems co-written with Carol Guess, as well as two new books to be released this year and in 2017. Carol Guess is a novelist and poet. Her books Homeschooling, Femme’s Dictionary, and Gaslight were nominated for Lambda Literary Awards. And they are both writers that I am fortunate enough to work with in the next two years!
Magee and Guess partner regularly to create bizarre and fantastic collections of stories, one of which being With Animal. Our story today, “With Killer Bees,” emerges from this adventurous hodgepodge of women who find themselves pregnant with another species. Be it killer bees, a hippopotamus, a dragon, or even a nebula, the result is haunting, all-consuming, and eye-opening. It’s truly one of the most unique examinations of sexuality, family dynamics and identity that I’ve read in a while and I’m excited to share it with yinz!
Here are some questions for today:
- A perspective flip happens when the woman who gives birth tells her story, then it flips back to our original narrator again. They do a better of indicating this in the story, but I think it still begs the question: Is this flip jarring? Does it just serve the purpose of providing backstory or is there more to it?
- I’ve paid a lot of attention to sex and gender identity in these stories, because it plays a prominent role in Guess and Magee’s work as they explore diverse relationships. Do you believe at any point that you know the narrator’s gender or sex? Does it matter?
- I love the ending, solely for how damn poetic it is. However, I’m still trying to make sense of it. So, join me, won’t you? What do you make of the last few lines, these pleading questions without one, straightforward answer?
That is all for now! (P.S. Sorry for what we did to San Jose in the Stanley Cup. Though I guess I’m not that sorry…)
One of the best parts of the AWP
Conference last month was visiting the book fair and hauling in a sweet stash of literary journals. I was drawn to this one because Hunger Mountain
is VCFA’s journal–and Vermont College of Fine Arts
has one of the best YA programs in the country. Also, let’s be honest: horses and hearts.
This session’s published piece, “Covered Up Our Names,” by Jackie Lea Sommers, appeared in Volume 18, the Winter 2013/2014 edition of Hunger Mountain, and was the story for which Sommers won the Katherine Paterson Prize from Young Adult and Children’s Writing. Sommers’s first novel, Truest, also YA, was published by HarperCollins in September 2015.
A few discussion Q’s:
1. Aside from the ages of the protagonist and supporting characters, what makes this a YA story? What makes it a literary YA story?
2. Did you find this story (or parts of it) predictable? Which parts, why, and how does being able to guess what’s going to happen enhance or detract from your experience?
3. Sommers uses an Emily Dickinson poem to tie in major themes, and the title comes from the poem. Discuss the poem’s/title’s significance.
4. YA often deals with heavy subjects, from eating disorders to rape to (as in this story) cancer. What makes this one different/special/work?
5. What techniques does Sommers use to balance the story’s heavy themes/subject matter?
Jack Cady (March 20, 1932 – January 14, 2004) was an American author. He is most known as an award winning fantasy and horror writer. In his career he won the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award, a special award from the International Horror Guild, and several others. He taught writing at the University of Washington and at Pacific Lutheran University, was a conscientious objector during the Korean War, a member of the US Coast Guard, and a fervent believer in the value of history as a means of understanding both politics and writing.
I found Cady’s work quite by accident. A collection of his short stories, including his most famous piece, “The Night they Buried Road Dog,” was lying on a mantle with a small sign that said ‘Free’ on it. Naturally I took it, and was immediately captivated by Cady’s voice. In this story, “The Girl in the Orange Hat”, Cady writes from the first person about a couple who frequent Golden Gate Park on the weekends and encounter a beautiful young woman that intrigues both husband and wife, though perhaps for different reasons.
- Cady’ voice is strong in this piece, counterpointing tersely descriptive sentences with rambling observation. Does it work for you? How does the rhythm and meter of the sentence construction contribute or distract from the story?
- The narrator/husband of the couple goes from a dispassionate observer of her reactions to the girl in the orange hat, called Maria, to an introspective review of his own knowledge about his wife and the conflict she’s seeing. Do you think this development is effectively communicated throughout the piece? How does the wife’s emotional distress resonate through his observations?
- Like so much literary fiction, this piece does not end so much as simply stop. There is, however, something of a climax and resolution as the events of the story unfold. Discuss how Cady brought his genre and literary sensibilities together to make this a compelling story arc.
When I started my search for a published piece this week, I did the usual sifting through my bookshelf, which has recently become such a disorganized stacking of books that, even if I know what I want before I begin looking, it often takes a few attempts to locate anything. This explains why it’s taken me so long to share one of Daniel Orozco’s stories here. That, and the fact that my copy is a simple, black hardback with nothing but the title, Orientation, across the front.
Daniel Orozco is a bit of an anomaly. When you go to research him, there isn’t a whole lot out there. He’s known for his short stories, but has been working for the past several years on a novel of extraordinary length, so he writes in the extremes. His writing has been published in The Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize Anthologies, and a few other magazines. His list might be short, but he is a writer who still impacts the way I look at my own short fiction.
Today we’re looking at the title story from his collection, “Orientation.”
- How does the narrator’s tone and perspective impact the story? As a result, is the reader more detached or drawn in?
- What does character development look like in this story and how does it serve the story’s purpose as a whole?
- Is there any conflict in this story? If so, what? If not, why and is that okay?
If you get a chance, I highly recommend picking up all of Orientation and reading it through. I promise it won’t take you more than an afternoon, because you’ll want to see where the hell Orozco takes you.
Becca and I were chatting about the intersection of literary and science fiction, and she suggested I read “The Closest Thing to Animals,” by Sofia Samatar. It sucked me right in and I thought, this would be great for the MUG published piece! It’s a wonderful example of contemporary science fiction, especially as the lines between all kinds of genres become more and more blurred.
Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories (due out March 2016). She has won the John W. Campbell Award, the Crawford Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award.
Questions for Discussion:
- How does Samatar sculpt the voice? How did you feel about the speaker, and did your feelings change over the course of the story?
- What can we learn from the way Samatar explores and blends race, science fiction, and character development?
- How does Samatar achieve a successful exploration of friendship?
- To me, one of the main questions here is: What is essential? How does Samatar answer this?
Can you tell a short story on Twitter without going stir-crazy with the 140-character limit?
This week, we’re reading a short story originally published on Twitter by one of my favorite authors. David Mitchell is the award-winning and bestselling author of Slade House, The Bone Clocks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Black Swan Green, Cloud Atlas, Number9Dream, and Ghostwritten. Twice shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Mitchell was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007.
Mitchell isn’t afraid to cross genres in his novels, and so it wasn’t a big surprise that he made the leap to Twitter. He posted “The Right Sort” in the form of 280 tweets over one week. In the story, a teenage boy named Nathan Bland is dragged to a party at the mysterious posh house of Lady Briggs. He slips one of his mother’s Valium pills to help with his anxiety, and from there the story dives into a strange and suspenseful tale that would give Edgar Allan Poe the shivers.
Here are a few discussion questions:
- Did the Twitter format change your experience of his story?
- Although we experienced reading this story in one sitting in a continuous stream, how do you think Twitter fans would have experienced this story in real time?
- Could this Twitter format have worked if it was a romance or comedy, instead of a suspense story?
- Did Mitchell leave out any story elements due to space constraints? Did it feel like a full story?
Ben Loory is an LA based writer. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Wigleaf, on one of my favorite radio shows This American Life, and in so many other places. He has two books, one being a collection of short short fables called Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, from which we are talking about 3 pieces!
Loory’s work is marked by its brevity and impact. He can say more in a few hundred words than most can say in several thousands. That said, at times in Stories for Nighttime I found myself asking the question, ‘so what?’ I couldn’t always source any clear meaning or takeaway. But any project such as this is bound to have a few unclear answers that make the shining gems really stick out.
Today, we’re talking about three stories, “The Book,” “The End of It All”, and “The Walk that Replaced Understanding.” I’d like to consider them all together – not based on plot, but on technique and style, because I think they best represent what Loory is trying to do with short fiction and when it works:
- I’ve most often heard Loory’s stories referred as ‘tales and fables.’ Do you agree with this? If so, how do you see these stories as differing from fables of old? What sets these apart as fables in a modern world? How are they similar?
- What is Loory doing with characters in these stories? How do they function and how do they differ from your traditional character?
- One thing I love and HATE about these stories is how bald they are of detail. There’s almost no physical description to work with, just the bare bones. Do you think this works in favor of the stories? How so?
- Loory is also a screenwriter, and took time off to write this collection. How do you see this impacting his work and syle? How does it shape the stories he tells?
I’d seriously recommend picking up a copy of this at the library. If not because it is an insane journey in and of itself, do it because the stories are short enough to read during the commercials of whatever show you’re binging these days.
Have you ever found a book by complete mistake that’s so perfectly tailored to your tastes and style that you can’t believe it? Is it a cosmic alignment? A chance bolt of lightning in an open field? An inevitable meeting destined by the gods? Or maybe just a stroke of luck on par with finding ten dollars?
Whatever the case, I happened upon Amelia Gray’s collection Gutshot in a bookstore in Santa Fe a few months back and have taken it slow, savoring every sentence. The stories are anywhere from 2 to 8 pages in length, but the depth and symbolism at play in each makes a whole narrative out of every line. Gray has written at least 3 other collections and is currently at work on a novel at her home in Los Angeles.
Author Gary Lutz put it best when he wrote of this particular collection, “Call them what you must–stories, fables, parables, nanonovels of melancholized hilarity–but Amelia Gray’s super-concentrated, hyper-velocitous prose marvelments do what so few fictions even attempt: leave you gasping from one unsettling sentence to the next.”
Today we are talking about “Monument”:
- How would you classify this story? Nanofiction? Flash? Vignette? Or something else entirely?
- The message of this story is both clear and complex at the same time. What do you take away from it? Is it a catharsis or a collapse or both?
- What does Gray do with character creation in this story? (Or with her lack thereof.)
- How does the absence of dialogue impact the story as a whole?
If you get a chance, I’d highly recommend grabbing a copy of this collection from your library or online. I promise you won’t be bored.
I’ve become increasingly interested in the “modern fairy tales” trend, and I had just gotten acquainted with the Grimm tale “The Juniper Tree” after reading Lorrie Moore’s short story by the same title when I discovered “The Crabapple Tree” in The New Yorker. I’m pleased to share this story with MUG this week!
Robert Coover is an American author with ten novels and numerous plays, novellas, short stories, etc. to his credit. He’s known for experimenting with metafiction and magical realism, and he has taught at several universities, including Brown. You can read “The Crabapple Tree” here.
Image from The New Yorker; Artwork by Edel Rodriguez
Questions for discussion:
- What do you think of Coover’s choice to make the speaker of this story an outsider, and to have her telling of it so far removed in time? What do you make of her voice? What purpose do these choices serve?
- Fairy tales often traditionally served as warnings for children… what does this tale caution against?
- Is the Vamp under the crabapple tree?
- Who is the villain in this story?
- What do you make of the final line?
- How does the Grimm story enhance your reading of this story? In what ways is “The Crabapple Tree” more “adult”?