Category Archives: short stories

Note on Bridges

A new short story of mine, “Under the De Soto,” went up over the weekend at Fried Chicken and Coffee, the “blogazine of Appalachian literature” edited by Rusty Barnes. Go check it out!

I’m happy to have the story out in the world because for one, it’s been a while since I’ve published a new short story. The problem with working on a long thing is that you forfeit the little motivational piston-firings that come with finishing and then hopefully one day publishing smaller things. Working on longer things requires delayed gratification in a multitude of ways.

Second, this is my second story to be published at Fried Chicken and Coffee. (My short story “High Cotton” was published there a few years ago.) I frankly love appearing in the same journal more than once, whether it’s online or on paper. I relish and aspire to be a “regular contributor,” something different from a staff writer but yet more meaningful than merely a one-time guest. Your aesthetic and the aesthetic of the publication shake hands every now and then, and it’s a good feeling.

The De Soto of the title refers to the Hernando De Soto bridge, which connects downtown Memphis to the eastern border of Arkansas. It’s one of Memphis’ two expansive, industrial-strength bridges. It’s also illuminated at night in the shape of a sine-wave–like M, which nicely mimics the bends of the Mississippi River below. When I lived in Memphis, I got to see this bridge every day, and, of all the details of Memphis life that I miss, those two — the constant gravitational force of the river and the man-made defiance above it — are missed the most. It feels odd to have wistful notions toward architecture, but what can you do.

The Portable Son comes out today

Well the day is finally here. My first book of short stories, The Portable Son, has been published by Aqueous Books and is now for sale. I have flipped the switch from someday forthcoming to recently published.

The hard sell: The Portable Son is available at Amazon as paperback and KindleBarnes&Noble.com, and directly from the publisher. It is also for sale at Burke’s Books in Memphis, Tenn., and Lemuria in Jackson, Miss. More brick-and-mortar stores as I line them up.

I can’t believe it has actually happened.

I remember the first time I thought that I wanted to write a book of short stories. I was 20 and a sophomore in college. I was taking an introduction to fiction writing workshop, and the book that did it was The Watch by Rick Bass. I’d had a vague desire to write throughout junior high and high school, and I had written the requisite notebook or two full of deeply impassioned, hormonally drenched poetry. But it wasn’t until this particular workshop and that particular book that I realized what I wanted to do, or that I found a shape in which to write, a model to draft after.

In that book Rick Bass’s writing seemed ideal: he talked about men and women in an unsentimental, masculine way, but he wrote with a lyrical yearning that kept it from being too spare, too much like Hemingway. He wrote about bullfighting and drinking and reckless male desire but without boiling his language down to elliptical fragments. He kept it looser, more musical, and reached for a panoramic level of detail when it came to nature. Another way of saying this is that he wasn’t afraid of an adjective. And he wasn’t afraid of using a dash if he felt like it. And he wasn’t afraid of building up his effects into a long, cumulative paragraph, like a crescendo before the big chorus.

Also in those stories there is a mythic element underneath the surface. The characters, seemingly relatively normal at first glance, are told at a mythical slant. Everything is always on the verge of becoming a tall tale, which paradoxically didn’t make the stories seem magical or fantastic but realistic, more like how I experienced life.

It didn’t hurt that one of the stories, “Cats and Students, Bubbles and Abysses,” was not only about wanting to write but set in my hometown of Jackson, Miss. In that story Bass, who lived in Jackson for a few years when he was a young adult, makes fun of streets I’ve driven, places I’ve been. It was that alchemical fictional recognition: I didn’t know you could write like that about the place I grew up.

I wrote the first couple of stories in The Portable Son while I was in college, though they have changed a good bit since then. The rest of the stories were cobbled together in the intervening years. Going over the final proofs of the book, I was frankly amazed that I had written these stories. They seemed less like pieces I wrote than pieces I found, though I can’t rightly remember the location where I found them.

A lot has happened in the years since I first read that book by Rick Bass: graduation, grad school, marriage, kids, moving, job changes, teaching, not teaching, innumerable bagels, and, of course, car insurance. But I still think fondly of that book of stories and of the idea behind a collection of short stories. The essayist Elif Batuman says somewhere that she thinks that short stories are historically obsolete, that the economic and reading conditions that brought forth their popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century are gone, never to be recovered. I disagree with her, obviously, but not just because I wrote a book of short stories. Because of their brevity, because of their portability, because of the way they visit a make believe world rather than map it (which is what the novel does), short stories seem like a perennially handy way to comprehend life. That is, a short story offers a way of understanding not available in any other arrangement of language. It is a mode of understanding as much as it is a certain page length.

They’re sort of like songs, except you can’t dance to it.

Accumulated Baggage

Hello.

The good thing about never posting is that you eventually accumulate something worth posting.

And so it is with great pleasure that I link to a list of Ten Essential Southern Novels I wrote for Conversational Reading. Boiling down that list was instructive, revealing. So much gets left on the floor. For better or worse, there’s nothing too terribly idiosyncratic in my list, except for the fact that my list of novels includes four collections of stories. No matter, the collections are novelistically expansive, panoramically interesting. But it made me think of the paucity of my list-making ability. Get thee to the library! And it made me appreciate D.G. Myers’s energetic listing over at his excellent A Commonplace Blog. Here’s my favorite list he’s done thus far: Five Books of Professors.

In addition, I am happy to report that a short story of mine is in the newest issue of Louisiana Literature (27/2), available now in better bookstores and libraries everywhere. The story is called “Popular Baggage” and is included in the story collection that will come out next year. The story is my, ahem, High-School Prom story. Every writer who’s read Hemingway attempts a hunting story, and likewise, everyone who was a child in the 80s, or has seen too many John Hughes movies, has a High-School Prom story in them. My Prom story is a bit more like Carrie than Sixteen Candles, except there’s no blood, or telekinesis, or John Travolta, but there is dancing, by god.

Here’s how the story begins:

Continue reading Accumulated Baggage

The Portable Son: it’s officially forthcoming

Hello! I am happy to to announce that my first short story collection, The Portable Son, has been acquired by Aqueous Books, a wonderful new independent press brought to you by the same great people who run Prick of the Spindle. It will be published in the fall of 2011 both as a paperback and as a Kindle eBook. It’s difficult to write this blog post without sounding like a total spaz; I’m so excited I could spit.

The book is a collection of nine linked stories, all following a single character, Peter, from his Mississippi adolescence to his conflicted adulthood bouncing around the South, trying to figure out how to be a grown-up, which, if you read this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, is not merely a random authorial confabulation of upper-middle-class ennui, but is in fact an actual verifiable trend. (Ah, if we only had that “emerging adulthood” line back when we were twenty-four and sleeping in our childhood bunkbed. Back then they just called us Slackers.)

Anyway, three of the stories — “High Cotton,” “Timber Walking,” and “Nightswimming” — have already been published in print and online mags, and two more of the stories got picked up over the summer and will appear within the next several months.

So, in short, lots of excitement, and I am sure to actually begin posting something to this blog as my inevitable PR campaign of total devastation cranks its engine.

And I love that word — “forthcoming.” Good, good word.

Arkansas Review Arrives on Planet, Thrives

Hello. I’m happy to report that the latest issue of the Arkansas Review has arrived at better bookstores and libraries everywhere.

The issue contains a new short story of mine called “Timber Walking.” It also contains–among much else worth investigating–a story called “Selling the Farm” by Sallie Bingham and an essay by Andrew Scheiber about the boll weevil and its place in pop music.

“Timber Walking” is about a teenager who plays baseball and who’s gotten a job splitting trees for firewood. I call it my Hemingway-in-the-woods story, though there aren’t any guns, or animals, and nothing actually gets hunted. Perhaps it’s not like Hemingway at all? Ah well. So much for self-classification.

Here’s how “Timber Walking” begins:

Continue reading Arkansas Review Arrives on Planet, Thrives

New Quarterly Conversation Is Out and About

Hello. In yet more happy online news, the latest issue of the Quarterly Conversation is out. The issue is bursting at the cyber-seams, containing reviews of the latest from Ishiguro, Vollman, Pynchon, and Hemon, as well as several essays on literature in translation, which has become a specialty of QC.

The issue also includes reviews of six poetry collections, an essay by J.C. Hallman promoting “creative criticism,” plus a review I’ve written of Said and Done, a new story collection by James Morrison.

How Much Cotton? High Cotton

Hello. I’m super pleased to report that my short story “High Cotton” has been published over at Fried Chicken and Coffee, the online blogazine run by Rusty Barns of Night Train fame.

The story is about two high school boys who start cotton diving in the afternoons. Much adventure follows.

Interesting historical factoid that’s somewhat related: in the story, the boys jump into actual metal bins of cotton. But now, if you drive through the Mississippi Delta in just a few short weeks, you won’t see many of these bins in actual use. Instead the farmers now pack the cotton in these long, rectangular bales and top them with plastic tarps. (The tarps almost always are blue for some reason.) They look like long blocks of cottage cheese, held together by some magical force. As such, they don’t look all that inviting for actual jumping. Alas.

But the old bins are still easy to spot. Like the slowly decaying cypress barns, they litter the landscape–another artifact of southern ruins.

Here’s how “High Cotton” begins:

Continue reading How Much Cotton? High Cotton

A fairly recent story

Hello. Here is a link to a short story that was somewhat recently published in nth position, an online magazine from Britain. My first international publication! Brought to you here in America (and elsewhere) thanks to the world-wideness of the web. 

The story is called “Wilson: Runner” and it is about running and dogs. And it makes me dream of John Cheever.