Inland Empire

George McCormick messes around with Inland Empire sentences and changing narratives–complete with a time stamp:

The title for the book came late; after the last page had been written or sure. I’m going to embarrass myself and disclose the fact that the working title had been, for about a year, The Blue Grackle. It’s a bad title for everyone except me, but I needed to know that. I was worried that because Inland Empire (which is a real place in Southern California where I am from) had also been the name of a David Lynch film, I couldn’t use it. It took reading Ed Skoog’s fantastic poem “Inland Empire” that I realized it was fair game. Thanks, Ed!

While I’ve tinkered with different drafts, mostly revising sentence-level things, I basically sent QFP what in my mind was a realized book. I believed in it. It is a small book, but I believe in it now, and I believed in it when I sent it. Which is part of the reason I sent it to QFP in the first place: I love their work and I love the chances they take. Period. I wanted to be a part of that.

The stories were written over a five-year period. From there I consolidated them into four “big” stories. It should be understood that when I began writing the book I hadn’t any notion that I was writing something that would actually be made into a book. More than anything I was messing around with sentences, with passages. Then I started to realize how much I needed the act of writing in my life. I had just moved to a very strange city in Oklahoma, and I was freaking out, to put it bluntly, but I thought, okay, if you can make a piece of art out of this place, then you’ve really done something. Now I know that people do this all the time with the less-than-ideal places they live, but for me it was a matter of survival—and as soon as I saw it in those terms I knew I had something. Now I won’t live anywhere but shitty places (kidding).

Two of the sections have been published: “The Train Singer’s Song” in This Land; “Inland Empire” in Arcadia. I could not be happier with the working relationship I’ve had with the editors of these fine publications.  Oklahoma is a special place, a funky place, when it comes to the arts. There’s almost not pretension, no turf battles, and in turn the community is amazingly strong.

I didn’t arrange the stories until the end, but by then the structure of the book had revealed itself and it was relatively simple. Here’s the thing with Inland Empire: I wrote and rewrote and rewrote each page until I felt comfortable going to the subsequent page. It was that simple: finish one page, go to the next. I thought in terms of thirty lines per page. My faith was that a structure, over time, would emerge. Thank God—and I’m not kidding, I pray all the time before I write—one did.

I sent the book to the Queen’s Ferry Press because that’s who I wanted to publish it. I had an agent who didn’t want me to do this, I ignored that agent, and now I am happy. I do want to say one last thing about the book that I think is important: I finished the book at four in the afternoon on the 24th of November, 2013. When I finished the book I was so happy, so proud, that I called a friend of mine and read him the closing passage. He was stoked, and I was on cloud nine. I thought I will always remember November 24, 2013 as the day I finished my book. Then my daughter was born that night at 11:03, and as they say, the narrative changed.

Pool Party Trap Loop

Ben Segal on his new collection and (somewhat) newer title:

Once, when I lived in Philadelphia and was known to do such things, I went to see some bands play in a basement of one of those big Victorian West Philly houses. It was hot and unbearably humid, like pretty much every summer night in Philadelphia, only more so. My friend Scott decided that there ought to be a pool party. Unfortunately, we didn’t know anyone with a pool, so Scott spent the whole evening walking around asking if anyone was going to the pool party after the show. The theory was, I guess, that someone would actually be going to a pool party and then Scott could be like ‘Oh awesome. Me too. What’s the address again?’ and out of thin air a lovely refreshing pool party would be conjured.

Unfortunately, there was no pool party to which we could finagle invitations. Still, I got to hear Scott say the words ‘pool party’ so many times that they burned themselves into my memory. Pool Party. Pool Party. Did you hear about the pool party? He just couldn’t stop saying it, like he was stuck on repeat. I realized that he was in a Pool Party Trap Loop. It was a palindrome of the kind I like—longish and hinged on a letter in the middle. Pool Party Trap Loop. If I couldn’t bathe in a cool pool, at least I could luxuriate in my newly discovered palindrome.

So for years I have held on to Pool Party Trap Loop. And now I finally have this book coming out and the book is largely about water and somewhat about traps and parties and certainly about oblique repetition and semi-hidden formal linguistic play. Naturally I took on Pool Party Trap Loop as the title.

I passed over many titles that probably are better titles. They are probably more evocative, more serious-seeming. They probably would sell a greater number of books. I can now imagine the books they would have been, the books that could’ve been published under the sign of Model Animals or Comfort Water. Maybe I or another can resurrect them, can append them to some future effort. This one is going to be called Pool Party Trap Loop. Say it with me: Pool Party Trap Loop. Let’s all get stuck in a Pool Party Trap Loop. Pool Party Trap Loop. Pool Party Trap Loop.

And of course if you do have a pool, let’s have a party there. I already am promising that the book launch will be held at a pool. Get your suits ready. Finally, after all these years, the pool party will be called into existence.

The Let Go: A brief history

The long story and life, according to The Let Go author, Jerry Gabriel:

The stories in The Let Go, which I am very excited to say will be seeing the light of day in May 2015 thanks to Erin McKnight and Queen’s Ferry Press, were written over the course of about three and a half years. I can actually peg the beginning and end pretty clearly to the births of my children. “We’re in Danger, All of Us” was the first thing I wrote after my first daughter was born, in the fall of 2009. The last story I wrote for the book, “The Visitors,” I finished in the spring of 2013; it was the first thing I worked on after our twins were born the previous summer. It probably goes without saying that the stories, then, are intertwined with the new experience of fatherhood and its inherent exhaustion, joy, and paradigm-shifting truth that you now have other humans reliant on you in ways previously unimaginable. There is a lot about fathers and children in this book, though it’s worth noting that not all of it is so healthy. Perhaps that is wrought out of some of this new anxiety.

I can’t say I set out to write a collection of stories. Just before all of this, I’d finished a novel I’d been working on for three or four years, and my theory is that one reason the stories are all so long—the average length is about 35 pages—is that I had internalized a novelistic pacing, but could not really commit to another novel, especially given the new constraints on my time. After I finished “We’re in Danger,” though, I did begin to consciously craft a collection, not so much linking the stories (as I did in my first book, Drowned Boy) as thinking about them as different approaches to a single question, a crude formulation of which might be: what are the ways in which a place like Ohio—both its small town and big city incarnations—intersects with the greater world? It is easy to imagine such a place cut off from the world, a cultural and political island. But that is not reality, not at all. So this question or concern, I think, drove each new story, even if the sources of the stories were so very different. A number of them are more or less historical—there is one set in 1972, one in 1982, one in 1991—which allowed for an interesting torqueing of the question.

Once I had it in my head to write a collection, I worked as I have heard some story writers (like Andre Dubus) say they worked: multiple stories were going at once, like different pots on a stove, all at various levels of completion (and, to be honest, disarray). It was hard work, in a way, but also exhilarating. There were other stories from the period that didn’t make the cut for the book, two of which because they were simply too short (which is to say they were normal story length); after a time, I began to like the idea of a book of stories that were all what some people call “the long story”—that space just shy of novella territory. With long stories, as it is with novellas, it is superficially a question of length, and more significantly one of ambition, pacing, and time. A long story also frequently allows for a larger cast of characters, and thus a larger world.

Each story in the book offered its own set of rewards, but I think “The Visitors” is the one that has affected me most profoundly as a writer, and in a way perhaps it is the most personal, emotionally speaking, because of the complexity of the relationship between the father and daughter. In it, I wrote about a murky moral landscape—that of a Weather Underground-type organization. Terrorists are an easy target for scorn—and for good reason—but I would be lying if I said I didn’t come to see a kind of nobility and bravery in the Underground’s fight against the madness of the Vietnam War juggernaut. I learned an enormous amount in writing this story, both about the historical moment of the late Sixties (which happens to be when I was born) and about how one goes about writing historical fiction—the ways one can find gaps in the record to create lives that mesh with the larger history.

On a different note, “Long Story, No Map”—and I have to give credit here to Heather Jacobs at Big Fiction for both helping me shape the story and for in fact naming it; my title had been “In the Real World, You Lose Your Security Deposit,” which you can see is clunky—ranks among my favorites because the protagonist, Carl, is sort of my alter ego at nineteen. If, that is, a couple flips of the coin had come out differently. And so it was fun to imagine that person—intuitive, but also petulant and entitled and incredibly naïve. Parts of that story were just so easy, because I know that guy so well. But then I coupled him with an unlikely bedfellow, an elderly North Korean emigrant epidemiologist. This character causes serious cognitive dissonance for Carl, which is pretty fun to watch, I think. Because he’s sensitive and because he’s lost and because he’s starting to see how much he doesn’t know, he’s open to it, the experience of becoming friends with this old Korean man. It’s a strange story, but then they all are in their way, or that is my hope.


What Will the Neighbors Think? and Other Fears upon the Eve of Publication

Perception and paranoia from Dina Guidubaldi, author of the forthcoming How Gone We Got:

Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Recently, at the nth hour, I changed a character’s name in my upcoming collection because I worried it sounded too much like a real-life name of a person I once knew. This self-imposed edit felt wrong somehow—to worry so much that someone might…might what? Take offense? Think I was obsessing about them while they didn’t remember me at all? Accuse me of stalking? I don’t quite know what was behind the name change. Maybe I felt the name was too much—too close to real life, even though the character was honestly (honest!) not.

The main thing fiction has going for it is its lovely lying powers, its deceptive ability. Fiction has, waiting in its wings, bursting at its seams, a host of alien landscapes and evil henchmen and freakish occurrences—why would you avoid that? Why would you not use those fantastic props—all those swords and shit? I don’t get those writers who have a whole blank page in front of them and choose to tell the truth about themselves, to change a name or place here or there and call it fiction. So, was I feeling like one of them—those memoir-masquerading-as-fiction folk? Was that behind the tiny name change, some kind of artistic pride, some kind of guilt over not being fictitious enough?

Similarly, I worry that when this collection comes out, loved (or not-so-loved) ones will suddenly think they’re being written about, in possibly unflattering terms. When you write about a sleazy father, suddenly it’s your sleazy father; when a character has a cheating ex, it’s assumed to be the author’s cheating ex. Again, I blame those memoiry-writers for screwing up the fiction bar, but perhaps I should blame myself, for not making things real-seeming enough? Or wait: fake enough? I’m not sure. But I changed that name, nervous about what someone somewhere might think. And while all the characters in my work are further away than they (hopefully) appear, the “entirely coincidental” part of anyone’s writing is likely untrue.

Stephen King somewhat famously wrote that “fear is at the root of most bad writing,” a quote I quote often, whenever I go around quoting things. Being worried about who’s gonna think what never helps. But that bit of advice opens up a host of other questions: What exactly am I afraid of? Isn’t fear sometimes good? Doesn’t fear keep you from ripping off “The Metamorphosis,” say? Shouldn’t I be worried that I’m writing like an asshole here, in this blog, or over there, in my story collection? Is my protesting too much about my characters being wholly their own simply coming across as protesting too much? As being disingenuous? Or paranoid? Am I paranoid? Seriously, would that person-whose-name-sounds-like-one-of-my-characters’-names even read my book? What’s wrong with me, anyway? Are other writer-people this obsessed with perception? How come Andrew’s blog last week was so much funnier and on-point than mine?