I was the oldest, but my brother was born 11 months after me. Which meant my mother stopped breastfeeding me so as to nourish her new arrival to the fullest extent. (The female body is miraculous that way!) Her entire body and psyche started honing in on the human who would come next. Something similar happens when an author’s second book is conceived and begins to gestate. While Free Radicals, my second story collection, is currently in its first trimester and hardly ready for prime time, it still has a pull on my heart and mind these days and will continue to be a magnet for my attention until it is born, even with its unpredictable due date.
Yet the first book is still very much alive and well – just as I was when my brother was born. In other words, The Man With Eight Pairs of Legs, my debut collection, also needs nourishment. In order to avoid the risk of it feeling abandoned and needing therapy as a teen, I am committed to doing everything I can to help it continue to develop and thrive. This is where I stand right now, my mammary glands preparing to “breastfeed” the second collection while strategizing how best to continue to nourish the first, a book I cherish like a first child. In collaboration with others, I have done a number of events to highlight Eight Pairs as well as to highlight myself as an artist and to advocate for the oft-maligned genre of short fiction.
RECAP OF THIS PAST SPRING SEASON
ON TWO PANELS AT THE ASSOCIATED WRITING PROGRAMS (AWP) ANNUAL CONFERENCE at the Seattle Convention Center March 8-11. 9000 people attended from all over the country with over 500 events offered on and off site.
I organized a panel called: AMBITION OF THE SHORT STORY: Bringing the Short Form Front & Center and invited three short fiction writers to join me: Sidik Fofana, Erica Plouffe Lazure, and Daniel A. Olivas.
The panel’s premise: Storytellers go back to the beginning of human history – wandering bards, a grandmother at a kitchen table, sailors gazing at the stars from the bow of a ship. Yet in contemporary times, agents and publishers frequently value (and buy and promote) the novel over the story collection. How to alter the current bias in the industry and among readers so that short fiction is deemed a significant and valuable genre in its own right?
By excluding almost everything, a short story can give perfect shape to what remains. Steven Milhauser
… which is exactly what I love about it. The art of it. The challenge of achieving depth in a relatively small space.
I was blown away by the popularity of our panel, our large room packed to the gills with over 200 plus writers. This topic is clearly a hot one! I researched and put together a list of 40 authors internationally who have either only written short stories (24) or have constantly come back to them even after publishing a novel or two. I have become a bit messianic about advocating for short fiction and feel inspired to write an essay on the topic before the end of this year.
AS PART OF MY RESEARCH FOR THIS ESSAY, PLEASE GET BACK TO ME AND TELL ME WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT THIS FORM. A favorite response to those who read Eight Pairs was: “I had not been a short story person. But your book changed my mind!” What is your opinion about this genre, which is so difficult to do well?
At AWP, I participated in a second panel: JOURNEY TO THE PRIZE: Five Women, Five Award-Winning Debut Collections. The audience was, of course, eager to hear how we all managed it. In my opening remarks, I confessed that I had always been late to everything: teeth, blood, tits, birthing, and now publishing my first fiction while receiving social security checks! I may be the oldest person in America to publish an award-winning debut story collection!!!
FEATURED READER AT THE SF CENTER SUNDAY OPEN-MIC READINGS on April 2. I was able to read both “The Hermit’s Tattoo” and “City of Angels” in this awesome community setting – about which I had no previous knowledge – and where a diverse, mostly young audience sips tea and sits on the floor every Sunday to hear musicians and writers share their work. Happily, my two stories were warmly welcomed by the crowd! I was invited by a past writing student of mine who had come to my AWP panel. I love how life circles back…
GUEST AUTHOR AT SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY on April 4. I had been invited to read and offer a Q&A session in an undergraduate creative writing class. All 35 students were asked to buy or borrow, and of course read, my collection. The experience was especially gratifying because SF State is where I got my Masters in English/Creative Writing in 1978 and taught creative writing for two years. It is where I first developed the curriculum I have been teaching for thirty years at Ripe Fruit Writing, the program I founded in 1991. I’d come full circle! I can’t tell you how special it was to have these young men and women (boys and girls, really) so serious and engaged, asking penetrating questions about my stories, themes and characters. I wish we had taken a group photo!!
GUEST AUTHOR at the Central Oregon Writer’s Guild on April 11 at the Bend Public Library. With 30 writers in person and 20 on Zoom, we had quite the lively Q&A after my talk, titled, THE DYNAMIC POWER OF LANGUAGE (+ HEART): How to Get Your Writing to Light Up in the Slush Pile in Paragraph One!! I had coordinated this invited craft talk with a two-week writing retreat in a cabin at PLAYA in southern Oregon, where I was 100% focused on my second “child,” Free Radicals, from dawn to dusk and into the night – the writer’s dream of uninterrupted time to create their art.
ANNIVERSARY READING OF THE MAN WITH EIGHT PAIRS OF LEGS on April 26 at Noe Valley Public Library co-sponsored with Folio Books. The reading was followed by wine and antipasti at Lupa’s Trattoria nearby. The room filled with my writing students past and present, as well as friends. I found it especially satisfying to celebrate a full year since publication with its exhausting schedule of readings around the country, right here in my own neighborhood.
ATTENDEE AT AMERICAN SHORT FICTION SUMMER WRITING WORKSHOP in Austin, Texas, May 24-29. Here, generously hosted by the editors of American Short Fiction and under the tutelage of best-selling fiction writer, Kristen Arnett (Mostly Dead Things) and T Kira Mahealani Madden (Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Daughters, which is both fascinating and moving as a memoir and brilliant on the language level), I workshopped “Dark to Themselves.” I depend on these workshops to move my stories forward and this workshop was no exception. Plus, I made some new writer friends, including one from Singapore and another from Nigeria. I stayed at the historical Firehouse Hostel (also a Speakeasy) in downtown Austin, dipped into Barton Springs, and observed ten million female bats exiting Bracken Caves near San Antonio as part of my research for my story “Memory Palace.”
In other words, I spent a week nourishing what is still in the womb. I can already feel the little legs kicking…
*WHAT THE BODY HOLDS: Its Shame and Its Pleasures at the historical Mechanics Institute in downtown San Francisco, Thursday, September 14, 6-8 pm. Isidra Mencos, author of the memoir, Promenade of Desire about coming of age in Barcelona during and after Franco, and I will be reading from our books, discussing the shame and pleasure of the female body, answering audience questions, and signing books during a wine reception surrounded by an amazing spiral staircase and three floors of books, books, & more books. PLEASE ADD THIS TO YOUR CALENDAR.
*GOODREADS SUMMER READING GIVEAWAY: June 26-July 31. I am looking forward to gifting signed copies of The Man with Eight Pairs of Legs to the ten people who will win the lottery at Goodreads. This will be my fourth Giveaway. Each time, I am so moved to be mailing my book to utter strangers in small towns and cities all over this huge country.
*LOOKING FORWARD TO SELLING OUT MY FIRST PRINT! Sarabande printed 3000 copies. They still have about 1000 in stock. So, if you loved my book, buy a couple of copies for friends for their summer reading. Not to mention, when more and more people buy short fiction collections, the publishing industry will take note!!
LINK to purchase
Winner of the 2020 Mary McCarthy Prize for Short Fiction
2022 WNBA Great Group Reads Selection
2022 Best Book Awards – American Book Fest
2022 Foreword INDIES Short Fiction Finalist