06 April 2016

An Interview with One Story


A new interview with me — the first to come out since Blood: Stories was released — is now up at One Story's blog, part of the publicity leading up to the One Story Literary Debutante Ball. Many thanks to Melissa Bean for conducting the interview, and for her very kind words about the book.

Here's a taste:
MB: On that note, what inspires your stories?

MC: Daydreams and nightmares created by anxieties, fears, and desires.

I don’t write fiction for the sake of therapy, per se, but I am prone to anxiety and I have an active imagination, so it’s often the case that a story starts from one of my weird anxiety fantasies.
Read more at One Story...

30 March 2016

AWP Events


This afternoon, I will be flying to Los Angeles for the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference. Here's my schedule of events, in case you're in the area and want to say hello...
  • Thursday, 3/31: Black Lawrence Press reading and party at CB1 Gallery, 7pm
  • Friday, 4/1: Signing at Black Lawrence Press booth (#1526), 1-2pm
  • Saturday, 4/2: signing at the GLBTQ Caucus Hospitality Booth (#633), 12-12.30pm
And of course I'll be wandering around the conference and spending lots of time at the book fair.

28 March 2016

The Revelator: Special Wizard of Oz Issue



Once again, chaos and luck have conspired to release another issue of the venerable Revelator magazine into the world!

In this issue, you can read new fiction by Sofia Samatar and John Chu; an excursion into musical history by Brian Francis Slattery; surreal prose poems by Peter Dubé; an essay by Minsoo Kang; revelatory, rare, and historical Wizard of Oz comics; art by Chad Woody; and, among other esoterica, shotgunned books!

Go forth now, my friends, and revel in The Truth ... and All!

12 March 2016

Bread & Roses by Bruce Watson


This review originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of Z Magazine. I'd forgotten about it until somebody today mentioned that it's the anniversary of most of the striking workers' demands being met (12 March 1912), and so today seemed like a good one to post this:


by Bruce Watson
New York, Viking, 2005, 337 pp.

Lawrence, Massachusetts was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, what might be called one of the greatest mill towns in the United States, but "greatest" is a difficult term, and underneath it hide all the conditions that erupted during the frigid winter of 1912 into a strike that affected both the labor movement and the textile industry for decades afterward.
           
Bruce Watson's compelling and deeply researched chronicle of the strike takes its name from a poem and song that have come to be associated with Lawrence, although there is, according to Watson, no evidence that "Bread and Roses" ever appeared as a slogan in Lawrence until long after 1912.  This fact might suggest that Watson's position is one of a debunker, but he offers less debunking than revitalizing, and the ultimate effect of his book is to show why the romantic notions behind the "Bread and Roses" phrase do a disservice to the courage and accomplishments of the strikers.

09 March 2016

"But why should it be assumed that great music emanates from a great human being?"


John Eliot Gardiner, from Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven (Preface):
A nagging suspicion grows that many writers, overawed and dazzled by Bach, still tacitly assume a direct correlation between his immense genius and his stature as a person. At best this can make them unusually tolerant of his faults, which are there for all to see: a certain tetchiness, contrariness and self importance, timidity in meeting intellectual challenges, and a fawning attitude toward royal personages and to authority in general that mixes suspicion with gain-seeking. But why should it be assumed that great music emanates from a great human being? Music may inspire and uplift us, but it does not have to be the manifestation of an inspiring (as opposed to an inspired) individual. In some cases there may be such correspondence, but we are not obliged to presume that it is so. It is very possible that "the teller may be so much slighter or less attractive than the tale." [source] The very fact that Bach's music was conceived and organized with the brilliance of a great mind does not directly give us any clues as to his personality. Indeed, knowledge of the one can lead to a misplaced knowingness about the other. At least with him there is not the slightest risk, as with so many of the great Romantics (Byron, Berlioz, Heine spring to mind), that we might discover almost too much about him or, as in the case of Richard Wagner, be led to an uncomfortable correlation between the creative and the pathological.

06 March 2016

Workshops of Empire by Eric Bennett


Eric Bennett has an MFA from Iowa, the MFA of MFAs. (He also has a Ph.D. in Lit from Harvard, so he is a man of fine and rare academic pedigree.) Bennett's recent book Workshops of Empire: Stegner, Engle, and American Creative Writing during the Cold War is largely about the Writers' Workshop at Iowa from roughly 1945 to the early 1980s or so. It melds, often explicitly, The Cultural Cold War with The Program Era, adding some archival research as well as Bennett's own feeling that the work of politically committed writers such as Dreiser, Dos Passos, and Steinbeck was marginalized and forgotten by the writing workshop hegemony in favor of individualistic, apolitical writing.

I don't share Bennett's apparent taste in fiction (he seems to consider Dreiser, Dos Passos, Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe, etc. great writers; I don't), but I sympathize with his sense of some writing workshops' powerful, narrowing effect on American fiction and publishing for at least a few decades. He notes in his conclusion that the hegemonic effect of Iowa and other prominent programs seems to have declined over the last 15 years or so, that Iowa in recent years has certainly become more open to various types of writing, and that even when Iowa's influence was at an apex, there were always other sorts of programs and writers out there — John Barth at Johns Hopkins, Robert Coover at Brown, and Donald Barthelme at the University of Texas are three he mentions, but even that list shows how narrow in other ways the writing programs were for so long: three white hetero guys with significant access to the NY publishing world.

What Bennett most convincingly shows is how the discourse of creative writing within U.S. universities from the beginning of the Cold War through at least to the 1990s created a field of limited, narrow values not only for what constitutes "good writing", but also for what constitutes "a good writer". It's a tale of parallel, and sometimes converging, aesthetics, politics, and pedagogies. Plenty of individual writers and teachers rejected or rebelled against this discourse, but for a long time it did what hegemonies do: it constructed common sense. (That common sense was not only in the workshops — at least some of it made its way out through writing handbooks, and can be seen to this day in pretty much all of the popular handbooks on how to write, including Stephen King's On Writing.)

Some of the best material in Workshops of Empire is not its Cold War revelations (most of which are known from previous scholarship) but in its careful limning of the tight connections between particular, now often forgotten, ideas from before the Cold War era and what became acceptable as "good writing" later. The first chapter, on the "New Humanism", is revelatory, especially in how it draws a genealogy from Irving Babbitt to Norman Foerster to Paul Engle and Wallace Stegner. Bennett tells the story of New Humanism as it relates to New Criticism and subsequently not just the development of workshop aesthetics, but of university English departments in the second half of the 20th century generally, with New Humanism adding a concern for ethical propriety ("the question of the relation of the goodness of the writing to the goodness of the writer") to New Criticism's cold formalism:
Whereas the New Criticism insisted on the irreducible and indivisible integrity of the poem or story — every word counted — the New Humanism focused its attention on the irreducible and indivisible integrity of the humanistic subject. It did so not as a kind of progressive-educational indulgence but in deference to the wholeness of the human person and accompanied by a strict sense of good conduct. (29-30)
This mix was especially appealing to the post-WWII world of anti-Communist liberalism, a world scarred by the horrors of Nazism and Stalinism, and a United States newly poised to inflict its empire of moral righteousness across the world.

24 February 2016

Blood: Stories

a box of Blood
Though delayed, my debut collection, Blood: Stories, now exists. I know because I received copies of it straight from the printer. That means it's also going to arrive at the distributor within the next day or so, and from there ... out into the world.


I'll have plenty more to say later, I'm sure. For now, I'm just going to go marvel at the thing itself...

13 February 2016

Catching Up


Posting here is likely to continue to be sparse for a while, aside from occasional announcement-type notes such as this one. I'm preparing for Ph.D. qualifying exams and anything not related to that and/or to the impending release of Blood: Stories has been cut from my waking hours since this summer.

Blood: Stories has an official release date of February 20. It is at the printer now as I write this, and can be ordered not only from the publisher, but also from Amazon (U.S.), Barnes & Noble, and Small Press Distribution. (It hasn't hit Book Depository yet, but when/if it does, I'll post a link, as that's often the least expensive way to order internationally.) There will be an e-book version eventually, but not until this summer at the earliest. BLP also has a new subscription series for their books, which has various options, all of which are less expensive than buying the books individually.

I'll be in New York City this coming weekend to read at the Sunday Salon series on February 21 at Jimmy's No. 43 (43 E. 7th St.) at 7pm alongside Alison Kinney, Thaddeus Rutkowski, and Terese Svoboda. If you're in the area, stop by!

Various other events are coming up, too. I'll mention them here, but you can also keep up with things via Twitter, my newsletter, and/or the book's Facebook page.


Speaking of books, Eric Schaller's debut story collection, Meet Me in the Middle of the Air, has now been released by Undertow Publications (and is available as both a bookbook and an e-book at the usual outlets). It's a marvelous concatenation of stories of horror, dark fantasy, and general weirdness. Some are disturbing, some are amusing, some are both. It's a really smart, entertaining book. I'm especially pleased it's coming out now, near to the release of my own collection, because Eric has been my erstwhile partner in a number of crimes, including The Revelator (a new issue of which is impending. Even more than its been impending before). Eric hasn't always gotten the credit he deserves as fiction writer because he only publishes stories now and then, and often in somewhat esoteric places, so it's a real pleasure and even a (dare I say it?) revelation to have a whole book of his work and to get to see the range and complexity of his writing.

Finally, in terms of new work, I have exciting news (well, exciting to me) -- my story "Mass" will appear in the next print issue (issue 66) of Conjunctions. It's a tale of academia, mass shootings, and theoretical physics. Having it published by Conjunctions is almost as exciting for me as having a book out, because Conjunctions is my favorite literary journal, the place where the aesthetic feels most convivial to my own, and I've been submitting to it for almost 20 years. I've had stories on the website twice ("The Art of Comedy" and "The Last Vanishing Man"), and numerous stories that came close, but were not quite right for the theme of the issue or didn't quite fit with other material or just weren't quite to the editors' tastes. Getting into the pages of Conjunctions means more to me than getting into The New Yorker or any other magazine would (although I'd love the New Yorker paycheck!).

I think that's it for news. Thanks for reading, and thanks for bearing with me!

29 January 2016

Blood: Stories Update


We're almost there — my debut book, Blood: Stories, was scheduled for January release, but is going to be a couple weeks late, because things happen, it's a small press, etc. It looks like it's going to be a really beautiful object and well worth the wait. I expect copies will be making their way out in the world around the second week of February. [Update 29 February: Wrong about that. Physical copies have made their way to me, which means they're on their way to the distributor, and once the distributor has done all their distributory things to them, they'll be out in the world. Any day now...]

The book's info has been submitted to the distributor (Small Press Distribution), and should appear in their databases early next week, which will allow bookstores and libraries to place orders. It should also be hitting all the online vendors soon. (It's been on Goodreads for a while.) That means the pre-order sale from Black Lawrence Press will end [and it has], so if you want to order directly from the publisher at a discount, you'll need to do it immediately to get the discount.

Update: The book is now available for pre-order at Amazon, and ought to be at B&N, Bookdepository, etc. very soon. This means BLP can't offer a discount on it themselves anymore, but they will of course be hugely grateful to you if you order directly through them.

People have asked about e-books. BLP does not yet do e-books, though they're hoping to have them by the end of the year. Plans are afoot. But I doubt there will be any before summer at the earliest.

I'll be stepping out of my hermitage and making some appearances to support the book. The first will be Sunday Salon in New York City on February 21. Then I'll be at the AWP Conference in Los Angeles (March 30-April 2), where I'm doing a couple of signings and a reading. This summer, I'll be at Readercon. More details on all of this later. My newsletter and/or Twitter are good ways to keep up with what I'm up to.

(Reviewers: Either BLP or I can provide a PDF, an unofficial e-book, or, if you're really convincing about your need for it, a physical copy [they're a small press with limited resources, and hardcopies are not cheap even for the publisher]. Email me or editors@blacklawrencepress.com.)

And here is the table of contents:

26 January 2016

Activists of the Imagination: On English as a Department, Division, Discipline


Earlier this month, just back from a marvelous and productive MLA Convention in Austin, Texas, I started to write a post in response to an Inside Higher Ed article on "Selling the English Major", which discusses ways English departments are dealing with the national decline in enrollments in the major. I had ideas about the importance of senior faculty teaching intro courses (including First-Year Composition), the value of getting out of the department now and then, the pragmatic usefulness of making general education courses in the major more topical and appealing, etc.

After writing thousands of words, I realized none of my ideas, many of which are simply derived from things I've observed schools doing, would make much of a difference. There are deeper, systemic problems, problems of culture and history and administration, problems that simply can't be dealt with at the department level. Certainly, at the department level people can be experts at shooting themselves in the foot, but more commonly what I see are pretty good departments having their resources slashed and transferred to science and business departments, and then those pretty good departments are told to do better with less. (And often they do, which only increases the problem, because if they can do so well with half of what they had before, surely they could stand a few more cuts...) I got through thousands of words about all this and then just dissolved into despair.

Then I read a fascinating post from Roger Whitson: "English as a Division Rather than a Department". It's not really about the idea of increasing enrollment in English programs, though I think some of the suggestions would help with that, but rather with more fundamental questions of what, exactly, this whole discipline even is. Those are questions I find more exciting than dispiriting, so here are some thoughts on it all, offered with the proviso that these are quick reactions to Whitson's piece and likely have all sorts of holes in them...