Every time I meet up with Tom, it invariably becomes this dope riff session on writing, culture, and music. We end up talking about our favorite writers, our MFA days, our different views on craft, SoCal cultural mythology, East Coast/Midwest nostalgia, famous writers we've worked with who changed our life, a short bitch session on literary agents, random Rock'n'Roll references, followed by a short Q and A where I ask him questions about reading for the New Yorker Festival and going on tour in Europe and his revision process. Today, more than ever, I felt like we were two friends in two very different stages of our literary career, just kicking it for a half an hour. Some of the highlights of this convo included:
1. Tom gave me some love for "The Invisible Dress," a chapter from my debut novel, The Amnesia of Junebugs, that he read as part of the Writer-in-Residence deal at USC. He said it was one of the best things he's read of mine in a while, but then he stopped himself and said, "but you've written a lot of great stuff, so . . . " I laughed when he said that
2. After he said that sometimes he likes to "rewrite" classic short stories like The Overcoat, we began crooning about the Russian masters like Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky, all of whom I read voraciously in college. Diary of a Madmen, The Nose, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, The Possessed, Notes from Underground, The Idiot, War and Peace, The Kreutzer Sonata, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, were some of my most treasured novels back then. And for Tom too, a connection I didn't even know we had
3. Tom told about his experience being an editor for the Best American Stories 2015, which honestly, sounds totally fucking exhausting. It was especially interesting to hear him talk about how he picked thetwenty stories for the collection
4. Tom talked about switching from Viking to Ecco, his sadness about leaving one editor and his happiness about working with another
5. Tom said he thought this was gonna be my year. I told him I hope he's right.
6. Tom asked me how things were going at UCI (very good). Then, he asked me if I was applying to tenure track jobs this year, which I am. I explained that I'm applying to every decent, great, and awesome, tenure track job out there located in or near a major metropolitan area, even jobs out of my league, because you've got to. Someone will get those jobs, why not me? He replied, "Now, you just need a book contract and everything else will fall in line for you with your PhD." In his own sweet but indirect way, Tom implied that he's waiting to write a blurb for me and honestly, I can't wait for that. In fact, sending him, Aimee, Percival, Valerie Sayers, Frances Sherwood, and Steve Tomasula emails for blurbs will be one of the sweetest parts of finally getting a contract because I'll get to thank them for all of their support, advice, and insight over the years
7. Tom talked about his days as the fiction editor at the Iowa Review where he basically picked the stories he liked the most, and then sent his recommendations to Robert Coover who picked from Tom's shortlist all the way from London
8. Tom talked about how fucking slow McSweeney's is, even with marquee writers like him. They bought one of his stories a million years ago and still hadn't published it yet, which eventually made his agent, Georges Borchardt, badger them a little bit. "I really don't care," Tom explained, "because they already bought the story." Must be nice to have such an illustrious publishing career that you actually don't give a shit when McSweeney's gets around to publishing your short story.
9. Tom and I agree that Tobias Wolf's Bullet in the Brain is one of the gold standards by which other short stories should be judged
10. I feel like now, more than ever, Tom is waiting for me to make it big. I feel like my time is coming. He feels like my time is coming. I know he believes in me as a writer with talent and stubborness to burn, which is an amazing source of confidence and support for me, but now I have to go out and slay this dragon myself. I'm the only one who can do it. I know he'll be cheering me from the sidelines, which I feel blessed about