Short Story Published in Witness

Before the insurrection on Halloween, the security guard considered himself an atheist and a cynic, but there are some things too hard to understand, things without precedent, and one of them is a polished ten-inch Colt Python Revolver pointed directly up your nostrils.

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2nd Piece Accepted in 2017

My short story about class/race in Humboldt Park, "Guide to the Other Side of the Universe," which is part of my short story collection, Geography of Desire, was accepted yesterday in the Angel City Review, an awesome LA-based literary journal.  Stay tuned for more deetz!

5th Piece Accepted in 2016

Today, I got the great news that a chapter from my novella, The Laws of Rhetoric and Drowning, was accepted by Hobart, which publishes fantastic fiction and interviews, among other things.  I'm really happy to see this piece put in the public eye!  Stay tuned for more deetz.

1st Piece Accepted in 2016

I got the good news recently that my flash fiction piece "Living in the Future," which is part of my short story collection Atlas of Tiny American Desires, was accepted in the literary journal Arts & Letters and will be appearing in either the Fall 2016 or Spring 2017 issue.  Nothing like a short story acceptance to keep my spirits up.

AWP Conference 2016 (LA)

Remarkably, it's been ten fucking years since I've been back at AWP.  The last time was in Atlanta in 2006, back when I was a confident, driven, ambitious, but also paradoxically naive, trusting, and hyperidealistic MFA student whose only aspiration at the time was to publish short stories and essays in the best literary journals possible.  The idea of publishing novels was fundamentally foreign to me for the simple reason that I hadn't written a novel yet, nor a collection of short stories.  There was no lofty expectation because there was no product.

Ten years later, I'm both amazed, horrified, and also humbled by how differently I look at the publishing industry in general and at my literary ambitions in particular.  Unlike ten years ago, I have a bunch of stories and essays published in a number of legit literary journals, but it's no longer enough for me anymore.  Also, unlike ten years ago, I have several manuscripts that are ready for publication.  I have more than a few realistic publishing possibilities with several awesome indie presses (though they remain merely possibilities until those manuscripts become material objects of art for public consumption).  I have--I always seem to have--several agents and a senior agent at a major New York publishing house reading my novels.  I have two rad lecturer positions at UCI and CSUN teaching literature, writing, rhetoric, research, and creative writing.  I have probably too many advanced degrees now, but whatevs.  I have a network and a community of friends (many of them APIA writers, but certainly not all of them).  I have some fans who follow me on Twitter because of the things I've written.  Most importantly, I feel--possibly irrationally, possibly delusionally--that I finally have momemtum in my writing career.  So, I apologize for this self-indulgent recollection, but the point I'm making here is that I see this conference in such a different way than I did before because I bring a different emotional and professional technology than before.  I feel like I can almost touch my future, as absurd as that sounds.

Among other things I did at this year's AWP, I got to:

1.  Attend readings from Claudia Rankine, Eula Biss, Jonathan Lethem, Geoff Dyer, Leslie Jamison, Maggie Nelson, my friend and mentor Percival Everett, Shonda Buchanan, Judy Grahn, Joyce Carol Oates, and Peter Ho Davies, which were all pretty amazing.

2.  Attend a fascinating (and inditing!) panel by Adam Atkinson, Lillian Yvonne-Betram, and Sarah Vap (an SC student) that presented the results of its survey and data collection about race and racial representation within PhD programs in Creative Writing.

3.  Talk to editors of several of my favorite indie presses and do a tiny bit of politicking (almost all of it unplanned and unintentional)

4.  Make new writing friends and also do some networking (which never hurts in this business)

5.  Most importantly, meet up with and reconnect with former professors and old friends from my MFA and PhD years, many of whom I haven't seen in years and whom I've missed, sometimes terribly, including Steve Tomasula, Marc Irwin, Joshua Bernstein, Chris Santiago, Lily Hoang, Gwendolyn Oxenham, Casey and Denise Hill, Heather Dundas, David St. John, and Percival Everett (who hugged me and then said, "What's going on, brother?")

6.  Buy a shitload of books and literary journals from indie presses

7.  Remember again why I'm a writer, a writer before I'm anything else in the professional and artistic domains

Writing at the Powell's Café

I'm at Powell's right now, sitting in the café and looking through the window across Burnside.  This is a view (dream) I've enjoyed many times in my life, especially the three years I lived in Portland, back when my only dreams concerning my writing, was publishing my short stories in great literary journals and someday getting into a legit MFA program.  Eleven years since I was here last, I can't help but take a personal inventory of my life, noting the achievements I've fulfilled and those that I'm still trying to achieve.  Among other things, I realize that:

1.  Contrary to what I assumed in 2003, when I took my first fiction workshop at the age of 28 at Portland State, publishing a short story in an excellent journal, even publishing a bunch of short stories in many respected journals, doesn't mean you've "made it" at all as a literary fiction writer.  Or maybe it did once, but then you begin moving the goal posts with each tiny success

2.  Getting accepted into a legit MFA program doesn't mean you've "made it" either

3.  Ditto with a legit PhD program

4.  Ditto studying with famous authors (all of who have tried, each in their own way, to get their agents to pick me up as a client)

5.  One of my biggest fears since the day I realized I wanted to be a literary fiction writer, was not publishing my novel, short story, and memoir manuscripts.  My second greatest fear was being one of those professors who teaches writing, but who hasn't published his books.  Right now, these two fears resonate with me, not because I think I'll never publish my manuscripts (actually, I think I'm incredibly close right now because I have many agents reading my first and second novels and just as many indie presses reading similar and different manuscripts), but because before you're a published author in the book sense of the word, you're nothing.  Or at best, you're simply a published author in the literary journal sense of the word, which isn't the same thing.

6.  As I was talking to my good friend Leigh, two nights ago, at this vegan trattoria, it hit me that as a fiction writer trying to make a career publishing his novels in hard copy, I'm essentially fighting for a lost world.  A world that doesn't even exist anymore to anyone except literary fiction writers

7.  I need to find an illustrator and a coder and then finish my electronic novella, Dukkha, My Love, as soon as possible because I can still leave my mark in that medium, regardless of how long it takes me to publish my other work

8.  On the flip side, at the cost of sounding smug, I'm happy with life right now.  I'm in love, I'm married, we have a bomb loft apartment in DTLA and two small dogs that we absolutely adore.  I have an awesome gig teaching hybrid class of lit, creative writing, rhetoric, and comp, at a great school (UC Irvine).  Besides that, I'm healthy.  I get to travel with my boo at least once every year.  And with the exception of this annoying reoccurring red patch on my cheek (that is either eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, or rosacea--and makes me feel like an angry lush clown), I think I look pretty good for my age.

9.  I think I'm at a very major threshold here.  I'm hopeful, shamefully, possibly even unjustifiably hopeful about my future.  My hope is that in a few years, I get to come back here to Powell's not as a customer, but as an author.  Until then, I keep fighting, keep submitting, keep improving my manuscripts

Good Rejection from the Missouri Review

Dear Jackson Bliss,

Sincere thanks for sending us " . . . " for consideration. Your work impressed the editorial staff with its unique blending of Spanish and English. Though not selected for publication, the piece makes us hope we'll see more of your writing in the near future.

Sincerely,

The Editors

Mean What You Say

My big wish for this upcoming month is that literary agents who state they want literary fiction in their agent profiles actually want literary fiction and not commercial fiction with a few literary flourishes.  I say this because having looked at some of the good rejections I've received the past couple of years, I've noticed most of these rejections were by literary agents who said they wanted literary fiction on their website but still rejected my manuscripts for being, well, literary and stuff.  It's complete speculation on my part, but here are some possible reasons for that:

1.  The agent prides her/himself on representing literary fiction but most of her/his client list is actually (or has become) commercial fiction, so including the category of "literary fiction" in their list of desired genres is more about how they see themselves as an agent and less about the kinds of manuscripts they actually sell to editors these days

2.  The literary agent has a divergent definition of literary fiction (that more and more resembles uptown fiction or top-tier commercial fiction), which is why s/he gets snarly when you declare foolishly that "literary fiction doesn't sell"

3.  The agent doesn't want to feel like a complete and absolute sellout because who does?

4.  S/he is keeping her/his options open, but literary fiction has become more aspirational than vocational.

5.  The term literary, as all other genres, just doesn't have stable genre conventions and doesn't mean shit anymore, so it's almost impossible to define and just as impossible to exclude other overlapping genre conventions

6.  All literature, in one amorphous sense, is literary (right?)

7.  If an agent could know ahead of time that a manuscript would sell for one million dollars, they'd probably accept it regardless of its genre, so literary fiction isn't out of the question technically

8.  The agent used to look for and sell literary fiction actively, but as the market has contracted and as Amazon has taken over the world, s/he has become much more conservative in the kinds of authors s/he represents, and commercial fiction has always had a better payout.  So, finding the next Pulitzer prize winner has become much less important than paying the mortgage

9.  The agent, once a brave and fearless bellwether in the publishing industry (whose "experimental" authors once violated rules of form, structure, and content gleefully) has dug his/her heels in and now rejects more and more literary fiction and accepts more cookbooks and dystopian YA knock-offs because there's already a pre-manufactured audience.  Yes, s/he has literary authors, but s/he's had them for thirty years and they're remnants of the golden age of literary fiction

10.  Why the hell not?

1st Story Accepted in 2015

Yesterday, I got the good news that my short story "My 12-Step Program for Yuki Hiramoto," which is part of my debut collection Atlas of Tiny Desires, was accepted by the Santa Monica Review.  Of course, this is fucking awesome, not only because I've been sending the SMR submissions since oh, 2005, when I started my MFA program, but also because it's one of the best journals out there.  Certainly, one of the top west coast journals.  And, while I know the publishing landscape has changed a shitload since then, I happen to know that my friend and mentor, Aimee Bender, found her agent (Henry Dunnow) after she'd published her own story in the Santa Monica Review, so there's always hope when you're getting your shit out there for the world to see.

Going All Out

After a concentrated two weeks where LB and I saw both our families back to back, I'm finally getting back in the groove with my writing, revising, and submissions.  And today I've realized that I'm going all out.

Recently, a bunch of my friends have been getting agents, then two-book contracts, thereby fundamentally changing their literary careers in the span of literally one year.  A boy can only dream . . . Of course, because I'm human, I've been waiting by the phone too for the same phone call, waiting for the same miracle to magically transform my writing career into a solid object, but so far, I've been mostly stood up by publishing industry (literary journals have been much kinder to me).  Agents are happy to tell me how talented I am, but their rejections are always about the fit.  Truthfully, it's hard not to feel bad about yourself, especially when you stroll through the local bookstore and you see straight up shit on the coop.  But I'm an eternal optimist, obviously delusional, and also very stubborn, so I'm not giving up.  Not when I'm so close.

This leads me to the whole point I was making before I digressed earlier.  Now that I'm back in action, I'm going all out, man.  I'm submitting queries for NINJAS to a bunch of new agents soon (I'm still waiting to hear from three agents who are reading full manuscripts, but the longer time passes, the less hopeful I get).  If Kaya rejects AMNESIA (they're taking their sweetass time, by the way), I'll send a query for it to fifty agents the next week.  I just sent out several novella manuscripts to Plougshares and the Massachusetts Review.  I'm also sending one of my best (and fave) short stories to several literary journals.  Lastly, I'm sending my memoir to a few indie presses that I think would be a good fit aesthetically, conceptually, and structurally.  Instead of staggering my submissions as I was forced to do during the school year, I'm now going full force.  And that's not even including a screenplay I'll start revising/continuing this weekend about two bike messengers in DTLA.

And it don't stop . . .