Reaching People in Your Writing

I got this email a few days ago, the kind that makes you feel great about being a writer.  I love connecting with other writers + I also appreciate it when strangers do kind things (for anyone).  Something as simple as forwarding my name to Roxane Gay's writers of color project is such a beautiful + appreciated thing.  And as long as there are people reading your fiction, then your writing has cultural resonance, which is what we all want on some level.  It's interesting for me to hear from people who witnessed the LROD scrap I got in (pretty much me against the world).  I can't tell you how many  friends I've made through my website.  Thank god for the digital era!

Jackson Bliss,

I've been following your writing for quite some time (I think ever since your kerfuffle with the Literary Rejections On Display blog, now defunct). I was actually also one of the ones who forwarded your name to Roxane Gay who did that list of writers of color who should be noticed (I saw from your blog that someone else mentioned you as well. Right on). I'd been a casual observer of your work, refraining from messaging you or commenting. However, this semester in the creative writing class I teach, I've assigned my students to do presentations on stories they find from online and print journals. We've just finished up the presentations from stories they picked from an online journal of their choice and are moving on to stories from a print journal. Today one of my students wanted to check in with me over a story she is going to present on, and I looked at it and realized it was one of yours, first published in The Antioch Review."What are the odds?" I wondered, and I thought I should send you this message.  I'm a writer as well. I know what it's like to feel as if the work you're doing isn't reaching people, so I wanted to let you know that your stories are reaching others. 

So, keep going, for what it's worth. Also, good luck with your PhD program. I just started one here in Missouri and jesus christ is it a lot of work.

Take care,


It's A Beautiful Day When People Are Talking About Your Fiction

I really love emails like this.  To be honest, this is the kind of email that I dream about as an emerging fiction writer.  For a split second, I get to remember how good it feels to publish something + have people read my fiction.  Even if it's just a short story in a literary journal.  Here we go:

Hi, Jackson,

Our library hosts a short story discussion group. At our meeting this morning, we discussed “The Blue Men Inside My Head” (as well as Nabokov’s “Symbols  & Signs” so you were in very fine company!) Anyway, had a very lively conversation about your work, especially the ending. Opinion was divided equally about whether Xavier actually got back at the muggers or if that was just inside his head (to go back to the title.)  We were wondering if you had any thoughts about it that you might share.

By the way, our group read T.C. Boyle’s “Tooth and Claw” last year and really enjoyed it as well. I’ve recommended Drop City and Tortilla Curtain to quite a few people over the years.  It is easy to see, from your writing style and subject matter (and humor!) why he must be such a great mentor for you. 

Best wishes for all your writing projects!


L**** C*******
Adult Services Librarian
West Wyandotte Library
1737 N. 82nd St.
Kansas City, KS 66112

Chicago Purgatory with Markups

Dude, I feel like I spend more time waiting than writing right now.  Usually, that's not the case at all.  But since all of my writing for the time being is for my dissertation, I have a one-sided relationship with my (artistic) reality where I'm submitting short stories/self-contained chapters to journals, small presses + agents but I'm not writing anything new because of my PhD.  It's kinda odd really.  Because I'm not working on my third novel, or even revising my first two novels, I feel like I'm just waiting around for shit to happen.  Like:

1.  American Short Fiction, who has held on to one of my stories for almost two years.  Now I'm not hating, but think about that.  While the gracious editor there accepted a revision, I still have no idea if my story is going to be accepted.  The truth is, I really should consider sending it to another journal.  The only problem is, I feel like that piece is supposed to be published in ASF.  Call it delusion

2.  Mcsweeney's Press, Coffee House Press, Chiasmus Press, Dalkey Archive Press, Nouvella, the Seattle Review, Milkweed Editions, Les Figues, FC2 + an agent from Sterling, Lord Literistic, all of which I sent novels/Novellas to in the past year

3.   A bunch of literary journals like the Asian American Literary Review, Another Chicago Magazine, The New Yorker, Granta, Paris Review, Crab Orchard Review, the Atlantic, Wisconsin Review, Tin House, Indiana Review, the Believer, N+1, New England Review, Guernica, Kartika Review, Barrelhouse, Portland Review + A Public Space

4.  The University of Chicago for an assistant/associate professor of creative writing (fiction)

5.  Depaul University for a full-time creative writing + world literature professor, for which I'm pretty qualified since my dissertation is both a completed novel + also a shorter critical dissertation on the cultural compartmentalization of Asian American cultural identity + the mediation of Asian American masculinity in orientalist contemporary literature

6.  An agent, any agent, who read my short story in the Antioch Review + decides s/he wants a piece

See, this is why I need to finish my dissertation in like the next month (that's my goal anyway).  When I'm working on my fiction, I don't care all that much when it takes the industry forever to reject my ass/play with my emotions/mindfuck the shit out of me/lead me on/ignore me/procrastinate.  I just keep plugging away at whatever I'm working on, knowing that eventually everything will sort itself out.  In the meantime, I'm making pie out of mud, so what the fuck do I really care?  But right now, all I do when I'm not reading in preparation for my final dissertation chapter, is imagine which dream is gonna come true.  And that shit's just agonizing.

Moving On Up

Until you've become the darling of the glossies, writing fiction is not a very profitable business.  In fact, most of the time, we're happy just to get a story accepted into a goddamn literary journal.  That's often--usually--the thing we care most about.  So getting paid is always an unexpected bonus for aspiring writers.  The truth is, F. Scott Fitzgerald wouldn't have lasted two years in the current biz before he said, "fuck this, there's no money here, Zelda" + of course, he'd be absolutely right.

You can understand, then, my giddiness for the check I got in the mail today for $180.00 for my short story, "The Blue Men inside My Head"!  This piece is slated for publication in the Fall issue of the Antioch Review + one of the stories in my collection, Atlas of Tiny Desires.  In the writing world, $180 is like a shitload of money! The most I'd received prior to today was fifty bucks from ZYZZYVA, the Kenyon Review + $45 from the Notre Dame Review, all of which I was very happy with.  Also, I was supposed to receive £22 for Stand Magazine, but sadly, the check never came from Leeds, England + I decided to stop fighting that fight eventually.  Anyway, I don't mean this entry in braggy kinda way, I'm just really fucking stoked that for the first time in my life, I received a check for triple digits for my writing.  I see this as a tiny but major victory in my writing trajectory.

Now that I'm practically $200 richer, it's time to spend this shit.  If you live in Chicago, I'll buy you tea sometime.  Just text me.

2nd Story Accepted in 2012

I was at Argo Café, the one near the Water Tower when I checked my email on my iPhone + saw this message today:

Dear Jackson,

I am writing to let you know that Bob Fogarty, the Antioch Review editor, is trying to reach you.  He sent you an email and called as well.  Perhaps you can try to reach him at ***-***-****.

Thanks, M*****

Now, Bob sent me a nice rejection letter last year for a story I'd sent him + also told me to give my regards to Aimee + Tom the next time I saw them since he'd published stories by both of them both in the 80's + also more recently.  So I called him, my heart beating madly in my once-sticky t-shirt (typical Chicago summer, man).  I figured he just wanted to talk to me about my story + tell me the things that didn't work for him, a sort of gracious rejection.  But he was out, so I was left in complete suspense.  As it turned out, he'd sent me this email that never made it to me until a month later (5 August 2012, to be exact), which would have cleared up a lot of things:


Thanks for the call. I read your story and want to take it for AR.  I will call this afternoon.

Bob Fogarty

Later on, he called me + we did talk for a good twenty minutes about David St. Jean, who was the former poetry editor at the Antioch Review (my first year at USC, I took this amazing interdisciplinary graduate seminar with David St. Jean + Frank Tichelli, a class where poets wrote a series of poems, ending in a complete poetic cycle, +  then composers set those lyrics to music + finally MA + PhD musical performance students performed the music with your words--fucking amazing).  Then, we talked about Tom, Aimee, Rogers Park (where I live now, what I called a little Berkeley + Bob called a little Brooklyn), how walkable Chicago is, how great its mass transit is + about how creative programs are slowly being devoured by English Departments (Read:  Columbia College).  And then at the end of all of that, Bob told me he really liked the energy, voice + intensity of my short story "The Blue Men inside My Head," + thought the length was appropriate for the subject matter + that he'd be happy to publish it in the Antioch Review.  Again, if I'd received the above email, the suspense wouldn't have suffocated me so much!  Still, I was so excited I almost came in my pants.  Fortunately, I recovered + told him I was really flattered/excited/happy to finally get a piece in his journal.

To give you an idea of how badass this journal is (if you already know, feel free to skip this part), the Antioch Review is one of the oldest literary journals in the country + has published luminaries like:  Ralph Ellison, John Dewey, Philip Levine, Sylvia Plath, William Trevor, TC Boyle (holler!), Gordan Lish, Raymond fucking Carver, Edith Pearlman, Aimee Bender, Bret Lott, Ha Jin, among others.  It's just such an amazing honor to get a story accepted in this journal.  I've sending stories to this journal off + on for over 7 years. And now, it's all worth it.