The Spaces in Between

The period between March and June has always been, and will probably always be, a dramatic time in my life.  Most of the best (and also worst) news I've received is during this time frame.  For example:

1.  Winning the Sparks Prize

2.  Getting rejected from the JET program (for being too old)

3.  Getting accepted into SC's PhD program in Literature and Creative Writing

4.  Hearing back from all the tenure track jobs you applied to, where they gush about what an insanely large and especially talented pool of candidates there were, which made their job especially difficult

5.  Seeing my short story on Tin House's website

6.  Getting accepted in Notre Dame's MFA program

7.  Visiting Rome, Hong Kong, Macau, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Tokyo, and London

8. Finding out whether I'm getting (re)hired at UC Irvine after an exhaustive application process

9.  Getting married to LB, something I never thought I'd do and something I never wanted to do until we fell in love

This list could go on.  If we were at a café, this list would go on.  But the point is, shit always goes down this quarter.  Sometimes, it's bad.  Usually though, it's good.  But it's always crazy enlightening (and crazy dramatic too).  So, it's with immense curiosity (and slight trepidation) that I wait to hear the state of the world for me in 2016.  Stay tuned, people.  Shit could get crazy.


Good Rejection from Graywolf Press (Yet Again)

Sad times at Ridgemont High, my friends. In the middle of my last workshop with Aimee + probably my last workshop ever--tragic irony sucks!--I scanned my emails, only to discover this rejection which kinda breaks my heart. I fucking love Graywolf Press + I felt very strongly that my collection of short stories would appeal to them because the language is beautiful, the collection is international in scope (Peru, Argentina, Burkina Faso, America, Canada, Japan, Mexico), deals with legitimate social and cultural issues, uses strong, spunky + smart female characters, creates art that is greater than just art for art's sake + most importantly, offers a series of cultural narratives that haven't been written yet, or at least not overwritten in any meaningful way. Saying nothing of the fact that I've either lived in those countries as a Peace Corps volunteer + English teacher or I've visited them + that I've already published many of these stories in good literary journals. And yet, none of that shit matters.

I'm totally bummed, frustrated, a potential victim of pigeonholing? Would my collection have been more seriously considered if every story was about China? Or written from an African point of view? Is my collection too all over the globe? Do you know how many collections of short stories I've read in the past 10 years that don't have a thematic thread at all? Why does Nam Le get to write stories in Iowa, Colombia, Japan, Vietnam? Granted, he's probably a better short story writer than I am, but I still honestly feel like the stories in my first collection give the readers a beautiful, powerful, touching piece of the world that hasn't been written enough, or at all. For example, how many short stories have you read that take place in Burkina Faso? Or that follow the story of a letter traveling from West Africa to California? Or that deal with race + class in SoCal? Or that are about a Peruvian pepera who falls in love with a tourist she drugged? A hipster who falls in love with a hallucination in Buenos Aires? An obscure fiction writer whose greatest fan is a porn star? Two strangers who meet with the help of their love beepers in Tokyo? A girl who falls in love with a painting in the Art Institute of Chicago? Two teenage basketball players in Kansas who fall in love? A nerd who gets his revenge by inventing a paint bomb that covers his attackers in paint? A woman who cheats on her husband with the female tango instructor in Argentina? An insurrection of teenagers that loot Muncie?

I'm not pretending my stories are technically perfect, because they're not perfect. But on many levels, they are unique. They're touching, powerful, beautiful, slightly off-beat stories about the human condition, + I hoped that a press like Graywolf would want to publish something fresh, socially-conscious + international like this. But they didn't. And now I'm bummed.

Anyway, here's the gracious letter:

Dear Jackson Bliss,

Thank you very much for submitting " . . . " to Graywolf Press.

There's a lot to enjoy here in terms of the diversity and range of the stories, and we felt like you inhabited these characters well--you made their voices your own. I'm afraid that we did feel that stylistically there were several stories that seemed a bit out of place, such as " . . ." or " . . . " Despite the strength of some of the work here, it didn't feel cohesive enough as a collection. So we've decided against this.

Sorry to disappoint, but you've done some good work, which deserves recognition. Thanks for thinking of Graywolf, and best of luck in finding a good home for this elsewhere.

With best wishes,

The Editors
Graywolf Press

And my response:

naive question, but is removing those two stories too cosmetic to resolve the lack of cohesiveness? just curious.

okay, well, since i'm not expecting a response back since i know you have many submissions to deal with, thank you graywolf press. you're a kickass press + it would have been great to work with you. i just wish i had more books to submit to you, but sadly i don't.

peace, blessings, thanks,

--jackson bliss

Anyway, as much as I admire you Graywolf Press--+ I do, I really do--you had your chance to publish something by Jackson Bliss before I became big + famous + now you've lost your chance forever. It's time we parted ways. But of course now I sound like the dude who says I quit after he's already been fired, which of course, is exactly what happened. My consolation: I get the last word.

Limbo: Where Fiction Writers Sleep

About the only thing I know right now is that I've been waiting in a state of perpetual limbo for awhile now + it just doesn't go away man, not even after a long nap. By waiting in a state of perpetual limbo, I mean:

1. I'm waiting to hear from Graywolf Press + Algonquin about $67 for My Fave Dictator + BLANK

2. I'm waiting to hear from the Irene Goodman Literary Agency about BLANK

3. I'm waiting to hear from 20 journals I submitted stories to in the past year, some of which I sent a year ago--you know who you are, TLR!

4. I'm waiting to have more free time to start working on The Ninjas of My Greater Self again after getting sidetracked by essays I had (still have to finish) grading, an oral presentation on Joan Didion + kicking it with LB's sister Fia, where I relived all of my touristy moments in LA for the 100th time

5. I'm waiting to have more free time to start sending out new submissions for 2011, after which point, I will begin waiting and living in a state of perpetual limbo all over again

6. I'm waiting to hear from the Macdowell Colony about a summer residency I applied for

7. I'm waiting to hear from the East Asian Studies Center at SC to see if I was awarded a partial/full grant to travel to Tokyo/Osaka this summer to study cosplayer subculture

8. I'll soon be waiting to hear from the English Department at SC to see if I was lucky enough to score one of their endowed fellowships, which would mean no teaching composition next year! Can't you even imagine that?

9. I'm waiting to hear from the universe pretty much all the fucking time, sister

10. I'm waiting for Black Clock's submission window to open again

Because I Just Don't Know How To Listen

I'm a stubborn motherfucker. It's true. I don't think you can make it in this industry unless you're equal parts stubborn/delirious/delusional/suicidal/short-sighted. And even though I know that only 10% of Graywolf Press's accepted manuscripts are unsolicited, most of it, probably poetry, (which, obviously also means that 90% of it is agented--ho hum), I truly believe--because I'm stubborn/delirious/delusional/suicidal/short-sighted--that I have enough talent to burn to be part of that exclusive 10%, even if it's a long shot. That's why I just sent them my collection of short stories that I've been working on for five years now now called $67 for My Favorite Dictator.

What I've got going for me:

1. I've already published stories from this collection in the Kenyon Review, Quarterly West, ZYZZYVA, Stand Magazine, 3:am Magazine, Connecticut Review + the Notre Dame Review, so at least I've got that going for me.

2. Graywolf publishes a number of translations + likes writing that is both part of + is also conscious of the greater world surrounding the story + my stories take place in:

Mexico City
Buenos Aires
Burkina Faso
Los Angeles
New York

3. My collection is mostly straight-up narrative, but there's also some flash fiction, conceptual/experimental short stories + two interlocked, language-driven pieces, so my collection has an amazing aesthetic variety.

4. Graywolf seemed to appreciate BLANK, so maybe, just maybe, they'll remember me.

Do any of these things guarantee a single goddamn thing in terms of getting published? Fuck no! Am I deterred? No! Should I be? Fuck yeah!

But that's just how I do.

Aimee Bender Helps Me Chill Out

I'm gonna tell this story in reverse:

Exactly one minute after hanging out with Aimee, I received this email from Graywolf Press, that pretty much broke my heart:

Dear Jackson Bliss,

Thank you very much for submitting "BLANK" to Graywolf Press.

We certainly found a great deal to admire in your work, but when it came time to make a publishing commitment, I’m afraid we decided we couldn’t make you an offer. It’s always difficult to make these decisions and to write letters like this one. The small number of books we can publish each year unfortunately puts us in a difficult position in terms of taking on a lot of new work.

We will say, though, that your enthusiasm about New York is fresh and infectious, and we did enjoy much of this. Unfortunately, we didn't connect with the voice here as well as we'd have liked. This is, of course, simply a matter of taste, and others may feel differently.

In any case, thank you for having Graywolf in mind. We wish you the best of luck in finding the right publisher for your work.

With best wishes,

The Editors

Graywolf Press

I have crazy love/respect for Graywolf Press. They pretty much epitomize everything that is awesome about indie presses (e.g. great selection of published novels, including translations, a devoted, smart + savvy editorial staff, national distribution, publishes literature that is aware of the greater world around us). So you can imagine the heartbreak when I found out they'd rejected BLANK. My big concern with BLANK has always been that it's too structurally ambitious, too conceptual + lyrical, too socially plugged-in + too unorthodox for most of the big presses. So my concern, my big concern, is that if the awesome indie presses won't take a chance on a sui generis novel like BLANK, then frankly, who the hell will? I mean, the only way I'm going to get Little, Brown to publish BLANK is if I have a love affair with Paris Hilton or protect Jessica Alba from a mugger with my dinner toothpick.

But my conversation with Aimee helped me get my shit straight:

1. I have to remember that I'm working on a second novel right now, which means that I'm not going to be sending out as many manuscripts as I normally do, which means I'm also not going to be getting pieces picked up as much as I'd like. But that's part of the whole creation process when you write. Working on a novel is your downtime to create, revise + invent. Most of the time, your novel will be hard to split up into pieces + published anyway, so you shouldn't worry about the publishing game for quite awhile.

2. Every major writer always has a tipping point. For her, it was publishing a short story in the Santa Monica Review, which helped her find an agent, get published in an anthology +get Girl with a Flammable Skirt published, all happening in quick succession. Obviously, I don't know if I'll have a tipping point (though I believe I will) or when it'll happen (though I sense it'll happen while I'm in LA). All I can do is keep writing, submit when I can + remember that I'll get my time. I hope.

3. After she offered me one of her vegan samosas, I asked Aimee what Jim Sheppard's writing trajectory was like.

--I'm not sure, she said, but I'm sure he paid his dues just like we all do.

And somehow, that's comforting to know that other writers that are now national players have had to slowly create their own momentum too just like I do, just like almost every writer has to.

4. I apologized to her about bringing in an Anis Shivani article for the class to discuss in our workshop last year in light of Shivani's most recent bitch session about literary publishing in the Huffington Post that came out a few weeks ago. Anis Shivani picked Aimee as one of the 15 most overrated contemporary writers

--Oh, don't worry about it, she said, smiling. --Actually, I'm completely flattered to be mentioned with those other writers: Amy Hempel, Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, Vollman, Lydia Davis.

This is when I told her: --Aimee, for the record, I think it's really hard to write like you. I've never seen anyone who could write you convincingly. Besides, theory's got nothing on you.

--Thanks, Jackson, she said, blushing, --I appreciate that.

I guess writing is tough for everyone right now.

6 Ways I've Kept Hope Alive This Month as an Emering Writer:

1. I sent BLANK to Graywolf press

2. I submitted stories to RHINO, Zoetrope, N+1, Alaska Quarterly

3. I also sent a new story to Dave Eggers (he told me he likes Africa stories back when I was a MFA student at Notre Dame, so I sent a new Africa story to his assistant, who forwarded to him for me)

4. I randomly emailed Melanie Jackson (Rick Moody + Miguel Syjuco's agent) + asked her whether she was accepting unsolicited query letters right now. Just seemed like the considerate thing to do before filling up her inbox with another pitch. Chances are, she won't let me know how considerate I was

5. Tomorrow, Lissa, Marvin + I are interviewing Miguel Syjuco in his hotel room for our debut issue of Flying Fists

6. I received a message on FB by a fan of mine who called "A Full Cellar" a masterpiece. Ah, how wonderful it is to feel like a writer + touch the contour lines of art for a second + see the social effects of your words!