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!

3rd Piece Accepted in 2016

"Castaways and Worry Dolls," one of my self-contained chapters from my novella The Laws of Rhetoric and Drowning was accepted today by Joyland magazine and will be published in October 2016. While you're there, check out my friend Bonnie Nadzam's piece "4 Ghost Stories."

Riffing with TC Boyle

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

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.

Good Rejection from The Southern Review

I know the slip is crooked (I know I know), but I appreciate the brevity of this good rejection.  I only wish I could make out the hieroglyphic editorial signature.  Either way, this short story has gotten a shitload of positive responses, so I think it's only a matter of time before it gets picked up.  This shit is gonna happen, whether people like it or not.

2nd Story Accepted in 2013

I was kicking it with LB last night, watching The L Word, eating snacks + drinking ocha when I saw this email on my iPhone.  Then, I got insanely happy.  One of my short stories is gonna be published in Tin House for the Flash Friday set at the Open Bar.  I can't even begin to tell you how stoked I am about this.  Can I get a woot woot?  Here's the email:

Dear Jackson,

I just finished reading "Cabrón" and would love to run it on the morning of September 26th on The Open Bar.  Does this sound good?  Can I gift you a subscription to the magazine or a book from our catalog?  

Best,

M****

M**** C******
Associate Editor
Tin House Books
2617 NW Thurman St.
Portland, OR 97210
www.tinhouse.com

Why the New Yorker Sometimes Feels like the Old Yorker

I know it's not the smartest thing in the world to criticize one of the glossies, especially when said glossy is iconic in the literary fiction community + happens to be one in which you're hoping to publish a self-contained novel chapter in the distant future from your awesome second novel.  At the same time, being a Chicagoan with a shitload of New York friends, I know for a fact that some New Yorkers actually look down upon the rest of the world for not being New Yorkers.  I'll never forget the time the coworker of an ex-girlfriend of mine once told me he "forgave" me for not being from New York, a comment that was supposed to be smug + biting in just the right way, but which actually made me want to beat his ass with a monkey wrench until he was spitting out teeth (+ I'm a Buddhist + a pacifist, mind you).

Anyway, I bring up a few details from my experience with New York for several reasons.  One, New York is a city I love very much (proven by the fact that my first novel BLANK takes place in nyc).  Two, sometimes, New Yorkers think everyone else is less smart, less urbane, less hip + less international than they are (+ of course, they'd only be partially right).

Anyway, I'd like to believe that in some strange, mysterious way, this ethnocentric ethos of New York also pervades the New York literary establishment, and why shouldn't it?  New York is still the undisputed mecca of fiction writers.  The creative writing faculty at NYU could fill an entire bookstore.  Some of that cachet is absolutely merited.  And some of the best stories I've ever read have been in The New Yorker.  Some (but not all) were written by Bolaño too.  And then there's Junot Diaz, Jennifer Egan + many other writers I really admire.  At the same time, I'm trying--desperately--to understand why it is that such a prestigious literary magazine like The New Yorker feels it doesn't have to respond to unsolicited manuscripts.  I realize some people are getting form rejections, which sucks, but at least it's something definitive.  That crappy form rejection leaves absolutely no doubt that you're not getting to second base.  But I'm not even one of those people.  I've sent six fiction manuscripts to The New Yorker since 2010 + I only received one response (albeit, a good one).  That's a response average of 16.6% (not an acceptance rate mind you, which is probably .0001000).  Or said another way, that means TNY hasn't deigned to respond to 83.3% of my submissions in the past 3.5 years, which frankly, is ridiculous.

I realize almost no unagented fiction writers almost ever pass that sacred threshold into the kingdom of glossy self-edification.  I realize that if I snag this one agent in particular who asked for a rewrite of my 2nd novel (s/he will remain nameless until I hear from her/him), the first thing I'm gonna want them to do is send one of my novel chapters to the TNY because I'll have a completely different set of rules + privileges available to me that virtually all unagented fiction writers don't have.  But that said, I'd like to know why right now The New Yorker is so bad simply responding to fiction manuscripts.  I won't even get into how prohibitively difficult it is actually getting one of your stories accepted by the this magazine.  I'll leave that for another day . . .

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***

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


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.

My Own Personal "Ranking" of Literary Journals for 2012

It seems like nowadays, every single literary blog has a ranking of literary journals, often interconnected somehow with Pushcart Prizes or O. Henry Prizes or Best American Stories 20##.  And while I can both understand + even appreciate those metrics, I don't think prizes tell the whole story, for like several reasons:

1.  It's impossible for the above prizes to have objective judges since art + artistic merit is intrinsically subjective by nature.  The proof of this is the way one novel is rejected by 200 agents + then passionately embraced by the next, only to get published + becomes a NYT bestseller, or the way one short story is rejected 40 times by 40 journals, only to finally get published in a tiny lit journal that ends up winning one of these above prizes for nominating that story.  Either there was some cosmic psychic shift that took place that changed everyone's minds or that story that had been rejected by 40 journals was probably already kinda awesome, so how could 40 readers fail to see that?  Or conversely, maybe that story really did suck, but then how could a group of tough editors elect it to one of the highest prizes in literary fiction?  Either way, we have to agree that objectivity is probably pointless + probably impossible for evaluating art.  So let's acknowledge that some of the stories that win prizes are simply fucking awesome + others are, well, not as good as your shit.

2.  I could be wrong about this, but I have a strong feeling that each prize has its own filter bias that separates stories into yes + no camps, almost unconsciously.  By that, I mean that readers/editors for Best American Stories, for example, are reading the New Yorker with the assumption that they'll find something  that will win another prize whereas they probably read Santa Monica Review not actually knowing if they'll find anything there or not, which is a damn shame let me tell you.  Ditto with the Pushcart et al.  I'm sure the readers + editors of the Pushcart Prize read Agni + Ploughshares + Prairie Schooner + the New England Review + Tin House with the expectation that they'll find something worthwhile.  But with the other journals, I'm sure those readers have to be convinced first, which means stories outside of the literary Parthenon can't simply be as good as stories in the New Yorker, they would have to be actually better in many ways to stand out + meet that burden of proof.  In other words, readers for prizes are looking for new prize winners in a small list of journals, whereas they're reading other journals skeptically, trying to find stories that are worthy of their prize in the first place.  And I'd argue that simple paradigmatic difference of reading totally prejudices their reading.

Again, this isn't to say that the pieces included in those anthologies aren't awesome, because honestly, I've read quite a few of them + many times, they're as awesome as advertised.  But sometimes, you wonder if stories get selected in part because the author is already well known, thereby proving how smart the editors are.  I mean, they must be smart because they picked yet another story by this famous author who has published a shitload of books + who has a first-choice clause with the New Yorker, so they must be awesome writers.  Of course, they really are sometimes.  But how does anyone funnel 3,000 stories into a goddamn 12-story anthology?  I don't have a fucking clue, but I can see the temptation to include writers who have already proven themselves because the literary establishment has already decided how talented they are.  But I digress.

So, here are my own rankings of literary journals with the following caveats:

1.  These rankings are totally subjective, but at least I can admit it.
2.  My only methodology is answering this question:  Have I read a short story/essay in this journal that I loved?  How often did that happen, holistically, speaking?  In other words, this ranking privileges fiction because that's what I do.  I can envision an entirely separate ranking for other genres, I'm just not qualified enough to do so
3.  They're not actually rankings.  In fact, I'm going to list them randomly in order to deprivilege the journals that are listed earlier in the list
4.  This list is intentionally incomplete.  I'm not comfortable including journals I haven't read, but I encourage all of you to make our own "ranking" that fits your own personal experience if you have a blog, or a friend who can't talk back

Here they are:

My 2012 "Ranking" of Literary Journals


Narrative
New Yorker (they don't need a link)
Slate (okay, just for poetry, but they do publish some great shit)
Yomama's Literary Journal  Okay, I just made that last one up to see if you were paying attention.


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:

Jackson:

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.    

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:

Kansas
Paris
Mexico City
Tokyo
Buenos Aires
Chicago
Portland
Burkina Faso
Los Angeles
Encinitas
New York
Lima
Toronto

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.