Monkeybicycle 9 is released this week and includes the work of A. Anupama, Jeremy Aufrance, A.A. Balaskovits, Nathan Blake, Lisa J. Cihlar, J.P. Dancing Bear, Rory Douglas, James Freed, Jack Garrett, James Tate Hill, Derek Henderson, Dustin Hoffman, Jared Hohl, J.Z. Houlihan, Jane Keyler, Sandra Kolankiewicz, Marshall Lee, Jessica Levine, Christopher Linforth, Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, Colleen Maynard, Todd McKinney, Colleen Morrissey, Analisa Raya-Flores, Laurie Sewell, Kelsi Sexton, Jon Steinhagen, Richard Wolkomir, and Michael Wood.

“Door-to-Door”–one of the first stories written for my MFA–is included with many fine stories and poems. Here’s an excerpt:

In the car, the man packed his valise. He put his rubber gloves inside, next to the talcum powder and a tube of medicinal salve. He checked the salve’s instructions and rubbed a little on his palm. While he waited, he looked at the house in the late afternoon light. The front lawn was dried out and colored a muddy brown. Broken trellis lay on the garden path. The curtains were closed.

He turned the radio on and listened to a man talking. On his hand, bright-red hives appeared. With a pocket-handkerchief he wiped away the remaining salve. He took out his cigarettes and lit one, blowing the smoke through the open car window. He saw a light go on in the front room and the curtains twitch.

Copyright © 2012 Christopher Linforth.

If you’re starting out and can’t tell your Chekhov from your Gogol, an excellent place to begin is to read a historical and taxonomical evaluation of the modern short story. Luckily for you, it’s dealt with in excellent detail in William Boyd’s article, “A Short History of the Short Story.”

Over the years, the books I’ve found to be helpful for fiction writing include Stephen King’s On Writing, Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, Charles Baxter’s Burning Down The House, E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, Ann Charters’ The Story and its Writer, Alice LaPlante’s Method and Madness: The Making of a Story, and James Wood’s How Fiction Works. But more than reading about craft you must read, read, read: collections of short stories and literary journals. Some of my favorite collections are Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time, James Joyce’s Dubliners, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find, Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Benjamin Percy’s Refresh, Refresh, Ed Falco’s Burning Man, and Joyce Carol Oates’ High Lonesome. Top literary journals include One Story, Southern Review, The Paris Review, Tin House, and many others. See my articles here: sometime ago I made a list, and also attempted a hip journal list! And a compilation of midwest-focused journals.

Although of limited value, several literary journal rankings exist: Clifford Garstang’s list is based upon journals winning Pushcart Prizes. Bookfox also made a list. HTMLGIANT commenters also came up with a cool rundown. In terms of payment for short stories, see my recent entry “Pay and the Short Story.”

Now, after revising and line-editing your stories several times–whether in workshop, through peer assistance, or with the help of a mentor–don’t be perturbed by the weaknesses of your story or become deluded by its apparent greatness. Writing publishable fiction takes multiple drafts and months of work. A good tip is to put your story in a drawer for a month and then re-visit the piece with fresh eyes. Re-write your story again! When you finally do submit work to journals don’t expect to be published first time out. Rejection is part of the writer’s life. Acceptance rates for most journals are often less than 1%. Eventually when you’re ready to assess the marketplace and your story’s place within it, good starting points are the websites duotrope.com, New Pages, and Review Review.

At a reading last year, Tobias Wolff noted that he had not been the best writer at his school or displayed the most talent. Yet he’s the one who became a writing icon and one of America’s current best short story writers. Perseverance and a dedication to the craft kept him going while his peers migrated to other professions. So keep going, one day you may be that writer.

AWP is the biggest writers conference held each year in America. Writers, publishers, professors, MFA students, CW undergrads, literary journals, agents, and editors all converge on one destination. This year was Chicago.

Below are some random quotes I heard, or perhaps said, over the four-day period:

“I’m Margaret Atwood. Where’s my suckling pig?”

“I’m the other Toni Morrison.”

“I’ve self-published two novels. Would you like to buy one? I have plenty of copies.”

“Are you Sandra Beasley?”

“I’m thirsty. Would you like a beer?”

“Take a free copy of our journal. We’d like a five-dollar donation for it.”

“It’s not a podium. It’s a lectern!”

“Oh, you’re that Christopher Linforth.”

Fun times! Feel free to add your own quote in the comments section.

Pre-1978 The Best American Short Story series had a single editor. For decades, from 1915 to 1941, Edward O’Brien fulfilled this role. After his death, Martha Foley took over. Raymond Carver mentions Foley’s importance for American short fiction during his superb 1983 interview with The Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER

Is it true—a friend of yours told me this— that you celebrated your first publication by taking the magazine to bed with you?

CARVER

That’s partly true. Actually, it was a book, the Best American Short Stories annual. My story “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” had just appeared in the collection. That was back in the late sixties, when it was edited every year by Martha Foley and people used to call it that—simply, “The Foley Collection.” The story had been published in an obscure little magazine out of Chicago called December. The day the anthology came in the mail I took it to bed to read and just to look at, you know, and hold it, but I did more looking and holding than actual reading. I fell asleep and woke up the next morning with the book there in bed beside me, along with my wife.

The Best American Short Stories 1988 was a strange collection of work. From Raymond Carver’s “Errand” (a story of almost all summary and filled with a heavy dose of biographical material taken from Henry Troyat’s Chekhov) to Majorie Sandor’s enigmatic “Still Life,” there was a wide berth of subject matter, character, and thematic emphasis. Interestingly, 1988 appears to be the first year writers were asked to provide some background on their stories, and it’s worth checking out these back pages for some nuggets on each work’s genesis.

The guest editor—the right-leaning Mark Helprin—introduces the collection with an in-depth and intellectual essay that rails against minimalism, left-wing politics, writing programs, and the surge of women writers and ethnic literature. In terms of the latter two, he argues these forms of writing have taken over English literature college classes in the U.S., deemphasizing Shakespeare and many other authors Helprin holds close to his heart. Although well argued, his essay is misguided and reactionary on so many points, it would take an equally long rebuttal (his introduction “The Canon Under Siege” is 8,500 words!) to defuse many of his conjectures.

The questions Helprin raises about the minimalist aesthetic are interesting and are worth noting here:

Why are so any minimalist stories about despicable people in filthy unkempt garden apartments filled with ugly bric-a-brac, where everybody smokes, drinks, stays up all night, and is addicted to coffee? Why are the characters almost uniformly pudgy, stiff, and out-of-shape, even if they are in their twenties? Why do they watch so much about television? Why do they have so many headaches? Why are they impotent, frigid, promiscuous, or all three combined?

He continues asking questions for another half a page. For me, some of these observations are indeed facets of the genre, this “Dirty Realism,” which in the following years went out of vogue. Although these scenarios appear infrequently in contemporary literature, they occasionally reemerge in similar or sometimes innovative forms (see some of my stories! or Carve magazine, for example), they are for the most part relegated to a few names: Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, and others, and a period: the late 1970s to the 1980s. The editor of Granta, Bill Buford, coined the term in a 1983 issue of the magazine.

Standout stories:

Tobais Wolff’s “Smorgasboard” and Ralph Lombreglia’s “Inn Essence.”

The New River, Issue 23, Fall 2011

Virginia Tech’s The New River: a Journal of Digital Writing and Art is proud to announce the publication of our newest issue.  Thematically centered on collaboration, this edition features work, such as audio-visual poetry, a surreal campus map, interactive digital narrative, script-fueled poem generators, and a transnational exploration of myth, from established writers as well as some new voices.  In conjunction with a new site design, the issue features new media works by Alan Bigelow, Andy Campbell and Lynda Williams, Chris Funkhouser and Amy Hufnagel, Nick Montfort with translations by Natalia Fedorova, and Jason Nelson in conjunction with a group of creative writers at Virginia Tech.

In 1927, Ernest Hemingway was paid two hundred dollars for his short story, “The Killers.” The story appeared in Scribner’s Magazine and is considered by scholars to be his first mature work. Over his career, the income from his stories only went up.

Today, the situation is rather different. Whatever the cause of the decline of the pay-scale—often heralded to be a lack of interested and/or paying readers—the writer is left in a tough spot: He/she wants his/her story out there, but thinks the piece deserves compensation. I agree; however, magazines and literary journals often make little or no profit. Therefore, pay tends to be in copies, subscriptions, or a small honorarium.

With the inexorable growth of online journals, the pay has been reduced to nothing. In tandem, several new start-up journals use Print On Demand (POD) technology and they only pay with a digital copy. The situation, at least financially, remains bleak.

The question remains: why do you want to be published?

For the prestige? Seeking tenure? To see your work in print? To say something important? For the promotion of art? For the money?

In terms of the latter, and to backtrack a tad on what I said earlier, slick international magazines, such as, The New Yorker, Playboy, The Atlantic, etc. will often pay several thousand dollars for a short story. Of course, most work is carefully agented—few pieces making it out of the slush pile.

So, then, the realistic options: several current literary journals, The Sun (up to fifteen hundred dollars), Subtropics (one thousand), Glimmer Train (seven hundred, and more for contest winners), One Story (one hundred) pay well. I wrote an earlier post, which discussed several of the top literary journals. Getting published in these journals can help a budding academic career or attract an agent.

Contests are the other chance for making money. Often they have top prizes of one thousand dollars or more (watch out, though, for the entry fees of ten to twenty dollars!). Send only to reputable places, like, Crazyhorse, Narrative, Cream City Review, New South, and so forth. The Internet is rife with various scams, including journals set up only to produce profit from contests.

As always the best advice is to write, send work out, get drunk at AWP, accumulate publications, graduate from an M.F.A. program, gripe about the state of literature on HTMLGIANT, get on the tenure-track, switch to novels, acquire an agent, and then shift into memoir, collect literary prizes, publish more books, elope with a grad student, publish a magnum opus, refuse literary prizes, and then end your days teaching undergrads in a small liberal arts college somewhere in the Midwest.

Sounds like bliss to me.