It has a few months since I last posted. But in that time my debut collection of short stories–When You Find Us We Will Be Gone–has garnered a few more reviews. I’ve been very happy with the nice things reviewers have been saying so far. Over at Foreword Reviews, they note:

“The sting of Christopher Linforth’s stories lingers long after the final page. Complex and disturbing, they follow ordinary people caught up in worlds not of their own making, knowing that somewhere (and it’s always somewhere else) there is a better life—a more worthy partner, a brighter future—if only they could get there.”

And at the Iowa Review:

“The stories…are at once bold but also subtle, haunting but also full of hope, spanning decades and continents.”

Finally a few kind words from At the Inkwell:

“Linforth has given us a rich array of plots, characters and settings in his first collection, and one that’s worth reading for short story lovers.”

All good stuff. You can buy my debut collection at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or through your local bookstore.

 

 

I have a new story out at Hawaii Pacific Review. Here’s the opening:

A Sky Green and Fields Blue

At the doorway to the barracks, Shoshana saw snow fall into the darkness. Now and then the searchlights scanning the camp illuminated the flurry of white, reminding her of the soap flakes her mother used to wash her clothes. She lifted the gauze from her wrist and picked at the scabby flesh that had grown over the blue numbers. She was tired of the factory, of the endless repetition, of the soreness and the bruises, the grease under her fingernails, the bread and lard rations that made her vomit, and the latrines smeared with dark, liquid shit. Dafna, a Czech woman from Karlsbad, called her away from the door. Shoshana did not want to hear her words. She was tired of listening to the older women.

One of my stories–a playful reworking of the contributor note form found in literary journals–has been published in the new issue of Whiskey Island. The issue (No. 62) is available to purchase here. The journal also features the fantastic work of work of Alissa Nutting, Nate Pritts, Russ Woods, and many others. Here’s a sample:

Contributors’ Notes

Carol Clemente teaches writing in the Chicago area where she lives with her two Bichon Frises, Dolores and Fu-Fu. She has published poems in The Paris Review, Crazyhorse, and Feminist Studies. She also has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

This is Tom Fritz’s first published story. He divides his time between drinking espresso at Blue Bottle in Williamsburg and hatching Internet start-ups at his mom’s ranch house in Queens. She has a cat, Pringle, which he’s not allowed to pet. Though he sometimes secretly feeds her handfuls of gluten-free granola and occasionally tosses her a catnip mouse. He’s not sure what else he’s supposed to say here or which achievements he should note down. Sorry, I’m dropping the third-person shtick. I don’t know why you guys require it. But it’s creeping me out. It’s like this note is an obituary or something. I’m here, you know? Alive. Well, just about. I already admitted I live with my mom. It’s kind of a downer, especially on my love life. It’s been a while since I got laid. I’m twenty-three now, but back in college I was an A-grade bullshitter. On the steps of Alexander Library, I held court, often rapping lyrical speeches on the future of the Internet and handing out flyers that detailed my own social networking ideas, and directed people to visit my website. And, sure, I dated plenty of girls, usually hipster types who wrote poems on napkins and then used the corners to wipe the crust from their eyes. Man, that turned me on. I majored in Communication while my friends specialized in Fine Art or Architecture. Their classes were titled “Seventeenth-Century Nudes” and “Onanistic Spaces: A History of the Architectural Phallus.” Sounds cool now. Back then, I never wrote much—just essays on Marshall McLuhan and the lesbian scenes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even made the Dean’s List one semester. Recently, I’ve been looking for a way out. Maybe an M.F.A. Perhaps from Iowa, or somewhere corn grows like that. When I sent my story to the Tenure Quarterly Review, I thought a literary agent would read it, sign me up, get me a six-figure book deal. I mean that Chad Harbach landed sweet bank. So far, for me, this hasn’t been the case. Here’s the skinny: so my story is a glorified to-do list—a to-fuck really—and six months ago, the editors (Hi Gary! Hi Twyla!) emailed to say “Errands” had been accepted. Champagne-in-a-can followed. I tell you, it’s funny. I remember my ninth-grade English teacher, Mr. Hausman, berate me: “Tom, I’m not convinced you read Hamlet. In fact, I’m not sure you know who Shakespeare is and why he’s so important.” Well, old Hausman was right. I didn’t read Hamlet, but I did study Business Week and Forbes and think about how I could accumulate a Google-level fortune before I graduated college. Even though I went to Rutgers (my safety school), I knew I’d be headhunted by Silicon Valley. Post-college, when that didn’t happen, I fell into a gnarly funk. I hit the streets, zonked on Xanax, and looked for inspiration—something to let me know I should carry on living. Well, one cold morning outside the 42nd Street Library, I thought maybe I should have listened to Hausman and I checked out a North Face backpack’s worth of classic novels: Madame Bovary, The Stranger, Catcher in the Rye, etc. That’s how I ended up writing, and dreaming of literary conquest.

Michael Butler nominates Pringle for a Pushcart.

 

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Today sees publication of one my recent stories, “Take It From Me, Kid, I’m a Clown.” Published by Lunch Ticket (Antioch’s MFA literary magazine), the story is available to read for free on the interwebs.

Here’s the opening:

“Listen kid, I know it’s your birthday and all, that you only turn ten once, and that this is your special day, but, come on, you’re crying over your balloon animal because you wanted a giraffe and you got an Irish Wolfhound, which you say looks retarded, and that I’m retarded; please, give me some respect here—even though I go by Bozo the Clown, I’m no bozo, just part of the franchise—this is my career, my profession…”

A while ago I started fooling around with the blurb form and constructing them in terms of bad blurbs, that is the accosted established writer frolicking in his penned superiority (!). Praise be to the publishing gods that a couple have recently been released on the web:

“Rejected Blurb #23” in Atticus Review and “Rejected Blurb #6” in Metazen.

Another one of my thesis stories has just been published. This time in the latest issue of The MacGuffin. Here’s an excerpt:

Flyer

In the months leading up to my ninth birthday I bugged Father for a red wagon. He bought me one, of course—a Radio Flyer with a green bow tied around the handle. That morning I didn’t wait to open my other presents. I just took the wagon on to the street and used it to move rocks from the neighbor’s pond to a narrow culvert that separated the neighborhood from the beach. We lived in a large Catholic section of Coney Island, a ten-minute walk from Steeplechase Park. From my bedroom window, I could see the metal tower of the Parachute Jump ride and the people screaming as long steel ropes hoisted them up and down.

A few days after my birthday, I asked Father at breakfast if I could go to work with him. “Sure, Samuel,” he said. “Just don’t cause trouble, like last time.” He ruffled my hair and smiled so widely I saw the toast still inside his mouth. He carried on reading the newspaper and I toyed with the scrambled eggs on my plate and thought about the candy bar in my room. Father drank the rest of his coffee and said, “If you’re finished, do the dishes.” He left the table and soon after I heard him talking to my cousin, Pam, in their bedroom. I left my plate where it was and went to the front door. I peered through the glass panel at the neat piles of orange and brown leaves in the neighbor’s garden and I felt an urge to kick the leaves, then bury them next to the pin oak that overlooked our house.

Pam called my name. But I ignored her. “Samuel,” she said again, this time louder. I turned to see Pam, hands on hips, her body inflated by a bubblegum-pink cardigan. She shook her head. Her brown hair framed her angular face, making her look older than she was. She hustled me to the hallway closet and made sure I put on my pencil-gray pea coat and thick woolen gloves.

Father kissed Pam on the cheek and said goodbye. He had on mud-brown khakis and one of his old Navy shirts, the epaulets unbuttoned and loose. He slung a cigarette in his mouth and grabbed my hand. At the door, he looked toward the bright sky and said something about the salt air. He was always talking about its benefits, as though breathing it in would cure any ailment. We took a short cut past the bathhouses so we could see the vast expanse of the ocean and Father could point out the smallness of the gulls. In the park, he ran a concession stand that sold ice-cream in the summer and popcorn and hot dogs in the fall. As we stepped onto the boardwalk, he explained that once a week a man came to check the stock levels. “He’s important,” he said. “Mr. Kendrick.”

Copyright © 2012 Christopher Linforth.

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.