Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 16: “Safety Tips for Living Alone” by Jim Shepard


     And something was already wrong with Tower No. 4. Unlike the others it moved so much in heavy weather or even in a good strong wind that everyone who worked on it called it Old Shaky or the Tiltin' Hilton.

       from “Safety Tips for Living Alone” by Jim Shepard

This entry in the Watchlist anthology should be required reading for anyone studying the art of the short story. Grandmaster Jim Shepard (The Book of Aron, Like You’d Understand, Anyway, and You Think That’s Bad) doesn’t even appear to break a sweat as he documents, in precise detail, the true story of a doomed Air Force surveillance station in the North Atlantic. You can read more about the so-called Texas Towers at this link, which describes them like this:
Built in 1957, the five Texas Towers were intended to become part of the USA’s advanced early warning system against Soviet bombers. Named for their resemblance to oil platforms found in the Gulf of Mexico, the towers were radar platforms designed to be placed out to sea. Towers 1 and 5 were never built. Towers 2 and 3 were situated on the rocky seabed off Nantucket and Boston respectively. Tower 4 posed a much greater challenge, as it needed to be placed in waters twice as deep and on a soft bed of sand and mud. Nevertheless, engineers described the final design as a “triumph.” The 3,200 ton triangular structure stood on three legs, each 100m long and 4m thick. These were supported by cross braces and were hollow so that they could be used to store fuel and freshwater. It cost $21 million, and would be manned by 50 Air Force officers and enlisted men.
What Shepard does in his short story is take a dry, historical record and spin it into a multi-character drama that builds not only the tension of an approaching storm destined to wipe out the radar station, but also develops rich backgrounds of the men on the Texas Tower and their families waiting for them back home. And that last line? Oh, that final sentence as the men watch a wave, high as a skyscraper, loom over them is simply sublime: “And they recognized it as the implacability that would no longer indulge their mistakes, and would sweep from them all they had ever loved.” Now that, boys and girls, is how you craft a story.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.



Monday, May 4, 2015

My First Time: Chris Cander


My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Chris Cander, author of Whisper Hollow, a novel released by Other Press earlier this year. Cander is a novelist, children’s book author, freelance writer, and teacher for Houston-based Writers in the Schools. Her novel 11 Stories, published by a small press in Houston, was included in Kirkus’s best indie general fiction of 2013. Click here to visit her website.


The First Time I Saw A Stranger Reading My Book

Before I had a book published, I allowed myself all sorts of fantasies about firsts: the email from the agent who would say yes, the call saying that a publisher had also said yes, the moment I would hold my manuscript as an actual book, my debut reading, a book tour, an award. But for some reason, I never imagined the first time I would see a stranger reading my book—so I was unprepared when it happened.

My seatmate on a flight to Minneapolis was a smartly dressed woman in her mid-fifties. She gave me a polite demi-smile when I took my aisle seat, but the way she turned her attention to the inflight magazine suggested that she wasn’t interested in conversation. I wasn’t offended; I typically keep to myself, too.

But somewhere around cruising altitude, she put away the magazine and withdrew a book from her satchel. It was 11 Stories. My 11 Stories. My gasp must have been less audible than it felt, because she didn’t react to it. She settled back, opened it to her bookmarked place, and began to read.

My inner kindergartner tried to squeal, but I shushed her. What if this reader wasn’t enjoying the book? (I had just learned the hard way not to read casual online reviews of my work.) I imagined tapping her on the shoulder and identifying myself, and her offering that same taciturn smile and saying something awful like, “Well isn’t that nice.” So I said nothing, and instead spent the next hour pretending to read and stealing glances at her expression, trying to guess her reaction to the story as she neared the end. By the time she reached the last page, I was nauseated with tension. Her face revealed absolutely nothing, but when she closed the book, she placed her hand on it and held there just long enough to embolden me.

“What did you think of that book?” I asked in what I hoped was a neutral tone.

She took off her glasses and sighed. “I loved it.”

“Really? I loved it too.” (Oh no. Did that sound giddy?)

“You’ve read it?”

“A couple of times, actually.” At this point, I could have revealed myself instead of demurring, but curiosity quickly supplanted my nervousness. “How did you find out about it?”

“A friend of mine gave it to me. The new one, too. But he said to start with this one because something in it had bothered him, and he wanted to discuss it. I think I know what he meant.”

“Oh,” I said, steeling myself. “What part was that? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Roscoe’s fall off the roof. Was it intentional or accidental? I can’t decide, but I don’t want it to have been intentional. Which do you think it was?”

“Well, I’m not sure either. I think the author meant to write it so that each reader could interpret it for themselves.”

“He did a good job of it then. I thought about it throughout the book and either option seems plausible.”

“I think you mean she.”

“She?”

“I think Chris Cander is a woman.”

She turned the book over, and seemed to notice the tiny author photo for the first time. She didn’t recognize me. “Oh. Interesting. The writing seemed rather masculine.”

I tilted my head back and forth, pretending to consider that opinion for the first time. “I can see that, yeah.”

“I liked it though. I’m looking forward to the other one. Whisper something. Apparently it’s gotten some good reviews already.”

Whisper Hollow.”

“That’s it. Have you read it?”

“Oh yes.”

“Good?”

“I think so,” I said, emphasizing the I. I was about to come clean when the flight attendant made an announcement about initiating our descent and coming through the cabin to collect trash.

“Will you excuse me?” my seatmate said, and pointed aft, toward the restroom. She slipped the book into the seat back pocket as I stood to let her out. While she was gone, I replayed the exchange in my mind, and felt a little silly for having been coy. I should have let myself squeal, should have told her right then that I was Chris Cander, that she was the first stranger I’d ever seen reading my book. It was too late now; the appropriate moment to do so had passed. Instead, I dug around for my boarding pass and wrote on the back—I’m so pleased that you loved 11 Stories and I hope you enjoy Whisper Hollow just as much. It was very nice talking with you.—and signed my name. I slipped it inside the book just before she returned.

We spent the last twenty minutes chatting about both books; I, taking care not to sound too authoritative. It was fascinating, actually, having the opportunity to hear her unfiltered opinions and questions and even insights. It was moving to know that she had absorbed the story so carefully, and that my beloved characters would go on living inside her imagination, at least for a little while.

At the gate, when the captain turned off the seatbelt sign and it was time to go, I again considered introducing myself. No, I decided. It was enough to enjoy the moment anonymously. She put the book into her satchel, and collected the rest of her things. We said goodbye and joined the slow spill of passengers into the aisle. We might have continued talking, but I had to stop to pick up my gate-checked bag, so she passed me, smiling warmly this time, and was gone, taking my secret with her.

Author photo by Sara Huffman


Watchlist Countdown, Day 15: “The Entire Predicament” by Lucy Corin


     My head hovers over the floor, and my hair dangles, and my foot teeters near my ear, and my backside is exposed. I’m separated. I’m gagged, and behind my gag I can’t feel my voice. Homebound, on my very own threshold, I am of two minds or more about most things.

       from “The Entire Predicament” by Lucy Corin

The housewife who narrates Lucy Corin’s short story in the Watchlist anthology is literally homebound, and she is indeed in a predicament. Though Corin has published two short story collections (The Entire Predicament and One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses) and a novel (Everyday Psychokillers: A History for Girls), this was my first encounter with her work on the page. Based on this story, it won’t be my last. Her entry to the Watchlist lineup is thrilling, disturbing, mysterious, kinky and surreal. It’s best summed up in this sentence which comes near the end of “The Entire Predicament”: “There is simply no end to the suspense when one becomes one's own psychic landscape.”


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.



Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Sentence: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


She had once met an old man up near Kincardine who'd sworn that the murdered follow their killers to the grave, and she was thinking of this as they walked, the idea of dragging souls across the landscape like cans on a string.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


Watchlist Countdown, Day 14: “The Gift” by Mark Irwin


     He was about the size of a wooden match and floated--arms spread out--like a skydiver in a small jar his wife had given him, perhaps because they were childless and he was always traveling.

       from “The Gift” by Mark Irwin

Odd, funny, entrancing.  I can’t say much more than that about Mark Irwin’s contribution to the Watchlist anthology, a story about a dude named Mark whose wife gives him a tiny man floating in a jar of water for their 25th wedding anniversary.  Like I said: odd, funny, and entrancing.  You won’t quickly forget this story.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 13: “Coyote” by Charles Yu


     You try to figure out what it is you know, and this is what you come up with: what you know is the fact that Carol knows things that Henry does not know, and also that Carol does not know that she knows things that Henry does not know.

       from “Coyote” by Charles Yu

Shh! Listen. Can you hear them whispering in the cubicle next to yours? Are they talking about you and Dorinda down in HR (even though, technically, it wasn’t a “date” date and she never responded to your morning-after texts)? How can you be certain you’re not the subject of this morning’s water-cooler gossip? You can’t; that’s why you try to chew your tuna salad sandwich as quietly as you can, so you can hear and be sure. Office politics and paranoia fuel the short story “Coytoe” by Charles Yu (author of Sorry Please Thank You: Stories and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: A Novel) in the Watchlist anthology. What really keeps “Coyote” bouncing along, though, is the wordplay which dashes through the pages like a Benzedrine-fueled mouse working a maze. The story is short enough, you could read it on your lunch hour...once you’re through eavesdropping on Larry and Ashley in the next cubicle, of course.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.



Friday, May 1, 2015

Fobbit the TV Series: "In Development"


Here’s some happy news to announce: a Showtime TV series based on Fobbit is now officially in the works.

Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly
As part of a multi-year overall deal with CBS TV Studios, producers Carl Beverly and Sarah Timberman are developing several new series (including ones based on The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr, Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard, and Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill). Here’s the mention of Fobbit at Deadline Hollywood earlier this week which describes the project as:
Fobbit: a half-hour, single-camera comedy written by Scott Buck based on a book by David Abrams about a Press Affairs office in Iraq during the war, with Marc Forster directing.
I don’t have many more details other than what you see there, but I can tell you that I’ve sat on this news for more than a year, waiting until all the pieces were in place before I let the cat out of the bag (though some of you who attended my readings and book signings probably heard me drop hints). Shortly after the novel was published in 2012, I was approached by producers Justin Olson, Wendy English and Gary Underwood of Joyride Entertainment to option Fobbit, and they eventually set it up at CBS productions with Timberman/Beverly. I could not be happier with the team of talent poised to help bring my book to the screen. Carl Beverly and Sarah Timberman are responsible for two of my favorite, must-watch series (Elementary and Masters of Sex), Marc Forster directed one of my favorite movies about the writing life (Stranger Than Fiction) and Scott Buck has penned scripts for Dexter and Six Feet Under. Yes, as they say, I’m living the dream.


Friday Freebie: Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins


Congratulations to Denise Vik, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor.

This week’s giveaway is the new book from Tom Robbins, Tibetan Peach Pie, now out in paperback. Here’s more information on the “true account of an imaginative life”:
Internationally bestselling novelist and American icon Tom Robbins delivers the long awaited tale of his wild life and times, both at home and around the globe. Tom Robbins’ warm, wise, and wonderfully weird novels—including Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates—provide an entryway into the frontier of his singular imagination. Madcap but sincere, pulsating with strong social and philosophical undercurrents, his irreverent classics have introduced countless readers to natural born hitchhiking cowgirls, born-again monkeys, a philosophizing can of beans, exiled royalty, and problematic redheads. In Tibetan Peach Pie, Robbins turns that unparalleled literary sensibility inward, stitching together stories of his unconventional life, from his Appalachian childhood to his globetrotting adventures —told in his unique voice that combines the sweet and sly, the spiritual and earthy. The grandchild of Baptist preachers, Robbins would become over the course of half a century a poet-interruptus, an air force weatherman, a radio dj, an art-critic-turned-psychedelic-journeyman, a world-famous novelist, and a counter-culture hero, leading a life as unlikely, magical, and bizarre as those of his quixotic characters. Robbins offers intimate snapshots of Appalachia during the Great Depression, the West Coast during the Sixties psychedelic revolution, international roving before homeland security monitored our travels, and New York publishing when it still relied on trees. Written with the big-hearted comedy and mesmerizing linguistic invention for which he is known, Tibetan Peach Pie is an invitation into the private world of a literary legend.
If you’d like a chance at winning Tibetan Peach Pie, simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on May 7, at which time I’ll draw the winning name.  I’ll announce the lucky reader on May 8.  If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Watchlist Countdown, Day 12: “The Transparency Project” by Alissa Nutting


     The Transparency Project was not a one-day test but a hired, permanent job that would last until her natural death. When the leader of the research team said the word “natural” in the phrase “natural death,” he emphasized it in a very unnatural way.

       from “The Transparency Project” by Alissa Nutting

“The Transparency Project” by Alissa Nutting (author of Tampa) is disturbing in a squicky way...but, like a roadside car wreck splashed with the strobe of red emergency lights, it’s nearly impossible to look away. I won’t say too much more about the story in the Watchlist anthology, but the photo I’ve posted above is a clue to what’s in store for you. You might want to read it on an empty stomach; because, you know, we wouldn’t want to see what you just ate.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.



Thursday, April 30, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 11: “Sleeping Where Jean Seberg Slept” by Katherine Karlin


     But Jean was a woman. A woman who had ideas. An attractive woman who had ideas, and this is why she had to be neutralized.

       from “Sleeping Where Jean Seberg Slept” by Katherine Karlin

A lot of characters in the Watchlist anthology are monitored, followed, interrogated, and harassed, but perhaps none meet as sad an end as Jean Seberg, the gamine, too-sexy-for-her-own good movie star of the mid-twentieth century. In Katherine Karlin’s short story, Seberg is an oblique character--seen only as an object of fascination to the story's narrator, Odile Dahlqust, a 38-year-old who returns to her hometown of Edna, Iowa--a small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it place just down the road from Marshalltown, Seberg’s birthplace. Odile naturally has a geographic connection to the long-dead movie star, but as the story progresses, she starts to feel a deeper kinship as well.

In today’s guest blog post, Katherine Karlin talks about the “story behind the story.” Here’s her account of how she came to write “Sleeping Where Jean Seberg Slept.”

I moved from Los Angeles to Kansas in the summer of 2009, just after the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in that state. For me, it was a good sign: I was leaving California with the bitter taste of the passage of the anti-gay Proposition 8, and the confused, at times racist, backlash (I actually attended a rancorous gay rights march where participants were loudly blaming black voters, who turned out heavily to elect Obama, for the proposition’s ratification). The Midwest struck me for a moment as a quiet haven for civility and progress.

Of course, the reality is more complicated, and history unfolded with startling speed. Same-sex marriage is legal in so many states—even Kansas, now—that we have forgotten Iowa’s brief distinction as the Midwestern beacon for human rights. Still, the Midwest keeps asserting its political relevance. It was a group of indomitable, loosely-organized, and tireless Missourians who exposed the truth about police brutality and forced the issue to the center of a national discussion, where it has remained. The Midwest is a surprising place. That’s the lesson I keep learning over and over, living here. Every time I am dispirited by assertion of some state legislator that, say, dinosaurs walked the earth with people, I am cheered by the sheer ballsiness of the response, of the ragtag group of kids who have set up shop across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church, of the “Dreamers” who confront local politicians on their anti-immigrant measures, of the black college students who conduct a die-in on the floor of the union amid racist taunts. Let me tell you, you have never experienced a Gay Pride march until you’ve frolicked with drag queens in a small town in Kansas.

The film actress Jean Seberg came to represent, for me, the push and pull that exist in the Midwest, the alternating impulses of decency and despair. Seberg’s no longer a household name, and to orient those unfamiliar with her work I would compare her to the more famous and extant Jane Fonda. The two women were born within a year of each other; both had a period as free-spirited, blonde ingĂ©nues; both married older, Svengali-like Frenchmen (Fonda, the film director Roger Vadim, and Seberg, the author and diplomat Romain Gary). Seberg was a bigger film star in France than she ever was in the United States, and she never had the kind of breakout Hollywood parts that Fonda had in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Klute.


But what the two women shared above all was the ruthless and determined persecution by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO program. Hoover’s extralegal counterintelligence project was meant to “neutralize” the influence of leftists, and was aimed not only at political figures like Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael, but at celebrities who used their fame to support radical causes. Male artists like John Lennon and Leonard Bernstein were scrutinized by the FBI, but the agency reserved a special venom for women who dared to be outspoken, and few were more outspoken than Jane Fonda and Jean Seberg.

Here, though, their stories diverge. Jane Fonda, a fixture in the movement against the war in Southeast Asia, not only withstood the dirty tricks of COINTELPRO but parlayed her notoriety to gain even greater fame, reinventing herself again and again. Seberg, a supporter of the black struggle, was not so lucky. Pregnant with her second child, she withered under the whisper campaign, initiated by Hoover, that the child’s father was a Black Panther. After a troubled pregnancy, Seberg lost the baby, and spiraled into a ten-year vortex of despondency that ended with her suicide.

I traveled to Marshalltown, Iowa, where Jean Seberg grew up in the 1950s. Like many towns in this region, Marshalltown has undergone profound demographic changes in the last thirty years. A Swift pork processing plant dominates the community, and like the rest of the meatpacking industry it has facilitated speed-ups and wage cuts by recruiting immigrant workers, mostly from Mexico. Marshalltown was the site of the most massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in U.S. history, in 2006, which resulted in the arrest of 90 workers. The arrest and deportation of these workers left some school children stranded, and the town, particularly the Catholic Church, scurried to identify the affected children and guarantee their care.


Like so much of the Midwest, Marshalltown is a bundle of contradictory political legacies. Before the ICE raid it was hailed as a model of community relations, embracing its new Latino residents and offering services to hasten their assimilation. These efforts were not without resistance, though, and Marshalltown remains polarized. Of course, these sweeping changes in the meatpacking industry occurred long after Jean Seberg’s childhood; she grew up the daughter of a pharmacist and his wife, decent and loving parents, in a town that was mostly Anglo. But like so many American teen-agers, awakening to her surroundings, Jean was alert to the poor treatment of the town’s black residents. At fourteen she mail-ordered her membership to the NAACP.

I looked for Jean everywhere in Marshalltown: in her father’s old pharmacy, now a sandwich shop; outside the Swift plants where truckers hauling live hogs line up at the gate; in the microfiche of the local newspaper that followed, with breathless excitement, her ascendancy to stardom; under the willows in the quiet cemetery where Jean’s parents, Ed and Dorothy, are buried, as is her infant daughter. What was it about this town that gave rise to her stubbornness, her willingness to risk everything for a cause, and what young girls are being formed there now, what reserves of strength will they have to speak out when they are warned to shut up? In the Marshalltown library I see them, mostly Mexican-American girls, bending over their books, swarming out the front steps, these daughters of the Midwest who come out of towns like this with their imaginative powers intact and their desire to be right. They make me hopeful.

Katherine Karlin’s recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Cincinnati Review, [PANK], Triquarterly, and Kenyon Review. Her work has been selected for the Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South, and her 2011 story collection, Send Me Work, won the Balcones Fiction Prize. She lives in Manhattan, Kansas.

Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 10: “What He Was Like” by Alexis Landau


     Once she took a photograph of us, the flash reflecting off the glass and I screamed, which my husband thought unnecessarily dramatic. When my husband confronted her, she explained in a lilting little girl's voice that she was only taking a Polaroid of her cat. After that we hung curtains in the living room and planted more ficus trees along the border of our property.

       from “What He Was Like” by Alexis Landau

In this short story by Alexis Landau (author of the just-released novel The Empire of the Senses), the narrator and her husband live next door to the proverbial crazy cat lady--a wispy-haired old woman who may or may not have given the evil eye to the couples unborn child.  Theres a lot more nuance to “What He Was Like” that just this Peeping Thomasina aspect--the narrators blossoming relationship with Nadia, a convenience store clerk, for instance--but since the Watchlist anthology is all about surveillance, the idea of neighbor spying on neighbor is what interests me most. Its as fascinating and unsettling as James Stewarts telephoto lens in Rear Window. All I can say is, Thank God for ficus trees.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 9: “Terro(Tour)istas” by Juan Pablo Villalobos


     This story begins when Joao sees a photo of the K2 mountain on Facebook. We'll call him Joao instead of using his real name in order to respect, at the very least, that miniscule detail of his privacy.

       from “Terro(Tour)istas” by Juan Pablo Villalobos, translated by Annie McDermott

If ever a story in Watchlist was epitomized by the unblinking, all-seeing eye on the cover design of the book, “Terro(Tour)istas” by Juan Pablo Villalobos is it.  It is a downward-spiraling, stomach-acid-churning tale of paranoia and a sharp reminder of one thing: They Are Watching.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.



Monday, April 27, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 8: “Adela, Primarily Known as, The Black Voyage, Later Reprinted as, The Red Casket of the Heart. By Anon.” by Chanelle Benz


     We did not understand how she came to be alone. We wished to know more, the more that she alone could tell us.

       from “Adela, Primarily Known as, The Black Voyage, Later Reprinted as, The Red Casket of the Heart. By Anon.” by Chanelle Benz

I think fans of David Mitchell, George Saunders and Emily Bronte will particularly dig Chanelle Benz’ story in the Watchlist anthology. Benz describes “Adela, Primarily Known as, The Black Voyage, Later Reprinted as, The Red Casket of the Heart. By Anon.” as a 19th-century found object piece narrated by a collective We in a baroque, Gothic style. It’s one of the cleverest (and creepiest) stories I’ve come across in the anthology so far. “Adela” first appeared as a chapbook, Our Commutual Mea Culpa, from a small press called The Cupboard. Here’s an excellent summary about the chapbook written by Dustin Luke Nelson at In Digest magazine’s blog:
This book, it asserts, is primarily known outside the U.S. as “Adela” and was originally published in 1829, and was later released as “Red Casket of the Heart.” While it formally has an anonymous author, it appears to have been co-written by a small group of children, years after the incident they describe. The children are, collectively, the protagonist, telling the story of their commutual mea culpa, of their relationship with Adela, an aging local woman, entering “spinsterhood,” with moderately hermetic tendencies who isn’t quite despised or shunned by the community, though the neighbors are wary. They aren’t sure what to make of her, and the children’s parents don’t love that they want to hang around her so much. The children love Adela, and upon learning of what they perceive to be her great lost love, they take it upon themselves to right this cosmic wrong. Much in the manner of the contemporaries of the anonymous author it poses as a story of romance, a comedy of errors. But where Benz — our true author — takes us is some place far darker.
Dark, indeed. Like The Turn of the Screw dark. Like Heathcliff on the moors dark. Like little children banding together to kill a tragic heroine dark.

Reader, I loved it.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.



Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Sentence: Recipes for a Beautiful Life by Rebecca Barry


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Meanwhile last night I dreamt that I lived in a house that had been literally built on a lawn, meaning the floors were all green grass, and I was standing in the middle of my living room, looking around thinking, Great, now someone is going to have to mow these damn floors.

Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories by Rebecca Barry

Bonus Sentence! From later in the book:

It was a cloudy day, but the best thing about living here [upstate New York] in the fall is that even on a gray day the scenery is luminous, maybe even more luminous with that steely background, and things like a black bird on a branch of orange sumac in front of a bright green pasture seem like miracles.


Watchlist Countdown, Day 7: “Ladykiller” by Miracle Jones



     “We are gonna talk about Facebook in the future like our parents talk about cocaine,” he said.

       from “Ladykiller” by Miracle Jones

Miracles Jones’ story in the Watchlist anthology may start out in familiar territory landmarked by such things as Facebook, Buzzfeed listicles (“13 Things That Only People Born in 1990 Would Know”), and the ubiquitous Chili’s restaurant (the “place you went when your life was over and you were ready to die”), but it quickly morphs into a nightmarish vision of the future. Sex-starved drones are a real thing in “Ladykiller” and our hapless protagonist, Tre, is easily seduced by one with “high definition red lips and big soft cartoon eyes” as he sits in Chili’s drinking bad wine and eating fried cheese. It’s like a Fatal Attraction-Blade Runner mash-up and it has totally put me off of android sex for good.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.



Saturday, April 25, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 6: “Scroogled” by Cory Doctorow


     “Now you're a person of interest, Greg. You're Googlestalked. Now you live your life with someone constantly looking over your shoulder.”

       from “Scroogled” by Cory Doctorow

Friends, I don't want you to freak out, but...They.  Are.  Watching.

Cory Doctorow's contribution to the Watchlist anthology, “Scroogled,” is a sharp needle pricking our skin, reminding us that it's Google's world; we just live in it. Resistance is futile.

Have a nice day.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Freebie: The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor


Congratulations to Charity Duprat, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.

This week's book giveaway is The Daylight Marriage, the new novel by Heidi Pitlor (author of The Birthdays). Read on for more information about The Daylight Marriage...

She still had time before work. She could go food shopping. She could fold the kids’ laundry and get the car washed and return some library books. Or Hannah could do something else. She could do something that she had never done--drive to a part of town where she had never been, pretend to be someone that she was not.

Hannah was tall and graceful, naturally pretty, spirited and impulsive, the upper-class young woman who picked, of all men, Lovell--the introverted climate scientist who thought he could change the world if he could just get everyone to listen to reason. After a magical honeymoon, they settled in the suburbs to raise their two children. But over the years, Lovell and Hannah’s conversations have become charged with resentments and unspoken desires. She has become withdrawn. His work affords him a convenient distraction. And then, after one explosive argument, Hannah vanishes. For the first time, Lovell is forced to examine the trajectory of his marriage through the lens of memory. As he tries to piece together what happened to his wife--and to their life together--readers follow Hannah on that single day when a hasty decision proves irrevocable. With haunting intensity, a seamless balance of wit and heartbreak, and the emotional acuity that author Heidi Pitlor brings to every page, The Daylight Marriage mines the dark and delicate nature of a marriage.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Daylight Marriage, simply email your name and mailing address to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on April 30, at which time I’ll draw the winning name.  I’ll announce the lucky reader on May 1.  If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Watchlist Countdown, Day 5: “The Relive Box” by T. Coraghessan Boyle


     Most people, when they got their first Relive Box, went straight for sex, which was only natural. In fact, it was a selling point in the TV ads, which featured shimmering adolescents walking hand in hand along a generic strip of beach or leaning in for a tender kiss over the ball return at the bowling alley. Who wouldn't want to go back there? Who wouldn't want to relive innocence, the nascent stirrings of love and desire, or the first time you removed her clothes and she removed yours?

       from “The Relive Box” by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Most of the short stories in Watchlist are about people watching other people, but The Relive Box asks, What would it be like if we could watch ourselves?” In this frightening, sharply-observed tale of obsession, T. C. Boyle (The Harder They Come) holds a mirror up to the narcissim of our social-media culture.  This isn't Facebook, it's Memory Box--more specifically, the five-thousand-dollar, second-generation Halcom X1520 Relive Box with the In-Flesh Retinal Projection Stream. Wes, the narrator, brings home the “slick black metal cube with a single recessed glass slit” and spends increasing amounts of time sitting in front of it, virtually-projecting himself back into his past, replaying his mistakes over and over again. As you can imagine, this turns out to be somewhat less healthy than a carrot-and-whey protein shake. In this interview with The New Yorker, Boyle says, “With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like, not to mention pizza delivery and the drones Amazon is planning to employ to ship us things, we just, as a society, don’t seem to get out much anymore.”


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 4: “California” by Sean Bernard


      We go with slick refilled glasses of wine into the living room, we sit on sofas and chairs, on the floor like children. The lights dim. A screen is pulled. Tape flaps, a fan whirs, a soundtrack clears its throat, and we watch film from an old projector. The projector reminds us of moments we’ve seen in movies, a nostalgia for a time we never knew.

       from “California” by Sean Bernard
Sean Bernard’s contribution to the Watchlist anthology is such a good example of voyeurism that at times it almost feels like the story is watching us. In “California,” as you can see by the brief excerpt above, a group of friends gathers on a regular basis to watch film clips which have arrived in the mail from a mysterious, anonymous source. The grainy, shaky-hand footage mostly shows a renowned public television host (known for his travelogue videos of various spots around California) as he goes about preparing for his on-air segments. But then, film clips arrive which show something different: surveillance footage of the film club members themselves. I won’t reveal what happens--you’ll have to read “California” for yourself when Watchlist is published next month--but let’s just say it turns out to be an unsettling (and satisfying) reading experience.

In today’s guest blog post, Sean Bernard talks about the “story behind the story.” Here’s his account of how he came to write “California.”

Jim Crace once told me in relation to a very simple story I’d written (I met him once for about fifteen minutes, I don’t want to overstate our interaction) – Jim Crace once told me: when you write a story, Sean, keep throwing more balls into the air. Just keep throwing more and more, and once you’re juggling without dropping any, you’re on your way.

So: “California.” This happened in spring 2009, around the time I started teaching fiction courses more regularly and, not coincidentally, greatly improved (at least in my mind) as a writer. In a fiction class one day we read Donald Barthelme’s story “The Genius,” an absurd and biting and tender collage-portrait of a genius (who very much resembles Barthelme). In class we imagined out other potential profile stories – a fictional story about, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger. A crazy family member. An angsty teen. Etc. As the students began working on their ideas, I started thinking about my own: if I were to write a profile, who would I write about?

If you’ve lived in California in the last twenty-plus years, there’s a very good chance you know about the magnificent Huell Howser, who sadly passed away two years ago. Huell Howser hosted a series of shows on PBS for almost thirty years, shows in which he serves as tour guide to both famous and hidden spots in California. Onscreen he is several parts good cheer mixed with, I think, a strong dose of feigned stupidity (likely a nice streak of sarcasm): he beamingly shoves his microphone in people’s faces and happily exclaims how amazing anything is. He is the living representation of joyful absurdity.

Huell Howser on the job
I began to imagine Huell in quieter moments. Driving alone at night. Drinking coffee at home. Having doubts about the past. A darker side behind the toothy smile. As I started (this was now well beyond the class session; the story took a couple months to draft) – as I started to compose various fragments about Huell, I felt a little guilty about imagining and dramatizing the life of a living person. Even the way I was writing the fragments – a very judgmental, very cold third-person narrator – felt, almost, creepy.

So I embraced the creepiness and made the story one of voyeurism, of surveillance. Rather than a blank narrator describing a TV host’s behaviors and thoughts, I had a real person watching him and filming him without his knowing. I soon added a working title: “California,” which raised my ambitions: the story was no longer just about Huell and the person watching him, but it was also about the entire state. I thought: I should add noir. I should add a foreboding sense of disaster. So the story grew more complex. And I kept adding. I added a collective first-person – a ‘we’ that has been receiving these strange films of a TV host – and then stepped slowly out of the collective voice into a singular first-person narrator struggling, greatly, with life and loneliness. I added rants and riffs on California and bits and pieces of the crazy state: Charles Manson. Ronald Reagan. Mulholland Drive.

Basically: I started the process with formal inspiration drawn from a great story. Then I came up with a subject. And then I started adding layer after layer after layer until the story felt, finally, whole. “California” is, I think, as good a story as I’ve written. It’s been anthologized, it’s helped garner an NEA grant, it won a very competitive prize from Poets & Writers . . . and I say all this not to brag but to remind myself and hopefully illustrate to any writers reading this that the process in writing it, and especially the ambition of the project – all those balls in the air – are what led to its success.

Sean Bernard lives and teaches creative writing in southern California, where he serves as fiction editor for The Los Angeles Review and also edits the journal Prism Review. His debut novel is Studies in the Hereafter (August 2015, Red Hen) and his debut collection, Desert sonorous, won the 2014 Juniper Prize. He holds degrees from Arizona, Oregon State, and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and his fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Epoch, LIT, Glimmer Train, and Sequestrum.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 3: “Testimony of Malik, Israeli Agent, Prisoner #287690” by Randa Jarrar


They think I'm a spy. Me. A Kestrel. A very small falcon.
       from Testimony of Malik, Israeli Agent, Prisoner #287690  by Randa Jarrar

In her short story, Randa Jarrar (author of A Map of Home) writes about a literal eye in the sky, a kestrel wheeling in circles through the clouds above the Mediterranean and the Middle East.  It's a good life, chasing moths and falling in love with a seagull, until the bird is captured and put in a small metal cage.  The story is sad, short, and very effective.  It makes me want to find a falcon, stroke its feathers and whisper, Please bear in mind, not all humans are like that.


Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.