July 5, 2016 § Leave a comment
Got some great short stories that form a cohesive unit? A dozen flash fiction pieces that explore a theme? Or just one, gorgeous longer short story?
I hope so, because we’ve just opened our 2016 Possibilities Period at Red Bird Chapbooks! For the duration of July and August, we’ll be accepting collections of fiction, poetry, CNF, and everything in between, so send us your best. You can find the full guidelines here.
Didn’t think chapbooks were for fiction? We’ve been trying to combat that misconception for years, and I think we’re finally getting some traction. When I started with Red Bird, we had a handful of brave authors sending their manuscripts, while last year there were nearly a hundred fiction chapbooks to choose from, and even with Beth Mayer joining the team, I felt like there was more good work in the pool than we were able to choose for publication. Though I know how awful it feels to hear that as a writer, it is a great problem to have as an editor! We’re publishing six incredible and diverse collections of fiction in 2016, whereas we didn’t even have six submissions that first year. This year we’ve added a third fiction editor, so we will be publishing nine fiction chapbooks in 2016!
Interested in knowing more? Here’s an interview I gave to Bonnie ZoBell at Everyday Fiction a few years ago, detailing what I’m looking for in a chapbook and what makes them such a great format for a fiction writer.
November 13, 2015 § Leave a comment
I thought I’d offer up a bit of an update after nearly a month away from the blog and my literary social media in general.
I’m proud to announce that Cedar Hart McDougal Kingston was born early on October 26th! It was a traumatic birth, though, and my wife, Cedar, and I had to spend the next ten days in the NICU. As a result, the only writing I’ve been doing lately has been updates to our Caring Bridge site (where you can hear Cedar’s whole story, if interested).
I’m happy to report that he has been home for over a week now, though, and is doing great: eating, pooping, peeing, and screaming as well as any other baby I’ve seen. That said, I still haven’t had much time to write, as he is ravenous for food and affection and too damn handsome to deny. I am having all sorts of crazy ideas for stories when he’s got me up drinking coffee at two in the morning, though, so I am looking forward to putting them all to paper soon.
Lastly, I have had time to work on my editing for Red Bird (check out our new website!), picking a killer line-up of chapbooks to publish in 2016: an interdisciplinary (maybe even antidisciplinary) exploration of identity and power through discussions of Wolverine, Eazy-E, and Michel Foucault, among other diverse enthusiasms; a charmingly dreamlike collection of real person fan fiction pieces written in gorgeous prose; and a collection of perfectly composed short stories exploring beauty in ruin. Last but not least, I’m excited to announce that we’ll also be publishing a print version of David Oppegaard’s heretofore e-book only “Breakneck Cove”. You should click on over to Onyx Neon Shorts and get yours right now–the story is such a stunner that I have no doubt that you’ll be wanting to get the physical copy on your shelf anyway once it’s available!
September 13, 2015 § 1 Comment
Hello Internet. Sorry it has been a while since the last time I posted saying I was sorry it has been a while since the last time I posted. It has been a hectic couple of months, as my wife and I moved into a new apartment while preparing for our first baby, which is due mid-October. I have been able to keep up writing on a couple of new novel-sized projects, but as usual, my internet writing has been pushed towards the back burner.
That should be changing soon, though, as I just cut back to part time at work in order to be a part-time homemaker once the baby comes. Hopefully this means that I’ll be able to do a bit more of the sort of here-and-there, short attention span writing that the internet requires. So stay tuned to the blog, and my twitter; worst-case, I’ll just start posting baby photos to keep my presence up.
(Here is a photo of my non-human babies, Louise (top) and Murray, to ease you all into the cuteness)
I was also recently interviewed by TJ Redig for his Scrivener’s Soapbox podcast. The episode should be up by the end of September, but in the mean time, you should check out some of the older ones (Mark Rapacz and T.A. Wardrope were recently featured, for example).
Lastly, I’m able to go part-time, because my wife got a full-time position teaching at St. Kate’s this year! She’s got a cool new website you should check out here, and if you’re a Harry Potter fan or scholar, you can read her essay “Doubting Dumbledore”, in the awesome collection A Wizard of Their Age, available from SUNY press. I’m so proud of her and excited for this next chapter in our lives!
April 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
Just a quick note to let it be known that I’ll be attending The Associated Writing Programs Conference and Book Fair ( #AWP15 ) this week in big-time Minneapolis. I’ve been to five conferences, and they’re always an inspiring and educating experience, so after having to miss last year’s, I’m excited to have it in my own back yard this year.
I’ll be resurrecting our #jokealong series for the week, too, tracking down all the best humor in the keynotes, panels, and hallway banter before nominating a best joke of the conference. If you’ve never been to an AWP before, check out the #jokealong from AWP Boston for sense of how much fun shooting the shit with a bunch of other writers can be.
I’ll be working the Red Bird Chapbooks booth on Saturday from 1-5, closing down the book fair, so stop by to look at some gorgeous hand-made books, get info about submitting to us, or just to say hi and give me your best literary joke. I’ll also have some copies of Slash in my backpack to sell—but honestly, if you go through the trouble of tracking me down, I’ll probably be flattered into giving them to you for free!
February 10, 2015 § 3 Comments
My grandma, Carol Van Deusen, passed away last week, so I want to share some of my favorite memories of her, and this blog seems like the right place for several reasons: first, I learned the value of a sense of humor from her (and my mother, who learned it from her), so these anecdotes are definitely on-topic for The Oldest Jokes in the World; second, they are too crass for a eulogy, so where the hell else am I going to share them?
My grandma traveled up to Canada to visit a few times when I was young, but it was only once I was seven, when we moved to Minnesota to be closer to my mom’s family after my dad died, that I came to spend time enough with her to know who she was besides my mom’s mom. We moved in with her for the summer and, while my mom was out job- and house-hunting, Grandma watched and entertained my brother and me.
And we needed entertainment: still devastated from losing our father, we were confused and afraid, not knowing what it really meant; and as we gradually figured it out, each new revelation was a fresh source of anxiety, grief, or anger; and then on top of it all, we moved to America, which seemed like a louder, meaner version of Canada, all the worse because it was away from every memory we had of our father.
So my grandma taught us German curses while we played board games. She must have learned them from her German-speaking parents, cursing in earnest at their own card games, but we learned to do it in jest. Whenever something bad happened to her in the game, she’d cuss with glee. A favorite was “shist auf der loof,” which I’m sure, if I’m even remembering it perfectly, isn’t proper German. Regardless, we were told it meant “poo on the roof”—a phrase whose meaning is every bit as obvious and mysterious to me today as it was then. My grandma made it clear that saying it was the funest way to lose, though, so soon we were joining in and learning new ones for variety. Being boys, “schwantz”—meaning penis, or as we said then “wiener” or “goo goo”—was soon our favorite, and it quickly became family tradition to say it, not when loosing, but before every dice roll for good luck.
When I think of why I love my grandma, past the general reasons we all love our grandmas, I think of that transformation: back then I was so scared of life that I used to stay awake in bed for as long as I could, as silently as I could, listening to my heartbeat so that, if it stopped, I could tell my mom before I died; but while with grandma, I was jumping out of my chair to joyfully scream German penis at the top of my lungs.
I’m sure that is where I learned to joke my way through tough times, an instinct that has helped me ever since. So as things got harder for my grandma with age, it was heartening to see that she always held on to her humor. Even this last Thanksgiving, when getting around was becoming more and more difficult, painful, and exhausting, she had us all laughing on several occasions. Carol had always been proficient with non sequiturs, so it was sometimes hard over the past few years to tell if she was changing the subject to be funny, because she couldn’t hear what was just said, or if she’d just gotten bored of sober conversation. Regardless of why, as conversation flagged towards the end of dessert, she announced to the whole room: “I have a confession to make.”
We all stopped to listen, and she started telling a story about a night shift she’d once worked in the hospital. She’d been a nurse her whole life, but this took place back when she was still a young woman. Mr. Wilkinson, one of her patients, however, was old.
“Oh Lord, he was old,” she explained. “Old as dirt: he was older than I am now. So old he could hardly do anything. Couldn’t walk around, or push his own wheel chair, couldn’t even sit up in bed without some help. He was old, old, old—but at night, he slept as a young man…”
I think we were all a little confused by this turn of phrase, but a mischievous glimmer in her eyes gave me a clue as to what it might mean. Still, I could barely believe she was talking about what I thought she was talking about, even as she continued.
“Every night, making the rounds, I’d walk by his room to check on him, and there old Mr. Wilkinson would be: sleeping as a young man. All us nurses joked about it. It was terrible, one of those things you didn’t want to look at but couldn’t help it: there he was, every night, tenting the sheet.”
She was! She was talking about Mr. Wilkinson’s schwantz!
“And then one night, it was worse than ever before. It had tipped the sheet onto the floor and even parted his gown. And I couldn’t help it: I ran out to the break room, peeled a sticker off a Chiquita banana, and snuck back into his room to put it on him. Then I told Eileen to go check on Mr. Wilkinson. She laughed so hard she could barely make it out of the room before she doubled over onto the floor.”
In addition to raising some fine jokers, Carol raised some incredible health care professionals, so there was a bit of an outcry in the family about losing your license for playing the same prank today, but I just laughed. Or laughed and thought, as I usually do, about why we joke. This wasn’t just some crass anecdote, but a chance to talk about what we were all afraid to talk about, a way to simultaneously look at and let go of that which had been haunting the whole evening: the pains and humiliations of aging.
Whether you’re missing your dad or worried about your health, while laughing, all your sufferings and anxieties are briefly obliterated. Joking is a way for us to look at what we don’t want to see but know we can’t ignore; it is a way to put a bright sticker on the wrinkled schwantz we have to stare down every night. Joking keeps us whole. So thank you, Grandma, for teaching me how.
Through nearly a century of loss, pain, disappointment, and conflict, Carol Mae managed to not just keep a smile on her face, but put one on the faces of nearly everyone she met. So, if you’ll excuse the turn of phrase, I’ll end by saying that though she is now at rest, I know she rests as a young woman: full of love, hope, compassion, and mischief.
*For another remembrance of this lovely woman who touched so many people’s lives, read my cousin, Toussaint Morrison’s beautiful essay on his blog.
**A brief search of the internet has made me question whether the curses discussed are actually German. Maybe I am remembering/spelling them wrong, or maybe Carol, not wanting to actually teach us to curse, made up nonsense words? Any insight from foul-mouthed Germans would be greatly appreciated.
July 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
It’s become sort of a tradition around here for me to post a picture of my feet up in a hammock when we get back from our yearly Ontario cottage vacation–which has in turn led to all sorts of people getting googled over here in search of hammock jokes. This year, however, we reached a new height of relaxation and were too lazy to get out the ladders and hang up the hammock; we got off the boat, planted our faces in some books, and didn’t look up until it was time to come back home.
I normally report on the funniness of the books I read while I’m up there, but it was all pretty serious stuff this time around, with a historical fiction bent, to help me scheme on the project I want to work on after Slash. (Which isn’t to say it won’t be funny, just that I wanted the best historical stuff I could find, whether they were funny or not). I read The King Must Die by Mary Renault and am almost done with Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel. The Renault made for a great summer read, full of lusty adventure, but the Mantel in particular, is incredibly, and full of snort inducing quips that bring the verve and intelligence of the period to life in a much more visceral way than stale descriptions of clothes and furnishings. I also read the deadly serious Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, starting two trilogies I’m already looking forward to continuing next summer. About the only comedic thing I read was Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock, which lived up, for better or worse, to the “Canada’s Mark Twain” blurb that got me to buy it. It did seem more like a watered-down version of Huckleberry Finn than something fresh of its own, but was certainly a fun way to spend an afternoon on a Canadian lake, especially with the lovely design and illustrations by Seth in the version I have. If you want to hear more about what I’m reading and what I think about it, friend me on Goodreads; I’m always curious to see what other readers are up to!
In any event, I’m excited to be back. Not happy–I really feel like I could just sit up there and read forever–but ready for a whole ‘nother year of writing to bring you guys. With the final episode of Slash out in just a few weeks, I need to get the epilogue done by this weekend, and once that’s complete, I’ll be able to dedicate more time to this blog again. I already have a few tragicomic posts planed about the state of the industry and my adventures in self-publishing, and hope to read some real funny literary fiction to share with you all soon!