April 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
Spring has finally come to Minnesota. Looking out the window of the library I write in, I can see the snow on the hills melting down into the little lake that I watched freeze over almost six months ago now—so I hope you understand why that it’s going to be a short edition of The Oldest Jokes in the World this week.
I do have some exiting news to share with you all after a big Red Bird Chapbooks editor’s meeting we had earlier this week. We’ve been having a great first quarter to 2013, with a burgeoning staff and line of great chapbooks.
I’m especially proud to announce the newest fiction manuscript we’ve accepted: Ivory Children by Joe Baumann. Joe writes striking flash fiction, and the vignettes in this collection range from fantastical and surreal to grounded and understated, but they all contain a concentrated chunk of humanity. Some of the stories included have already been published at various literary journals around the web, so I encourage you to check them out for free in advance of Ivory Children‘s release in a few months:
“Thimbles” at The Dying Goose
“Sally the Imortal” at matchbook
“Porcelian” at Crack the Spine
I also just received a copy of the final product of the first manuscript I worked on at Red Bird, Family Affair by Shaun Rouser. The chapbook is a beautiful home for Mr. Rouser’s darkly comic tales, and I’m anticipating a great swell of pride when it becomes available to the world at large. It should be available for purchase at the Red Bird store any day now, so I’ll keep y’all posted.
Lastly, I wanted to stress that, apart from these two wonderful collections, we have a drought of fiction manuscripts at Red Bird right now. With increased sales and recognition for our beautiful chapbooks, the poetry editors are being inundated with more verse than they can keep up with—which is making us fiction editors lonesome. Please, please, please send us your flash fiction or short story collection because we want to publish it! Just click the little birdie on the right and he’ll take you to our submission guidelines.
Anyhow, I’m going to get the hell out of this stuffy library (the first day of spring is the only day of the year on which I will insult a library), but check back next week: it is the one-year anniversary of the blog, so we’ll have a special birthday jokealong! If you’re wondering what to get me, I like puns.
March 29, 2013 § 1 Comment
Like most of what I write, it’s got a little comedy mixed with a little tragedy, but I’ll warn you that it’s a little dirty, too. At the Cracked Walnut reading I did last week, I warned the audience there were several instances of the “j-word.” They whispered in confusion, unsure of what I could mean, but once I dropped the bomb about halfway through the story, everyone gasped in recognition. If you don’t know what the j-word is, you’ll just have to click this link to find out.
In all seriousness, though, I’m very grateful to the wonderful and dedicated staff at Revolver, and everyone who’s read the story so far. I’ve already gotten some great feedback, criticism, and encouragement, but I’m greedy for more, so please let me know what you loved and hated about the piece if you get the chance.
March 20, 2013 § Leave a comment
This week’s posts is coming at you early, because I’m actually late in directing over to a little story I wrote for Geoff Herbach’s I’m With Stupid Stories.
Geoff’s a great Minnesotan writer and teacher who started this blog, full of writers sharing embarrassing tales of youthful stupidity, to promote his forthcoming novel, I’m With Stupid. It’s the final installment of a trilogy featuring high school nerd-made-cool Felton, who has got to be the funniest narrator in fiction—YA or OA—I’ve come across in a long while. I recently read the first book, Stupid Fast, and am excited to check out Nothing Special, hopefully before the conclusion comes out in May.
In any event, please do head over and check out my contribution, “Eyes Wide Shut“, and then poke around the rest of the stories; as CNF makes me nervous, mine is probably the least embarrassingly hilarious contribution.
March 15, 2013 § 4 Comments
This Friday, we have a very special jokealong: the AWP 2013 edition! I was lucky enough to spend all last week in Boston attending this wonderful conference, where I met old friends and new, learned about writing and publishing, and bought more books than I could fit in my suitcase on the way home. While there, I was also on the look-out for the best literary laughs to bring back here for our jokealong.
This was my fourth time at the conference, and it seems I’ve finally learned a few things, as I didn’t stress myself out trying to cram as much in as possible; in fact, I never even made it over to the convention center in time for the 9am panels. In previous years, I felt I had to be at each panel so I didn’t miss the “secret” to writing a masterpiece or getting published or getting 100 followers for your twitter, but this year, I tried to be more open what found me instead of what I might be looking for.
This worked in my search for humor, as well. For example, one of my biggest laughs of the week came when I sat around in a conference room for half an hour with a bunch of other awkward writers quietly wondering if the presenters would ever show up. They never did. In past years, I would have been frustrated by the time wasted and knowledge missed. But this year I just had to laugh; it makes perfect sense that none of the panelists for “Authors Who Rock Social Media to Sell Books” would bother showing up in person.
One of the most enjoyable hours of the conference for me came when my fiance dragged me along to “A Muriel Rukeyser Centenary.” Never having encountered Muriel’s poetry before, I was expecting some sort of somber remembrance, not the spirited celebration I found—but then that was the sort of surprise I was waiting for. And there was quite a bit of serendipity at play in the discussion as well: to ensure the room didn’t fall into the eulogistic tone I’d been fearing, the poet Olga Broumas started off by encouraging us all to clap for Muriel—raising her hands above her head to make sure our applause stayed up for a long span—until I’d been clapping so long, I felt a little crazy. After that, we all laughed. And then we clapped some more, a giddy wave you could feel coursing through the room. When Olga finally started to read a poem Galway Kinnell had written about how Muriel once suffered a stroke while reading but wanted to persevere with the show,she only made it a few lines in before a loud but ghostly applause could be heard from some adjacent room. Olga said, open-mouthed, “The podium is rising!”, and we all laughed some more.
My choice for best joke of the conference came from the very same panel, as Sharon Olds explained her time in a workshop led by Muriel. Apparently, Olds wasn’t yet the master of the lasciviously literary, because she’d brought in an erotic poem to workshop that was all “milky this and creamy that.” Another member of the class, maybe a little scandalized, struggled to find the words to discuss the poem: “It’s too… too…” “Too dairy,” Muriel suggested.
In any event, I know I only took in one hundredth of what the conference had to offer, so if you were there and heard or told an even better literary joke, please do share it below. And if you didn’t make it out to Boston, I hope these few anecdotes brought some of the inspiration to you.
March 12, 2013 § 2 Comments
I just got back from Boston last night, feeling flush with a sense of literary community and possibility, and what’s the first thing I see online this morning? The full line-up for the Cracked Walnut Reading Festival!
As you’ll see on the poster below, I’m reading at the Angry Catifish Coffee/Bike Shop in on Tuesday the 19th of March, but I want to encourage you to check out as many of the festival dates as possible. They are a great chance to bring all the great parts of the Twin Cities literary community even closer together, forcing curmudgeonly fiction writers such as myself to share the stage with outgoing essayists, erudite poets, and spoken-word slammers. It’s all being organized by the incomparable Satish Jayaraj, who’s taking time off of promoting his awesome first novel to give this incredible gift to all lit-lovers in Minnesota.
If you aren’t from Minnesota, I hope this post entices you to come visit; there’s really no better time (messy spring weather aside) than March 18th-April 12th to get a feel for all we have to offer. And if you are from Minnesota, I’m looking forward to seeing lots of old friends and making new ones over the next month, so please do say hi.
And I’ve just got to say, I’m overjazzed to have my name on the same poster as Charles Baxter.
You can see the full schedule, with directions to each event at the Cracked Walnut Website.
March 1, 2013 § 1 Comment
I’m very excited to be heading to the A.W.P. Conference and Bookfair in Boston next week. For those that don’t know, AWP (The Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is an awesome organization that does all sorts of great things for writer/educators. They publish a magazine, run an awards series, and provide many other means for writers to connect—but their biggest event every year is the annual Conference and Bookfair.
The conference features keynote addresses and readings by famous authors every night, as well as an exhausting schedule of interactive panel discussions every day. Even better, in my opinion, is the bookfair: conference hall after conference hall filled with presses, each with their own table covered in hardcovers, trades, chapbooks, and swag. Too big to be called a dream, it is more of a bibliophile’s inescapable visionary coma.
I have attended each of the last three years, and it keeps getting bigger and crazier, so I’m looking forward to what it will look like in Boston. My main goal this year is to research self-publishing and self-promotion options for the serial novel I’m going to start publishing this September, but I always end up learning something by surprise when I am there as well.
For example, at the conference in Chicago last year, I attended a panel on jokes featuring Stephen Goodwin, Richard Bausch, Robert Bausch, Jill McCorkle, and Alan Shapiro, and their hilarious discussion of humor in literature (which quickly turned into a joke-off) inspired me to start this blog.
As a result, I’m going to dedicate the next few weeks of blogging to an AWP jokealong. While at the conference, I’ll be on the hunt for the best obscure literary puns and writerly anecdotes, and I’ll update you on my progress on Friday. Then on the Friday after, once I’m home, I’ll compile my findings in an official jokealong post.
That said, if you’re going to be in Boston, too, we should meet up and trade a joke or two. I’d love to meet some of you blogging-buddies in real-life, so drop a comment if you’re going to be there!
And since I don’t want to leave you without a Friday laugh, here’s one of the funnier anecdotes I heard at last year’s conference, told by Richard Bausch:
The novelist Jon Hassler was working on a book in a cabin up in the woods somewhere north of Duluth, Minnesota, and something very bad happened to the sump pump. There was a kind of methane explosion after the toilet backed up awfully and so he had to call a plumber. The plumber was wiping raw sewage off the walls and standing in it up to his ankles. “People told me you were up here working on a book or something? I mean you’re that writer guy from Minneapolis, right?”
“Yes,” Hassler said.
The plumber shook his head almost wistfully, with a kind of pity. “Don’t know how you can do that kind of work.”
February 22, 2013 § 1 Comment
I just added a new “page” to the blog, collecting the last few months worth of posts I wrote on the dichotomy between spontaneous wit and prepared jokes under the title “Why Did Kerouac Cross the Road?”
I didn’t start out planning to include much Kerouac, but after he worked his way into the high school anecdote I started the discussion with, I quickly realized he was almost the pure human embodiment of the spontaneous side of the argument, so I kept referring back to him. Plus, it was fun playing around with the “Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?”/On the Road connections. In any event, writing these posts helped rekindling a long-smoldering love for Jack, so I’ll included his “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose: List of Essentials” here as our final thoughts on the art of spontaneity.
BELIEF & TECHNIQUE FOR MODERN PROSE
LIST OF ESSENTIALS
- Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
- Submissive to everything, open, listening
- Try never get drunk outside yr own house
- Be in love with yr life
- Something that you feel will find its own form
- Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
- Blow as deep as you want to blow
- Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
- The unspeakable visions of the individual
- No time for poetry but exactly what is
- Visionary tics shivering in the chest
- In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
- Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
- Like Proust be an old teahead of time
- Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
- The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
- Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
- Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
- Accept loss forever
- Believe in the holy contour of life
- Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
- Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
- Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
- No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
- Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
- Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
- In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
- Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
- You’re a Genius all the time
- Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
Thanks again for reading. I’m not sure what my next big series of posts will be on, but I do have an extra-special jokealong planned for the next month, so check back for more details next week!