shining the spotlight on short story collections
Dzanc Books is one of those independent publishers that makes short story lovers cheer and jump up and down. Not only does Dzanc publish great books (read reviews of Roy Kesey’s All Over and Yannick Murphy’s In A Bear’s Eye), they are literary activists, doing all they can to spread the word about great writing and help writers. Dzanc executive director and publisher Dan Wickett founded the Emerging Writers Network in 2000 and puts an enormous amount of energy into the EWN’s blog, running a Short Story Month last month with so many posts talking about short stories that they are now publishing a selection of them as a book! Dzanc annually awards the Dzanc prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service, and is now offering Creative Writing Sessions through which writers are mentored by other writers. Yes, they are quite fabulous.If this weren’t enough, their second annual Best of the Web anthology was published on July 1st, and we here at the Short Review are delighted to be hosting a guest blog by M. Thomas Gammarino, one of the featured authors, as part of the one-day virtual book tour.
First, a little about the book:
Guest-edited by Lee K. Abbott, this print anthology compiles the best fiction, poetry, and non-fiction that online literary journals have to offer in an eclectic collection in the manner of other broad-ranging anthologies such as Pushcart and Best American Non-Required Reading. This is the first substantial attempt at creating an annual print compilation of the best of material published online.
This year’s contributor’s include: Waqar Ahmed, Arlene Ang, Michael Baker, Marcelo Ballve, Marge Barrett, Carmelinda Blagg, Benjamin Buchholz, Blake Butler, Jimmy Chen, Amy L. Clark, Amber Cook, Bill Cook, Michael Czyzniejewski, Darlin’ Neal, Matthew Derby, Ryan Dilbert, Stephen Dixon, Alex Dumont, Claudia Emerson, D.A. Feinfeld, Marcela Fuentes, M. Thomas Gammarino, Cassandra Garbus, Molly Gaudry, Anne Germanacos, Matt Getty, Todd Hasak-Lowy, Karen Heuler, Ash Hibbert, Philip Holden, Roy Kesey, Hari Bhajan Khalsa, Tricia Louvar, Peter Markus, Michael Martone, Heather Killelea McEntarfer, Lindsay Merbaum, Corey Mesler, Laura Mullen, Joseph Olschner, Jeff Parker, Elise Paschen, Elizabeth Penrose, Kate Petersen, Glen Pourciau, Sam Rasnake, Jonathan Rice, Tom Sheehan, Claudia Smith, Lynn Strongin, Terese Svoboda, Jon Thompson, Davide Trame, Donna D. Vitucci, Helen Wickes, Kathrine Leone Wright, Jordan Zinovich.
Dzanc has a special promotion whereby you can get both Best of the Web anthologies… more about that later. Now, over to Thomas talking about the short story of his selected for the anthology, The Fridge, which originally appeared in the Adirondack Review:
I’ve heard a number of famous writers (most recently Steve Erickson in a Bookslut interview from 2007) talk about the phenomenon of the “free” book, the one that’s simply visited on them by the muses as a reward for all the years of toil they put into the rest of their books. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be gifted a free book—my not-terribly-long first novel, Big in Japan, took me five years or more—but I can vouch for the phenomenon of the free story insofar as The Fridge—the story I’m thrilled to have had selected for Best of the Web 2009—was one.
I wrote the first draft of the story longhand in one hour-long burst at a café called ChocoCro (as in chocolate croissant) in Yokohama, Japan. I do this sort of Kerouackian exercise once in a while where I make my hand out-write my mind such that I end up making associative leaps I couldn’t possibly plan. More often than not the exercise yields a surrealistic mess, but once in a while, given enough discipline, I can turn out a viable story. In this case I knew only two things from the outset: 1) I would keep it more or less realistic, and 2) I would write, in good cubist fashion, from at least two points of view.
My story may not feel especially modernist—probably it feels more dirty-realistic insofar as it deals with blue-collar domesticity and adultery—but its germinal texts were in fact modernist landmarks like Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and the “Wandering Rocks” chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses. I played up the impressionism by making the two accounts in the story—May’s and Bill’s—disagree on some of the details of chronology, their different senses of time being one of the story’s motifs. I considered adding a third section in which the reader would get the subjective account of Bill’s lover, Anna, but finally I decided that even as I complicated each character’s claims on history, I would at least impose enough form to make the story the portrait not of a hackneyed love triangle so much as a marriage—and it is a marriage aptly characterized by the title, I think. At the same time, the fridge is the one place where Bill and May continue to commune, the one place, however piddling, where they renew their vows each day, her by putting his lunch in there, him by being there to take it. It’s not much, but it’s something.
One last thing: anyone who has ever been in a writing workshop has heard the old chestnut “Show, don’t tell.” I teach it myself in beginners’ writing classes. It’s not bad advice for young writers with a penchant for exposition, whose craft of storytelling has been honed primarily on the telephone, but the dirty secret is that the closer you look at that binary the more it begins to dissolve. So long as we’re working with words, it’s all telling of one sort or another (“diegesis,” the narratologist Gerard Genette would call it), and as Louis Menand notes in his review of Mark McGurl’s The Program Era in a recent New Yorker, that mantra has always been “effectively opposite” that other pedagogical imperative to “Find your voice.” I didn’t find my voice in The Fridge, but I like to think I found Bill’s and May’s. The Fridge is all “telling,” and that’s a curious thing if you overthink it because who are these people supposed to be talking to really? But then who are the intramural narratees of most literature? Ultimately the question proves beside the point. We accept it as a convention because literature is uniquely suited to capturing the human sensorium as channeled through a textual larynx. Suck the narratorial inflections out of it, the quirks and mannerisms, lilts and cadences, and we might as well all stick to screenplays.
Thanks, Thomas, for that insight into your story. Dzanc are running a time-limited promotion: buy both Best of the Web anthologies for $30 instead of $36 – and you’ll get a 15% discount coupon off any book published by Dzanc or their imprints. So much great reading.