do you start referring to your own book as a ‘cult hit’ in bios? earnestly want to know. lol.
do you start referring to your own book as a ‘cult hit’ in bios? earnestly want to know. lol.
My boyfriend lives on a farm. He farms soybeans and corn. The deer like to eat his crops. We hate the deer.
The corn is so high and pretty and it’s tasseling right now and we walk through his land and he stops to peel a piece and we each take a bite. Then he chucks the remainder into the rows and rows, so far you can’t see.
I follow him, watching the sweat pattern on his back. It looks like a butterfly, I tell him, like a Rorschach butterfly but a little girl would say it looks like a banana because they only see bananas. And then, a few minutes later, the butterfly is gone and it’s nothing I can identify.
What’s it look like now? he asks.
You know how a cloud looks like a perfect sheep and then it moves and looks like nothing but you keep trying to make it look like something? It’s like that. And I feel like I’m being too metaphorical, like I’m trying too hard, but he says he knows.
After that he takes his shirt off.
I watch my feet, wondering if I’ll see a snake, if one could bite through the leather of my boot. I try not to think about snakes because thinking about them so hard might make one appear. I look at the birds and the chickens that roam the property during the day and go back to their coop at night (if they don’t get eaten by coyotes). It is very dangerous out here for a chicken, my boyfriend tells me.
Though I’ve spent most of my life in Mississippi, I have never known farm life. I’ve never known what it’s like to pick blueberries and put them in my yogurt in the morning, to pour honey over the yogurt that a backyard hive has produced. What’s a Mississippi girl good for if she doesn’t have much of an accent and has never lived on a farm? If she’s rejected these things her whole life, same as she’s rejected Faulkner and Welty, Elvis and the blues?
As a kid I used to wonder why I was born here. Out of all of the places, I thought, why here? I would think about the prettiest, most popular girls in my class and find contentment in the fact that they had been born here, too. And on the weekends we’d drive over to Tallulah, Louisiana, where my cousins and grandmother lived, and I would think, Yes, God, yes. You knew exactly what you were doing.
(from Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape.)
1. I’m angry at the drawer, which has failed to close again, and I’m angry at the person, who has disappointed me once more. But really I’m angry I consented to believe in carpenter ghosts and that I consented to love an asshole. It was I who committed the real injustices. When I figure that out, I’m so angry I think I’ll surely give up, but I do not. I’m too angry. I want to keep myself alive so I can commit further injustices against myself, the self who has already committed such injustices against me.
I recently read a post on Facebook in which a woman’s boyfriend asked her to leave the room because she knew nothing about baseball. She was probably asking a lot of questions. Thankfully, my boyfriend is more patient and doesn’t care if I ask a lot of questions (we haven’t been together that long and he still really likes me).
I’ve never been interested in baseball before—other than the occasional game as an undergraduate in college, which I saw as a way to get a suntan and drink beer—but I recently got really into watching Ole Miss play in the World Series. They’re out now, but they had a good run. It was their first showing in the World Series in 42 years so there was a lot of excitement around it and I’ll be teaching at Ole Miss in the fall—two reasons to possibly be interested in watching. But I doubt I would have bothered had my boyfriend not been a fan.
One thing I like about having boyfriends is that they can occasionally get me interested in something I have never before shown any interest in and sometimes, even after they are gone, it will stick (there was the boyfriend I canoed with and the boyfriend I went to concerts with and the boyfriend I visited Civil War sites with and these boyfriends are all gone but I still like canoeing and concerts and visiting Civil War sites, even if I don’t do them that often).
This isn’t true. I don’t really like going to concerts that much, at least not big ones with a lot of people. I do like canoeing but I always liked canoeing. Civil War sites are still cool, but, you know, I’m not going to visit them by myself. Perhaps baseball will be another brief boyfriend-centered past-time, but I don’t think so because I have learned some basic rules and it’s pretty cool to watch a sport and understand what’s going on. I feel a little silly saying stuff like, ‘(curse word) why don’t they pull this dude?’ or ‘he swings at everything!’ when I have only watched like 6 games total and still need the little box on the screen to show me what’s a ball and what’s a strike most of the time, but I have learned some things. Here are 16 of them:
1. Baseball has 9 innings but if the game is tied it can go on indefinitely. I fell asleep during a game that went 15 innings recently. I don’t think I made it past 10.
2. If the batter hits a foul ball it counts as a strike unless it’s his third strike and then it doesn’t count as anything, even if he keeps hitting foul balls.
3. Bunting works pretty well even though it makes the batter look like a silly baby.
4. Some baseball players are fat. These are the good hitters usually.
5. Baseball does not have instant replay. Whatever the umpire sees and calls on the field generally stands. So if it’s a bad call, it’s just a bad call and that’s that.
6. There are four umpires in every game.
7. The same people are playing infield and outfield so some of them are good hitters and some of them are good runners and some of them are good throwers and they can substitute sometimes, when they’re desperate, and put in something called a pinch hitter or a pinch batter or whatever. I’m a little confused about this. It may be pitch hitter or pitch batter. Not certain.
8. If the pitcher hits you with the ball, you’re supposed to try to get out of the way. But if they get you, you get to walk to first base.
9. I get really nervous for the pitchers and don’t understand how they can handle the pressure. This isn’t a rule, but just something I wanted to mention.
10. Pitchers don’t play back-to-back games cause they’ll throw their arm out. They need like three days of rest.
11. If the pitcher throws 4 balls, you get to walk to first base. Did I say this already? This should be like number 2 and you probably already know this one.
12. You can steal bases. They do it quite a bit, more than I thought they would. Usually they steal between first and second, from what I’ve seen.
13. If the ball is hit way up in the air and it looks like a very nice hit, an outfielder will catch it. Like, always.
14. The woman on the field asking the coaches’ questions will be pretty. She may or may not be very articulate. She will ask stupid, basic questions, which I’m sure isn’t her fault but they will seem stupid and you will feel like you could answer them and this will annoy you and you may say bad things about her hair or her slight stutter even though you should just be happy it’s a woman out there and not a man.
15. Some of these things may be wrong.
16. Watch the little box in the right-hand corner a lot at the beginning. If you watch the game carefully and look at the little box every minute or so you will eventually be able to look at the little box less and less.
Also, I should mention that there is totally crying in baseball.
Please listen to Andi Arndt reading “Cedars of Lebanon” (from Big World). Andi read the audiobook for The Last Days of California and did such an excellent job.
The full BIG WORLD short story collection will be recorded this fall in Nashville by an ensemble of narrators including Andi Arndt, Mary Miller, and singer-songwriters Mary Gauthier, Louise Mosrie, Amy Speace, and Telisha Williams.
About the Program
The audiobook community is giving back! Spoken Freely, a group of more than 40 professional narrators, has teamed with Going Public and Tantor Media to celebrate June is Audiobook Month (JIAM) by offering Summer Shorts ’14, an audio collection of poetry, short stories and essays. All proceeds from sales of the collection will go to ProLiteracy, a national literacy outreach and advocacy organization.
Throughout June 2014, 1-2 stories, poems and essays will be released online each day via Going Public, as well as on various author and book blogs. As a “Thank you!” to listeners, pieces will be available for free online listening on their day of release. As a bonus for those who purchase the full collection from Tantor Media in support of ProLiteracy, there are over 20 additional tracks only available via the compilation download. Full release schedule on the Speak Freely page.
ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the nation, advocates on behalf of adult learners and the programs that serve them, provides training and professional development, and publishes materials used in adult literacy and basic education instruction. ProLiteracy has 1,000 member programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and works with 52 nongovernmental organizations in 34 developing countries. Its publishing division, New Readers Press (NRP), has for more than 40 years provided educators with the instructional tools they need to teach adult students and older teens literacy skills for functioning in the world today. Materials are available in a variety of media, including the flagship publication, the weekly news source News for You, which delivers articles online with audio. Proceeds from sales of NRP materials support literacy programs in the U.S. and worldwide.
Summer Shorts ’14 is made possible by the efforts of the Spoken Freely narrators and many others who donated their time and energy to bring it to fruition. Post-production, marketing support and publication provided by Tantor Media. Graphic design provided by f power design. Project coordination and executive production provided by Xe Sands. Nonprofit partnership coordination provided by Karen White.
For more Summer Shorts, check out yesterday’s posts:
Heather Henderson at PostHypnotic Press Blog
Scott O’Neill at Rhonda’s Voice
There’s even more tomorrow:
Bruce Coville at Book & a Latte
For the complete schedule, head over to the Going Public website.
AA: Ok so let’s talk about the pizza in your stories.
MM: ok, let’s. i was just looking at “cedars” and there’s pizza in it!
AA: The woman’s boyfriend wants to spend lots of time cleaning out an old trailer so they can take it to a campground called Cedars of Lebanon and have some pizza in a more natural setting.
MM: yes. the boyfriend wants her to help him. they’ve gotten to this place where they’re both pushing each other to be people they aren’t, people they don’t want to be. she loves him and wants to be this person he wants, but she also wants to keep her own identity so she’s struggling for some kind of balance
AA: Reading it made me really uncomfortable in the best way. We should probably clue people in to the pizza reference - do you want to recap or shall I?
MM: thank you. i wrote this story about a guy i dated shortly after my divorce. i had sort of gotten myself back into the same situation i’d come out of—trying to be someone i wasn’t, trying to fit somebody else’s idea of who i ought to be
AA: Alright dear tumblr readers, Mary and I were chatting just before this online chat and I observed that the sex in the BIG WORLD stories, as well as sexual scenes in LAST DAYS OF CALIFORNIA (even that really uncomfortable phone call) is very often lonely, unfulfilling, and isolating. And you explained about pizza. Take it away…
MM: with men, even bad pizza is good. it’s like sex. even when it’s bad it’s good. but for women, bad pizza can just be bad pizza, same as bad sex. it can be…very disappointing.
AA: (just saw the msg about the actual pizza…that’s right!)
MM: she even eats his kind of pizza: wheat crust with sausage, bacon, and pepperoni, a kind she wouldn’t have liked, or eaten, before she’d met him.
AA: She lets him set the agenda about a lot of things.
MM: she likes how they have things that are theirs, even if they weren’t hers before and won’t be hers in the future. she desperately wants to make something that’s floundering work, which is often how relationships are. we try to fit a square into a circle. and we just keep trying, even though that circle will always be wrong.
AA: We’re still the same people, I suppose. Reminds me of a woman whose therapist told her to just go take a vacation to feel better and her first thought was “but I’d have to take me along.”
MM: yep. i’ve spent a lot of time moving around, trying to change things geographically. sometimes it works, at least for a while.
AA: You just left Austin and it was pretty clear from one of your earlier posts that you were done for a while there.
MM: yeah, i was. i moved to austin to go to the michener center for writers, which i loved so much, but i stayed a year too long. once the program was over, once i didn’t have the security of the program, i floundered. change is hard. i also went through a breakup at the time the MFA program ended.
AA: and now you’re headed to Ole Miss, yes?
MM: i am! i’ll be there in august and stay until may. i’m so excited to be in oxford, where i have friends and will still be close to family. but it’s a temporary gig. after may, i’ll be looking for something else.
the life of a writer can be a very peripatetic one. uncertain.
AA: maybe something else will find you during the coming year. Is there something you’re working on specifically while you’re there or something you’ll have time to do?
MM: i’m working on a novel, sort of. and some essays and stories. novels are hard, and the novel i’m working on is more challenging than anything else i’ve ever written, so it’s kind of freaking me out. but i’ll have plenty of time. i’m only teaching one class a semester.
my goal is to have a very shitty first draft by august 15th and spend the year revising it.
AA: I like your approach - much less daunting to complete a shitty first draft. I used to tell my acting students to do a sucky version of their scene for class, and those were always so energetic and funny because they were supposed to fail, no fear.
MM: the only way i completed the last days of california was to power through it. i couldn’t try to perfect each sentence like i do with a short story. i couldn’t get stuck reading and rereading the first ten pages. novels and short stories are so different this way.
AA: Makes sense. I’m interested in the commonalities between fiction writing and songwriting and hoping this subject comes up in September when we record BIG WORLD in Nashville. I think at some level, writing is writing, and you’ll all have a lot to talk about.
MM: are you a musician? i come from a family of musicians and i’m the only one without any talent in that arena, besides my dad. with the best short stories, they’re often written fast, in a few days, from what i know, and my sister and brother, who are songwriters, have said the same thing.
AA: I’m certainly not a professional musician, but come from a musical family myself (an interesting mix of sort of highbrow and lowbrow) and am a huge music fan for sure.
MM: of course, sometimes the story that takes six months is also good, but those are the longer ones, the ones that are more ambitious structurally.
what do you play?
sometimes my people make me sing backup, but i have to have a few drinks in me.
AA: I had 10 years of classical piano, which means I suck at ensemble playing because it was all solo stuff. I sing occasionally. My mom and her sisters sang all kinds of stuff together, 1950’s stuff.
MM: oh, that’s so cool! my uncles and aunt were on Sun Records in the late 50’s. they played on american bandstand with dick clark and met elvis and shit.
AA: backup is the best! I love harmony singing.
MM: they blame the downfall of sun on jerry lee lewis, which may be true, but i don’t know enough to corroborate.
i’m not that great at harmony, though. i love it when it works. it feels magical.
my sister is such an excellent singer.
AA: See - this Nashville thing was meant to be. It’s gonna be the real-life version of “if you could invite any six people to dinner, who would they be”
MM: ha! totally.
and my sister lives in nashville! she had a publishing deal and wrote country music for a few years after college. she wrote a song that was on dolly parton’s album.
AA: On that note (or not), this sentence in one of the BIG WORLD stories keeps bubbling up in my mind: “I like stories about fucked up people.” That seems to be true of you too, if I may be presumptuous…is that true? And if so, do you remember the first time you looked at something in the world that way?
MM: but then she grew a little tired of writing country music, a song a day, it became work, like any other job.
AA: sorry these msgs are leapfrogging somewhat - that last msg followed the “i love musicians” comment, not the thing about your sister!
MM: of course! i love stories about fucked up people. my question would be: are there any other stories? i mean, really? are there any other good stories?
AA: re: your sister - hope I get to meet her!
MM: you will. she’s great. she’s so funny and bossy and great.
AA: well we rarely read stories about people who’ve got everything all figured out…that would be boring…
MM: yeah, and when i do, i’m usually annoyed or angry or feel like i’m being deceived in some way.
AA: But there was a review of last days entitled “eeewwwww” or something like that, and I thought yeah, exactly, that’s why I LIKED IT. You have a way of making the reader trust you as you take us into eww territory.
MM: what is there to write about, unless you’re trying to figure something out?
AA: braggy Facebook status messages?
That great Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is?” is so perfect, I think, in that way.
MM: after big world was published, i knew my audience would be fairly limited. i mean, people are miserable and mean and ugly, at times, and a lot of people don’t want to read about that. they want to read about people who WANT to be better, and a lot of my characters don’t want to be better.
or if they do, they aren’t going to do what it takes to get there.
AA: Some of them aren’t self-aware enough to even see what else they might do, and I think most people on the planet fit that description.
Well on that happy note…
MM: totally. most people would not recognize themselves if you described them to themselves. as a writer, i think i’m more objective than most, but perhaps this makes me even less self aware.
AA: perhaps we should let people click on the “Cedars of Lebanon” link and have a listen.
MM: yes, let’s!