Work in Progress

What are you working on?

My main focus right now is a novel that is reasonably advanced. I have a “complete” draft, but the second half of the book needs a lot of work. I’m hoping to finish by next summer, maybe sooner. I’ve done a lot of research, I think I know how the book ends (I’ve written the last scene), but there is a lot that has to be done before I’ll consider it done.

I’m also assembling a new story collection. I realized recently that I have a number of published stories that didn’t fit into either of my two collections and when I made a list together with a few unpublished stories, it seemed to form a natural structure. So I’ll work on that from time to time also. I might be able to finish that this winter.

Then there’s a finished novel I’m shopping to small presses. It was briefly represented by an agent before we split, so it had a crack at a few editors at big publishers, but it has always felt like a niche/small press book to me anyway. It’s quirky and voice-driven and . . . I’m hopeful.

At some point in the coming year, I’ll need to deal with edits to my novel forthcoming from Braddock Avenue Books. And cover design. And publicity. Etc. That’s next year, though. Not right now.

And I have some ideas for essays I’d like to do. Before the end of the year, I’ll make a start on that project.

There’s no shortage of work in progress.

Writing Soundtrack

When I work at home, I don’t usually listen to music. I live in a quiet area, out in the country, and there are few noisy distractions. But I often work in public, in coffee shops, and there is almost always noise: the whirring coffee grinder, loudspeaker music, multiple conversations. Sometimes the combination of sounds is so great that it all blends together into white noise, a perfect accompaniment to writing. (I even have an app that includes “coffeeshop sounds” that is a great way to block out the distractions.)

But sometimes it feels right to really isolate myself from the world, even while sitting in the middle of it. Like right now, writing this post. So I plug in my earphones and listen to music, usually something instrumental so the lyrics don’t creep into my thinking. I have a number of classical albums that are good for this, but one of my favorites is Red by the Dallas String Quartet.

DSQ is a vibrant group that does string versions of pop music ranging from Adele to Katy Perry to Sade to Journey and Michael Jackson. Good stuff.

Press 53 Anniversary Celebration

I have been privileged to be part of the Press 53 family since 2009 when my first book, In an Uncharted Country, was published. Since then, the press has published another book of mine, What the Zhang Boys Know, plus two volumes (so far) of my anthology series, Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet. On top of that, we partnered on a literary magazine, Prime Number Magazine, which I edited for 5 years, from 2010 to 2015. It has been a wonderful relationship.

And now I’m looking forward to heading down to North Carolina tomorrow to participate in Press 53’s 12th Anniversary Party at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro. I’ll be joining a number of other authors affiliated with the press to celebrate the world of books and small presses. (We’ll be at Scuppernong from 7:00 pm, Saturday, October 28. Come join us!)

The publishing industry has been going through a long period of consolidation that has seen the larger publishers focus on books that they can turn into bestsellers. At the same time, we’ve seen the rise of lots of small and micro-presses that consistently turn out quality fiction and poetry. Without them, the literary world would be a much poorer place.

You can participate in the celebrations by buying books from Press 53. Try one of the great new titles, or if you don’t have mine yet, try one of those!

Happy Dreams by Jia Pingwa

I recently received a copy of Happy Dreams by Jia Pingwa to review for the Washington Independent Review of Books. I liked the book a lot and enjoyed writing the review, which you can read here.

When the book arrived, I was excited to read the jacket bio of the author, which said he had graduated from Northwestern University’s Chinese department in 1975. I also graduated from Northwestern in 1975, although from the Philosophy department, so I wondered if our paths had crossed when we were undergraduates many years ago. I did some further research into the author and learned the truth: Jia graduated from Northwest University in Xi’an China, NOT Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Translation is a funny thing, because there doesn’t seem to be a way to distinguish between Northwest and Northwestern in Chinese. The word “northwest” is written xi’bei (西北), which literally means West North, so the University in Xi’an is Xi’bei DaXue (西北大学). I don’t know much about the school, but I do know that is not where I studied for four wonderful years. I do wish I’d studied Chinese back then, though, because it would have made things easier when I began learning the language in Singapore a decade or so later.

The jacket bio isn’t wrong, exactly, because the words are the same in Chinese, but I made an effort to tell the publisher and the translator that the bio was misleading to an American readership. I got no response from either, though, and it wasn’t something that belonged in a review of the book. Now that the review has been published, however, I wanted to set the record straight!

Big Publication News

I am very happy to report that I have signed a contract with Braddock Avenue Books for the publication of my novel, The Shaman of Turtle Valley. The publication date has yet to be determined, but will likely be sometime in 2019.

I’ve been working on this book for a very long time. When I completed the manuscript for What the Zhang Boys Know, my novel in stories that was published by Press 53 in 2012, I had two ideas for novels that I wanted to write. One was something I thought of as a novel in flash made up of lots of flash fictions, including some I had already written and published, about a character named Oliver. The other was a more traditional novel about a young man and his son. When I went to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as a Walter E. Dakin Fellow in 2010, I took the opening chapters of the latter manuscript to get feedback from my faculty reader, after which I decided to focus on that book and put the Oliver stories on the back burner.

I finished a draft of the book in the fall of 2011, but continued to work on it and had a draft I was happy with by the fall of 2013. My then agent made some helpful suggestions and then in early 2014 we began looking for a publisher.

Meanwhile, with that book “done” until an editor got his/her hands on it, I went back to the Oliver book. That one I finished in 2016; it’s now looking for a home (i.e., a publisher).

In other words, for a writer pursuing the traditional path to publication, writing the book is only part of the battle.  It is often a very long slog.

Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet: Volume III now open for submissions!

As an internationalist, I’ve always been interested in fiction set outside the United States, whether it’s literature from another country translated into English or work in English set overseas. If it’s done well, the reader will usually learn something. It’s like traveling without leaving the house.

Several years ago I got the idea of an anthology of short stories set around the world.  Press 53 agreed to publish the first volume and we opened for submissions in the fall of 2013. We were overwhelmed–in a good way. That first volume was published in the fall of 2014 and won some awards, including an International Book Award. The book’s success convinced the publisher to proceed with a second volume, which came out in the fall of 2016. It too won an International Book Award as well as Indie First awards in two categories.

And now it’s time to start putting together the third volume in the series. As of today, October 1, submissions are now open, through November 30. There is no minimum or maximum length. Stories may be previously published. The only real requirement is that we will not publish stories set countries already covered by Volumes I or II, so please read the submission guidelines carefully.

To read the submission guidelines and submit, please go here.