Research: No substitute for being there.

When I began work on my current project–a novel set primarily in Singapore–I didn’t think I’d need to travel there to complete the book. After all, I lived in the country from 1983-1989 and 1990-1993 and had made several other visits before and after those periods. I felt that I knew the country pretty well. So I plowed ahead with the writing.

But the deeper I got into the story, the more I realized that there was a lot I didn’t know, or didn’t remember. For one thing, the story I’m telling takes place both long before and somewhat after the years I lived in Singapore, and if anything remains constant in the country it is rapid change. For another, it is one thing to remember your sensory perceptions and try to describe them. It’s something else again to describe what you’re feeling at the moment. The heat. The humidity. The smells. The crowds. Did I mention the heat and humidity?

So sometime last year I decided I would have to return to Singapore for a research trip. I know–hardship, right? Well, yes and no. I’m happy to be in the tropics during January, that’s for sure. But the planning process was stressful–booking flights and hotels, making various arrangements–and expensive. (If I hadn’t paid for everything in advance, I might have bagged it at the last minute.) Now that I’ve been here for a couple of days, though, I’m so glad I made the trip. The Internet is a wonderful thing, but I don’t think I could have written the book without making this visit.

My research is divided into three parts. The first part is basically done now. I’ve spent the last several days in a hotel near where I used to live. I’ve gone back to areas I used to spend time, and I’ve walked all over this part of town to really reinforce the experience of living here. I’m taking notes as to my impressions and the sensory details, and all of this will be invaluable when I get home to dig back into the manuscript. The second part is a side trip to Bali, where I’m headed on Monday. I’ve visited Bali several times in the past, and it’s only tangentially relevant to the novel, but I can’t deny that I liked the idea of resting and relaxing by the ocean for a few days. (It’s the rainy season there, but I don’t care.) The third part, and the most significant, will happen when I return from Bali. I’ll be staying in a different part of town, closer to some of the locations for scenes in the book. I’ve enlisted the help of the National Library for some actual research, so I’ll be spending a couple of days there, also. And I’ve got some meetings lined up that I hope will be helpful.

I guess there’s a fourth part, too. Chinese New Year will coincide with the last few days of my stay, and that holiday figures prominently in my story, so the timing couldn’t be better.

All in all, despite the stress of planning and travel, I’m very glad I made the trip, and the book will be much better for it.


Everywhere Stories Contributor Spotlight: Tim Weed

Finalist for the International Book Award

Contributor Tim Weed’s story “The Money Pill” is set in Cuba. It is one of 20 stories in Volume I of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet. Published in 2014, the book is available from Press 53,, and Barnes & Noble.

Tim Weed’s fiction has appeared in Colorado ReviewGulf CoastSixfold, and many other journals and anthologies. He is the winner of a Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Award and a Best Travel Writing Solas Award, and his collected stories have been shortlisted for the New Rivers Press Many Voices Project, the Autumn House Fiction Prize, and the Lewis-Clark Press Discovery Award. Based in Vermont, Tim is a lecturer in the MFA Writing program at Western Connecticut State University and a featured expert for National Geographic Expeditions in Cuba, Spain, and Patagonia. Will Poole’s Island, Tim’s first novel, was published in 2014.

Tim Weed’s comment on “The Money Pill”—One of the somber joys of being a fiction writer is that you can insert your characters into difficult and/or morally dubious situations without having to suffer or inflict the real-world consequences of their actions. “The Money Pill” grew out of a series of trips I made to the eastern part of Cuba in the earliest years of the 21st century. Writing it was, in part, a process of taking several jotted-down interactions and playing them out to their logical conclusions. On a deeper level—over the many drafts it took to get the story into an intelligible form—certain themes began to emerge that captured something essential, for me at least, about Cuba and the wealthy superpower that is its close and yet utterly estranged neighbor.

Your Writing Resolutions for 2017

It’s a brand new year. You’ve made some resolutions, am I right? And if you’re a writer, as I am, your resolutions might look something like this:

1. Finish more [stories, essays, poems].

2. Figure out where to send them.


I’m here to help. When I first started sending out stories in about 2004, I had no idea where to send them. I dutifully read some of the literary magazines I could find, but I barely knew a Ploughshare from a Conjunction. And my method of choosing where to submit was pretty scattershot. Then I discovered the idea of dividing the literary magazine world into tiers and only submitting (simultaneously) within the tiers.

I decided to create a ranking system that would let me group magazines by their quality–or at least by some measure of quality, since quality is ultimately subjective. I chose the annual Pushcart Prize anthology as my measure–among the major annual anthologies, its selection process seems the most transparent, plus it excludes the “slicks” from its recognition–and created a formula to award points for prizes awarded and special mentions listed over a ten-year period.

The result was a big list of magazines that I posted on my blog and some people found it useful. Later, I added separate lists for non-fiction and poetry. And then I added hyperlinks so writers could jump directly from my rankings to the websites of the magazines they were interested in. Now I frequently hear that writers find the list indispensable.  I’m glad to hear it.

Here, to help you with your submissions in 2017, are my annual literary magazine rankings:

2017 Perpetual Folly Literary Magazine Rankings: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry.

My Year in Books – 2016

At the beginning of the year, I set myself a challenge (with the help of Goodreads) of reading 75 books. I beat that number, I’m proud to say, although not all of the titles I read were exactly War and Peace. The list includes fiction, of course, but also non-fiction (my book club reads mostly books about politics and social issues), poetry, and writing books (ranging from books meant to inspire and books about the business of publishing).

I didn’t love everything I read this year, but that’s not necessarily a judgment of quality. I read some mysteries, thrillers, and YA books, just to sample those genres, and the ones I read were representative and, I thought, quite good, but just not my thing. So my favorite fiction reads were those that were more literary. (Writers hate having to explain to people what “literary fiction” is; it’s hard to articulate except in the negative, but we know it when we see it.) In the non-fiction realm, the books I enjoyed most were those that educated me on subjects about which I was interested but uninformed.

Without further ado, here are the best books I read this year (in no particular order).


1.  A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Obviously, this isn’t a recent book, but I’d put off reading it because of its length. This is definitely my favorite Irving book, and one of the best books ever.

2. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elisabeth Strout. A short novel, Lucy Barton is a fabulous character study. Plot is revealed, but that’s not the point.

3. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Although this novel isn’t my favorite Kingsolver book, I still thought it was excellent. As usual, Kingsolver writes about social themes that happen to appeal to me.

4. The Fall of Princes by Robert Goolrick. This one was very different from Goolrick’s earlier novels, and won the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction. I liked the structure very much (each chapter reads like a short story with its own narrative arc.)

5. The Submission by Amy Waldman. I was also a little late to the party on this one, but found the story gripping and an important commentary on both over-reaction and bigotry.

6. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith. Because of my current writing project, which is a blend of historical and contemporary narratives, this book was recommended to me. It certainly held my attention.

7. The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell. This was another gripping story about the art world, this one set in New Orleans.

8. Stony River by Tricia Dower. A triple coming of age story, this book is also a psychological thriller about three girls growing up in a small town in New Jersey.

9. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The backdrop here is the Biafran Civil War, but the story is about race and class in post-colonial Nigeria.

10.  Calf by Andrea Kleine. Loosely based on the life of John Hinkley, would-be assassin of President Reagan, this is another dark tale about a young girl growing up.


1. Evicted by Matthew Desmond. This is a terrific (but depressing) book about a critical subject–the cycle of poverty that inadequate housing reinforces.

2. Everyone is African by Daniel J. Fairbanks. This was fascinating to me, although apparently not news to anyone else.  And it led me to the following book.

3. The Power of Babel by John McWhorter. If the previous book was about our common ancestors in Africa, this one is an attempt to work backward to a common language. We can’t quite get there, but this takes us back as far as we can go at this point.

4. Faith Ed. by Linda K. Wertheimer. This is about the many controversies surrounding the teaching of religion in public schools, a frequent topic of debate in my conservative county.

5. Cooked by Michael Pollan. I really enjoyed Pollan’s exploration of food transformations and their origins. Like Pollan’s other work, the style here is casual and fun.

So that’s it. My favorites for the year. Most of these weren’t published this year, and some have been waiting patiently for their turns on my reading list for a very long time. That’s a pattern that’s likely to continue in 2017, although I’m currently reading a book that’s coming out in the Spring . . .



Everywhere Stories Contributor Spotlight: William Kelley Woolfitt

Contributor William Kelley Woolfitt’s story, “Jackal Weather,” is set in Lebanon. It’s one of 20 stories included in Volume II of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, available now from Press 53, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

William Kelley Woolfitt is the author of the poetry collections Beauty Strip (Texas Review Press, 2014) and Charles of the Desert (Paraclete Press, 2016). His fiction chapbook The Boy with Fire in His Mouth (2014) won the Epiphany Editions contest. His poems and stories have appeared in Blackbird, Image, Tin House, The Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Epoch, and other journals. He is the recipient of the Howard Nemerov Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Denny C. Plattner Award from Appalachian Heritage.

William Kelley Woolfitt’s comment on “Jackal Weather”—I wanted to write a story about George Rashid, the so-called Pickens Leper, a peddler who immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in 1902. According to reports, Rashid was detained in Maryland by railroad employees who thought his disease made him dangerous; the railroad company transported him to its most isolated station, the village of Pickens in the mountains of West Virginia. An enclosure was built to quarantine Rashid in Pickens; possibly, he was kept there against his will. Then I drifted away from Rashid’s biography and my first intentions. I instead wrote about a family whose son immigrates. Before writing about the geographical remoteness and enclosure walls that might erase a man like Rashid, I think I had to write about losing sight and gaining vision, about absence and presence and how they mingle, overlap, may start to resemble one other.

Everywhere Stories Contributor Spotlight: Christopher Woods

Contributor Christopher Woods’s story, “Today, Quite Early,” is set in Mexico. It’s one of 20 stories included in Volume II of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, available now from Press 53, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. He has published a novel, The Dream Patch, a prose collection, Under a Riverbed Sky,and a book of stage monologues for actors, Heart Speak. His work has appeared in The Southern Review, New England Review, New Orleans Review, Columbia and Glimmer Train, among others. His photographs can be seen in his gallery He is currently compiling a book of photography prompts for writers, From Vision to Text.

Christopher Woods’s comment on “Today, Quite Early”—The inspiration for this story came in an ironic way. I was in a swimming pool in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I had a conversation with two women who were also in the pool. As it turns out, they were staying in a much larger resort hotel nearby, but they had come to my smaller hotel because there had been a drowning, of a bridegroom, in their hotel pool the night before. They were spooked. As they told me what had happened, I knew I had a story to write. I needed to decide on a narrator for the story, and that is when I thought of a hotel maid.

Everywhere Stories Contributor Spotlight: Frank Scozzari

Contributor Frank Scozzari’s story, “Too Old for War,” is set in Kenya. It’s one of 20 stories included in Volume II of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, available now from Press 53, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Frank Scozzari lives on the California central coast. He is an avid traveler and once climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. A multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, his award-winning short stories have been widely anthologized and featured in literary theater.

Frank Scozzari’s comment on “Too Old for War”—Traveling once in Kenya I stayed a couple nights in a Masai village. The villagers were very hospitable, sang songs, and shared stories. We were introduced to their customs, food, and their “tools of life,” among them, their weapons. One story was told about an aging tribal king, from which came the inspiration for “Too Old for War.”

Everywhere Stories Contributor Spotlight: Candace Robertson

Contributor Candace Robertson’s story, “Epistolize the Abandoned,” is set in Chicago. It’s one of 20 stories included in Volume II of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, available now from Press 53, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Candace M. Robertson is a freelance writer from southern Louisiana. She received her BA from Columbia College Chicago where she developed an interest in all forms of storytelling. She has spent many years as a transient student and will be finishing her M.Ed. through Concordia University-Portland this year. She has published a couple of flash fiction stories since undergrad. She was also a contributing writer in the 2014 Bacchanal Festival of Southern Rep Theater in New Orleans. And she is now a writing participant in the 6×6 performance submission group. She looks forward to sharing more of her work professionally, but in the meantime, her blog, drawings, online zines, and film shorts can be found at

Candace Robertson’s comment on “Epistolize the Abandoned”–When I was in undergrad in Chicago, the downtown Loop had a very large homeless population. To witness it forced me to consider not only the helpless state of others but my own financial and life limitations. That experience combined with what I’ve since learned about the challenges that homeless teens face and the epidemic of human trafficking inspired “Traffic King.” During my time in Chicago I became friendly with a middle-age man who sat outside of the construction site next door to one of the school’s main buildings. He inspired “Juby’s Keepsake.” But my concern and helplessness to change the situation of so many people led me to write “Bus Stop” from the perspective of the grandmother and “Waiting” from the perspective of the mother. Homelessness is a part of life for so many people living with or in a state of lack. People can feel this isolated or abandoned just above or well below the poverty line. But it’s hard to save yourself or anyone else if you don’t have anything to give.

Everywhere Stories Contributor Spotlight: Brooks Rexroat

Contributor Brooks Rexroat’s story, “All that Water,” is set in Ireland. It’s one of 20 stories included in Volume II of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, available now from Press 53, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Brooks Rexroat is a writer, teacher, and musician. The Cincinnati, Ohio native holds a bachelor of arts degree in print journalism from Morehead State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. A 2014 Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow and 2016-17 Fulbright Scholar in Novosibirsk, Russia, his stories have appeared in Day One, The Montreal Review, Cheap Pop, and Best of Ohio Short Stories Vols. I and II. His debut novel Pine Gap is forthcoming from Peasantry Press. Visit him online at

Brooks Rexroat’s comment on “All that Water”—In 2010, I spent half a year in Ireland as part of a writing fellowship. Among the most striking things I encountered there was the idea of American Wake. Particularly during the third wave of Irish-American immigration, a person or family preparing to emigrate would essentially be subject to a funeral thrown in their honor—an event that could range in attitude from serious passive-aggression with a morbid bit of tenderness. After all, the boat wasn’t guaranteed to make it, and even if it did, separation would likely be permanent. My favorite thing to examine in fiction is the interaction of characters and environment, and the American Wake is a pinpoint moment of suspension between two geographies. In this story, I wanted to examine the decisions we make about location by bringing this antiquated practice into the context of modern immigration.

Everywhere Stories Contributor Spotlight: Brandon Patterson

Contributor Brandon Patterson’s story, “Jonkshon,” is set in Sierra Leone. It’s one of 20 stories included in Volume II of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, available now from Press 53, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Brandon Patterson’s recent work has appeared in Night Train, Thin Air, Free State Review, and The MacGuffin. He is a former fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Brandon’s comment on “Jonkshon”—The story has its roots in an interview I conducted with a middle-aged couple who had fled Sierra Leone and resettled in southwestern Virginia. The husband had worked in upper-level management for a telecom; the wife, much like Mrs. Blair, was educated in the US and had a role with the UN. They had one child, a school-aged girl whose name was a combination of her parents’ first names, and they lived in Freetown near the beach. When asked about why the civil war had started, they blamed it entirely on the rural populations; to paraphrase their descriptions, these people were cocaine-addicted, uneducated, and willfully ignorant provincials. I created “Jonkshon” from two of their stories in which they avoided death despite actions I’d call (at best) obtuse. Maybe they embellished the tale to impress listeners, but if that’s the case they did so at their own expense. Whatever its veracity, the interview stayed stuck in my brain until I wrote about it. When I eventually did, I had to square their accounts with the Sierra Leone remembered by other refugees. Joseph and the story’s eventual direction came from this need, as did some edits and additions made since it was first published.