Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Deadline Extended

Tis the season for deadline extensions. I had hoped that the staff and I would be able to saddle up our contest by the end of December. However, due to an influx of stories and scheduling difficulties (ie. family coming into town, Christmas and New Years) we've decided to extend the deadline for a couple of weeks. There's also the little thing called my honeymoon which I'm going on from the 5th of January till the 12th. My wife, made me promise that I wouldn't work while we were on vacation. Being the good husband I am I've decided that it is a good idea to just postpone our deadline two weeks.

Everyone will hear back from us with your customized reviews before February 1st when a new issue will be put up online. If you've already heard from us feel free to submit again--there's no limit to the amount of submissions.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stand by your acceptances...

I was going to do this as my letter for the next issue but F' it, I feel like bloggin' yo.

In Posse Review has been around for a long time. At last count 25 issues. A story of mine was accepted in July of this past year. You can see it now online, it's a small short story doing a small thing. Funny thing about the publication--it was accepted in July but when their issue went up my story wasn't around. Running a literary journal you can imagine my surprise. When you put up an issue missing a story that you'd accepted is a nightmare. It's something that keeps me up at night. So when I didn't see my story I quickly had a panic attack and spasmed my keyboard into action. I wrote the guest editor who had acceptd my story. This is what she had written in July:
I'm happy to say we're accepting What Do You Think for In Posse Review. Please be kind enough to re-send it with your bio pasted in at the end of the story. I'm having cut and paste problems here and am unable to pull off that simple task just now. Should be easier than travelling 8 hours, huh? Thanks very much.
I mean it's clear right? Doesn't get much clearer. Then this is what she wrote after my spasm:
I am very sorry that What Do You Think did not make the final cut- the editor in chief, of course, makes the final call. I must have either been unclear or failed in my "attachment" techniques- but please do know I liked it a lot and that you ought to submit it again or elsewhere if this has done more than puzzled you. I have had similar experiences myself, and it doesn't feel good, I know.
There's no last review, no next round, etc.. When you work at a journal you have to be 100% clear about these things. Now here's my point. Sometimes, it's not about your work. Sometimes it's not about acceptances or rejections. The editors themselves don't have a clue as to what they're doing. The whole incident floored me. There are gatekeepers out there and you just have to plow through rejections and even some acceptances.

So what happened? Well, I went off on this guest editor and cc'd the editor of In Posse Tatyana Mishel who is a damn saint. Within a day she wrote me back and said they had no idea what the guest editor was talking about and put the story up immediately. This is what she said:
I'm so sorry to hear about what's transpired--your story being accepted and
then. If your story was accepted by Margaret, the guest fiction editor, then
it should be accepted. (Do you by any chance have the original email where
she accepted it?) As Editor, I give full reign to our guest editors and do
nothing else than facilitate the story going live. I have never vetoed an
acceptance after the fact.
So this story has a happy ending. However, I want it to be a lesson to all of you. Sometimes a journal out there doesn't have a damn clue. I'm serious. I can't vouch for everyone out there. Not everyone knows good writing--shit--sometimes I don't fn' know good writing (that's why I depend on my staff too) and you should never EVER let this system beat you down. Keep FN' writing. Keep getting your stuff out, ignore your rejections, revise your work till it is accepted and even if it is accepted and then rejected, get it out there again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A 2003 interview with reviewer and blogger BookSlut and Steve Almond

Steve Almond, who Our Stories will interview in our upcoming issue, talked to BookSlut back in August of 2003 about My Life in Heavy Metal & Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America...

Favorite Steve Almond quote: "We've got an anemic literary culture in this country, and we've got to find a way to make people understand how important literature is. That task sounds gushy, but I really think it's the job of literature to awaken mercy in people."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Next interview... Steve Almond.

Author of the short story collections: My Life in Heavy Metal, Candy Freak and the essay collection:
(Not That You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions.

Our question to you guys... what would you like us to ask him?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Take the National MFA Survey!

Did you know that there hasn't ever been a survey conducted about MFA graduates? For real, I'm not kidding you. I mean--the MFA is a pretty unique degree. We write for a couple of years and then spend our lives working on novels, collections of short stories, poetry collections the whole nine yards. It's a tough life to be a professional writer and one filled with intense tough knocks in trying to eek out a living, feel me? Add the spice to this whole mix, being that the MFA is one of the toughest programs to get into in the country. The top 15 programs alone have an acceptance rate of 5%--damn that's low, right? Here's the deal though--what does it get us?
Questions like--how many MFA grads are published have never been answered. Not to mention, how many go on to teach creative writing?
Here's why these questions are important: until we can own the answers ourselves then those who believe the MFA degree is worthless will say what they want about the degree. The lack of empirical evidence allows anyone to believe what they want about the MFA degree. I have already found numerous academics that have quoted erroneous data (see also BS) in order to justify broadside attacks against the MFA in Creative Writing. I'm serious folks. This has made it oh so easy to cut creative writers from departments and justify not allowing the MFA degree to be taken seriously.
Here's what you can do: if you are a graduate of an MFA program then take the survey. Then, step 2--send it to everyone you graduated with and tell them to pass it on as well. Need the link again? Here it is: Now go on--do your country (err) your MFA program proud.

Here's Why We're Fn' Cool

This is Kendra Tuthil, Managing Frickin' Editor of OS. Kendra just took a job rolling around the country in a big rig. If the life of a writer is made up of adventures then Kendra is gonna have enough for another 8 or so novels. Rock it Kendra. We love you at Our Stories--you bad ass trucker.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

thoughts on -fy

So I'm flipping through my dictionary last night and come across the suffix "-fy."

Fascinating suffix. Here's the definition:

"-fy. suffix used to form verbs meaning produce, as in stupefy; cause, as in solidify; and make, as in satisfy."

Consciously recognizing this combination, something long internalized since it's my first language, struck me like I'd uncovered some key. Tumblers shifted, doors unlocked. It compelled me to wander, think about satisfaction, how people rarely are, if they're chasing art.

Artists I know who've become good (I'm thinking about a buddy of mine who makes music under the name Banjo Drill, a guy I grew up with in rural Austinburg, Ohio) have become good by obsessively creating and creating. The urge overwhelms, that absolute need to do art. With music, you sit in front of the technology, the keyboard or guitar, the computer screen. With writing, it's you and paper--kinds of technology, too--and really there's no difference in the apparatus since what's important is that the chasing of art, a word I use deliberately, is chasing something elusive, something you can't get.

It begins in the subconscious: black ocean. Something, a face or shoulder, a hip or twitch of fingers, surfaces. That's what you want to communicate in a story, or in a song or image, as suits you.

You can't. Not fully. Language flickers, illuminates like matches, to use a Virginia Woolf metaphor.

The point is, what we make in art can't really satisfy, not all the time anyway, not lastingly. The combination of object and suffix equals sensation, brain activity that enlivens, it's partly a lie, a high.

But all's not lost. We come close. Artists often do. Gardner's Grendel. Joyce Carol Oates in the best of her fiction. The composer Bach. Others.

Chasing satisfaction, that result of and key to understanding, helps us, fumbling though noble animals we are--helps us understand.

Still, what we finally articulate only approximates the leviathan.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Revision is a Beautiful Thing

For the first 12 years of my education, I missed a concept that is so crucial to writing, revision. For 12 years I thought that there were only two ways to write a paper-the rough draft and the final copy. The rough draft was usually some handwritten piece that didn’t really show any radical transformation in the form of a final copy. In fact, oftentimes a rough draft was optional, something that students did if they felt inspired or had a balding teacher, on the verge of retirement breathing down the back of their neck. For 12 years this is how I thought successful writers functioned, then I went to college.

 In college, I learned, the hard way, that revision is the stuff writing is made of. My revision virginity was lost in Introduction to Women’s Studies to Lucy, a randomly selected peer editor. Lucy was from a small private school in Connecticut, the label on her jeans and the advertisement plastered on her shirt told me more about her economic background than her bank statement probably could have; she was not hurting for any Benjamins. She had a ponytail, daintily placed on top of her head adorned with a ridiculous pink bow, a skin color that screamed “fake ‘n’ bake,” and an attitude that was worse than my grandma’s when she hasn’t gotten her morning cigarette. Lucy’s feedback almost killed my writing dreams.

 “Contractions are a red flag in a college paper, You use the comma incorrectly throughout this entire thing and way too much, this sentence doesn’t even make sense here….” I could keep going, but why relive this painful occurrence? Lucy almost shot down my hopes and dreams of becoming a writing major, almost. I found a way to come back from it all, I humbled myself and started at the beginning, with an Introduction to Writing seminar class. I built my skills from the bottom up and always kept Lucy in the back of my mind for motivation. I learned how to take feedback like a champ and Lucy taught me exactly how to not provide feedback to a fellow writer.

 I took so many writing classes that it’s a wonder I don’t have carpal tunnel syndrome from all of the typing. I didn’t just learn how to write, I learned how to rewrite, how to revise; I learned that as a writer, your work is never done. I learned that revision and feedback are the only ways to improve upon the skills you already have. As a writer, you can’t think you know it all, because if you do, chances for success will be slimmer than the supermodels gracing the catwalk these days.

 Feedback can be extremely hard to swallow. After spending hours perfecting a paper, a story, a poem, the last thing the writer usually wants is someone breaking their writing apart and telling them how to put it back together again. The best thing about feedback is that at the end of the day, it’s still your story and you, as the writer, get to decide what suggestions you want to take and what ones you want to throw away, that’s the writer’s prerogative. In a writer’s world, there’s always going to be at least one Lucy, all that matters is how you choose to handle her. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Adam Haslett Interview

Dear Writers --

Our Stories is proud to offer an interview with Adam Haslett
this coming quarter. Since we're all about it being better to receive than just submit we are asking for our readership submit their questions to Adam here on our blog. From there we will cherry pick some of the best questions and use them in the interview.

Ever wonder about how he got his break? How long he's been writing? Whether he believes is writing is akin to electro-shock therapy to the soul or closer to transendental meditation?

Please make sure you tell us your full name and where you're calling home these days.

For now we hope you enjoy the "summer of love" interview and we wish you all the best.

Write well,

Alexis Enrico Santi

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Making Time

I’m curious—does anyone out there have the time they need to write?

Before I go much further, let me say that I consider myself fortunate: I have enough to eat, I generally get enough sleep, my bank account has just enough in it that I’m not chewing my nails to the quick, I work hard enough to please my boss, most doctors (okay, a few doctors) would say I get enough exercise, I do enough housework to make my wife happy, I keep up with the news enough to be on top of important issues…yet I never seem to have the time I need to write.

With the demands we’re constantly faced with, how are we to carve out the time and space we need to create? Half an hour here and there doesn’t cut it, for we need mental space—to dream a little before we write, to enter that fecund and numinous inner place where words and sentences are born, and then (at some point, anyway) to reflect on what we’ve written. For some—haikuists?—a mere hour a day may suffice. But how are we to get more? And how to maintain that free time and consistently use it well?

Following three years in Vietnam, where I had all the time I could have hoped for to read, research, and write, I moved to Hawaii. The reasons I came here are complicated and not worth going into, but what most marked this move was the dramatic shift in my writing habits. I went from writing a few hours every day to writing a few hours every week. If you’re a novelist—or trying hard to become one—how on earth can you complete your brilliant opus on such a feeble regimen?

If there were a way to petition for more hours in a day, demanding 25, 26, or even 27 hours wouldn’t do it. I think we’d need 30 hours a day—after all, we also need time to read.

I heard on NPR this week that U.S. workers, on average, are given 14 vacation days a year. Most of us don’t even use all 14 days. Shame on us—or are we all insane? In much of Western Europe, workers get over 35 vacation days and they generally take them all.

People talk about how the publishing industry is in desperate need of change, but what seems of greater consequence is our desperate need to change how we live. Anything less than that is a failure to make writing an important part of who we are as intelligent, sensitive, and creative beings. I feel a hollowness within myself when I don’t write, and as the long workdays pile up—and spill over into the weekends—I feel that hollowness painfully expand.

When I stop to think about it, I know I’ve got it pretty good. And one thing I’ve learned since last August is that people who live in Hawaii can’t expect others to listen to them when they complain. But again, that’s not really what I’m doing here. The point of this is to draw attention to the fact that writing—the beautiful, necessary challenge that it is—is hard enough already without time constraints. And I know that others have it much harder—they have children to rear, multiple jobs to attend to each day of the week (with no vacation time, and probably no health insurance either), a war they’re trying to survive, or terrible health problems to recover from.

So…is it just me? Do I simply lack discipline? Am I just getting old and becoming inefficient? “Stop complaining and just make time,” I’ve been told, often in a surprisingly unsympathetic tone. “If you have to, lock yourself in your bathroom and don’t come out until you’ve written one thousand words. I don’t care if this causes friction in your family—or worse. Just do it.”

To be told that I just have to do it really doesn’t help me. To be told that I should sacrifice more sleep than I’m already doing isn’t a solution, either.

But what pleases me—and lets me know that I may be guilty of blowing hot air, despite any earlier suggestion I might have made to the contrary—is the fact that, even if I can’t manage to find time for myself, there are many people out there who can. The stories that appear on our doorstep at Our Stories testify to the fact that good stories can be written, supportive writing communities can be forged, success can be had. And if these things are true, then it’s also true that anyone can find the time they need to realize their goals as writers. While the phrase “just do it” doesn’t do “it” for me, seeing other people succeed does. I find real inspiration in that.

And if others can do it, I know it’s also possible for me to. Sometimes hard decisions need to be made. But as long as a choice exists, one can always choose to write.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Beginning of my Internship

A wet seat, that’s what greeted me as I sat to wait and meet my “boss” a.k.a. Alexis Santi, the man who started this whole thing and who I happened to discover by chance. Actually, my mom discovered him in the glossy publication that my now alma mater, then current school, publishes and distributes amongst their most coveted donors-parents of students.

My mom had called me, excited with the thought that I could still find meaningful experience in a field connected to my degree only a few short months shy of graduation. Needless to say, I applied for the summer internship and was sure I wouldn’t get it, having missed the deadline by two short days. Instead, I got an e-mail requesting an interview and eventually found myself where I am now, a fiction intern at Our Stories.

So began my research, research into how to expand this somewhat small, online magazine, into the world of printed publications without breaking the bank. With the help of Google and the stumbling past many websites that wanted to take authors for all they’re worth, I finally found something. Actually, a bunch of somethings, that were good enough to send to the “boss” to review.

Having never met me, Alexis thought it would be a good idea to finally get together and go over my findings, and that’s when I found myself in a wet seat, outside of a small, excellent place to indulge in carrot cake with crunchy walnuts and thick cream cheese icing: College Town Bagels. Upon planting my butt in the green plastic chair outside, I jumped right back up, like I had just sat on a hot stove, instantly thinking, this is just great. My ass is all wet and I just got here. It’s like getting a wine stain on your white dress after being at a cocktail party for all of two minutes; it sucks and you think that is all people notice about you. Fortunately for me, I only had to stand long enough to order and then venture over to a dry seat with Alexis.

Our first official meeting, that’s what this was. Within minutes, Alexis began pouring out ideas, asking for my opinion, and joking about everything from the internet world of networking to his theories on poetry. I came into the meeting thinking we were just going to chat and go over my findings and left with a list of things to do.

I didn’t just leave with a list, I left with an array of tasks and things, among them, a dry butt. Alexis and I had been talking for so long that what was once wet, now was dry. We had been talking long enough for me to realize that I could really help this small magazine grow into something strong enough to withstand the obstacles that often cause up and coming publications to become defeated in less than five years. We had been talking long enough for me to fully understand the potential and impact a magazine of this unique nature can have on writers and readers. We had been talking long enough for me to realize that a wet butt was the least of my troubles; I needed to get working.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Next Issue of Our Stories: Interview with Junot Díaz along with Best Emerging Writers Summer 2008

This just in:

Featured in our next Interview with a Master section for the summer 2008 issue will be author Junot Díaz. Díaz is the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning writer for his novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" and the highly acclaimed short story collection "Drown". Stay tuned for our next issue where we will be announcing the winner of the Best Emerging Writer of the summer of 2008 along with three to five runners up.

For now, write well.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Make It So | The OS Workshop Blog

At Our Stories we believe in rewriting. We built our literary journal with the philosophy of always giving something back. Every short story that is sent to us receives feedback. We are committed to all of our writers, not just the ones we decide to publish. The next step we see in this process is to do a live review of a story that we believe in. Every quarter we will pick one story that has magic but isn't finished. Every member of the Our Stories staff will give their own thoughts on the story, on how it can be improved--suggestions for a rewrite--and then we open it up for your comments and opinions. When the writer is ready, after they've synthesized all of these thoughts they will work on another draft. Finally, after all is said and blogged and our writer has rewritten their piece and both the staff and the writer feels proud of it, it will be published with Our Stories.

This quarter's story is Make it So, enjoy.


Make It So

GOLLD'N'S CAR WAS ON EMPTY WHEN THE TWO OF YOU, OUT OF CASH AND WITH A MAXED OUT CREDIT CARD, REACHED THE BORDER PATROL STATION ON THE ARIZONA-CALIFORNIA LINE. You told the Border agent your impending problem and asked for directions to the nearest gas station. It was around midnight, so the agent led you to a nearby truck stop. You don’t think he understood that without cash or credit, you couldn’t actually buy the much needed gas. Your hope had been that the Border agent would act as a gas emergency fairy and just give you enough gas to make it home. That offer was never made and the agents didn’t appear to have a magic wand or wear a tutu, so you guessed that free gas was not going to appear.

As you followed behind the Border patrol jeep, you hatched a new desperate idea with Golld’n. The two of you had a receipt from your dinner in LA with the private detective Golld’n’s mother had sent after you that had the detective’s full credit card number listed. If you could get the gas station employee to punch in the numbers without the actual card being presented, you could get some gas. It wasn’t actually stealing because the P.I. would eventually figure out the charge and bill it to Golld’n’s mother, assuming that the detective was worth the large sum of money Mrs. Himmings was no doubt paying him to find you. You decided that if you ever dropped out of college and ran away again, you weren’t going to take someone with you that came from money because then you had problems like private detectives tracking you down.

Golld’n sent you in to the station to try to talk the attendant into your scheme. Her theory was that you were better looking so you would have a better chance of cajoling the worker into doing what you wanted, assuming the employee was male. When you walked in to the fried chicken grease and smoke laden air of the truck stop, you saw the guy behind the counter and knew that your plan wouldn’t work. You didn’t have a lot of experience with drugs or people on drugs, but you could tell from twelve feet away that the young employee was not going to be able to say hello to you, much less figure out how to manipulate the credit card machine. You were desperate, though, so you tried anyway. Eyes glassy, a little drool leaked out the corner of his mouth and it had nothing to do with your good looks. You presented your problem and showed him the receipt. He looked at you and over at the credit card machine and shook his head. He didn’t even try. You couldn’t really blame him. If you were that high and strung out, you wouldn’t have tried either. Defeated and beating back a severe anxiety attack, you went back to the car. “It won’t work,” you told Golld’n.

She started to cry. Through her crocodile tears, she blubbered, “I can’t sleep here. I can’t even go to the bathroom. We have to fix this. I can’t be homeless.” Seriously, the situation was bad, but she didn’t need to be a drama queen about it. You leaned back against the navy velour fabric seat and tried to think. You had always been taken care of and had a dad, a brother, one of dad’s employees, or a friend that would bail you out of bad situations, so this was a new experience – to be desperate and alone. You were fully aware of the irony of the situation – you ran away because you were being smothered and now you needed the very people that smothered you.

“Call the apartment complex and see if someone will help us,” Golld’n sniffled.

“What, exactly, would they do?” you asked her. “We don’t know anyone there. It’s after midnight and we’re four hours away.”

“OK….let me think,” she closed her eyes and took deep breaths. Golld’n had lived a rougher life than you. Her parents had plenty of money, but she had dabbled in drugs and was sexually active in high school. You were pretty sure she was dealing drugs from the kitchen at the Olive Garden where she worked, but you needed the money so you weren’t going to ask. Paying rent and utilities was taking almost everything, so any extra money was used for food. The two of you were currently living on Bisquik and dollar store peanut butter. Oddly enough, despite the surgeon general’s recommendations of four food groups and a balanced diet for healthy living, you were losing weight on your carb and cheap fat diet. While you liked the way you were beginning to look, you suspected that you might have an eating disorder. However, you didn’t really have time to worry about that while working three jobs just to survive.

Possible starvation was one of the reasons you agreed to meet Mrs. Himming’s PI. When your uncle, the only member of your family you were talking to, called and set up the meeting with the P.I., he said the P.I. offered to buy you dinner and you weren’t going to turn down free food. Your brilliant idea had been to have him meet you as far away from your actual location as possible. That’s how you ended up having lunch with him in LA. Your apartment was in the ghetto section of Phoenix, and in your supreme ignorance, the two of you thought the P.I. wouldn’t figure that out. That was kind of his job, though.

Golld’n put her hand over yours and patted it. The crocodile tears had stopped. “I have an idea, and I need you to listen before you object. We’re in a bad situation, and we’ve got to do something to get out of it. I would never ask you to do this normally, but I think it might work. And you don’t have to do anything really bad, just enough to get $20 or $30 so we can make it back to Phoenix.”

You looked at the eighteen wheelers around you and pondered the merits of hitch-hiking.

“Hang out by the front door for a while and see if anyone talks to you. If they do,” she said, “and they aren’t too awful, why don’t you offer them a few minutes of your time?”

You looked over at her to see if she was kidding. She wasn’t seriously asking you to prostitute yourself. Really? REALLY? No. Nope. No. That was not in your realm of possibilities.

“You really want me to go sleep with some nasty trucker?” you asked her.

“You don’t have to actually sleep with them. There are other things you can do for that amount of money. Usually you would make at least a $100 for actually sleeping with them and we don’t need that much.”

You didn’t want to know how she knew something like that. Maybe she just watched too much t.v.? Golld’n’s face was only illuminated by the light from the car’s digital clock, but you could see that she wasn’t looking at you as she talked. She should have been afraid to look at you. She was your best friend, and that was her brilliant idea to save the two of you. You felt the need to vomit, preferably on her.

“Um, no. No. I’m not going to do it. If it’s such a great idea, you do it. You’re more experienced at those things anyway.”

Golld’n didn’t seem offended that you had just implied she was a slut. “You’re more the type that would be picked up here. I’m more of an acquired taste.”

The crappy, crappy part was that she was probably right. She was 6’1 and 15-20 pounds underweight with gorgeous ebony skin and extremely short dark curly hair, closer to a buzz cut than any Hally Bery inspired look. On first impression, most people labeled her gay. Whether she was, wasn’t important, especially not then. How big a hole do you have to be in to be disappointed and bordering on heart broken that your best friend can’t pimp herself out?

She started crying again, and you got out of the car. You’re pretty sure you weren’t going to go find someone to pay you for night time services, but you’re not sure what you were actually going to do. You had the credit card receipt in your jeans pocket. Maybe you were going to try the gas station attendant again and try to beat into his head how dire it was that he helped you.

Even at that late hour, eighteen wheelers and cars were moving in and out of the pump lanes with surprising consistency. A black Rolls Royce with dark tinted windows pulled into the pump closest to the station door. Staring at the car under the flickering neon lights, you decided that if you had to be with someone to get gas, it was going to be the Rolls Royce person. You figured that someone with the money to get that kind of car would probably take regular showers and have enough self respect to not have any communicable diseases or at least be medicated if they did have some nasty rash or unhealthy bumps. You couldn’t really do it, though. The idea was so awful that it couldn’t fully penetrate your head.

You aren’t sure how long you stood by the gas station door trying to separate yourself from the noxious smells and disease-ridden expectations around you, but it was long enough to make Golld’n get out of the car to join you. “If you’re just going to stand there, you’ll miss out on the fast money,” she complained to you.

You stared at her. Who was this person?

“I’ll find someone for you,” she told you. “Just keep standing there and close your mouth. You look special or something.”

You went into the station to get away from her. You were guessing that the devil would be sucking her into hell soon and you didn’t want to fall in with her. Through the greased streaked door, you could see her talking to a man, dingey blue suspenders bowing around his bulging stomach, that had just gotten out of an eighteen wheeler. You would rather stab yourself in the eye than have dinner with him, and dinner wasn’t what Golld’n was most likely setting up.

The gas station worker was going to have to come down from whatever drug induced high he was on fast because he was going to have to save you. You put the receipt on the counter, warmed by the heat lamp in the glass display case filled with day old hot dogs and fried chicken with skin thickened by congealed grease at least a week old, and pushed it toward him. “Ok,” you tried again. “I need you to try this, please. Work with me.” His eyes rolled in your direction but his skeletal face didn’t turn toward you. “Can you please, please, punch these numbers in the machine over there? I’m out of gas and this is all I’ve got.” You heard your voice crack and you could hear your thoughts like they were voices outside of you, apart from you. Desperation was burning your stomach and filling your lungs with thick darkness, causing your breathing to be rapid and shallow. Maybe you would hyperventilate and pass out. Then you couldn’t perform any soul damning actions.

Your vision narrowed and you might have been close to blacking out except that you were still aware of the smell of the sweaty attendant and the exhaust from the idling trucks. Then you felt a hot, heavy hand clumsily pat your shoulder. You didn’t turn around. You couldn’t. You didn’t want to see what man Golld’n had sent in for you. It couldn’t happen.

“Go get the gas,” the man said. With those words, all of the hope, safety, warmth, and breath evaporated from your body. You couldn’t breathe, but you couldn’t find the thoughts or energy to care. You couldn’t focus on any thought and you weren’t sure if it was because your mind was racing or if your brain had just shut down.

Despite the overwhelming despair taking over your body, you still had enough muscle control to turn around and face your tour guide to a world where being a good Baptist girl that graduated at the top of her class and went to church every Sunday was not exempt or somehow above this seedy situation.

You knew immediately that the guy was in the mob. He fit all the stereotypes – greasy, over-weight, gold chains, purple velour jogging suit, slicked back, thinning black hair, and hairy knuckles. Your dad had once run a trucking company that was owned by the mob in Detroit, so you knew the type. People say the mob is gone, but that’s a lie. Not only was it a lie, but you were about to be sold to a member of the mafia family. Maybe you could be a mob princess. You bet that when mob princesses run out of gas, they snap their fingers and some goon shows up and takes care of everything. They never have to talk to drugged out, skinny, nasty smelling gas station attendants who don’t have the brain power to properly use a credit card machine. They probably…okay, focus. Focus. The guy was looking at you like you might be slow. You were feeling a tad slow, so it was appropriate.

Hell. Hell. Hell, hell, hell. You were being pimped out by your best friend to a mob guy. You probably didn’t even know how to do any of the things he would expect, even for $20.

“Go get the gas,” he said again. “I’ll pay for it after you fill up.”

Curse words flooded your brain but you managed to ask, “What do you want?” You knew the answer was going to be your soul even though he probably wouldn’t call it that. Your life was about to become an after school special on the dangers of running away and having a drug dealer as a best friend. You hoped the dark headed chick from Saved By the Bell would play you.

If you sold yourself due to desperation, was it still a damnable sin? But, then, were you actually, really contemplating damning your soul to hell for a tank of gas? You were sure that if you were rational, well fed, and not sleep deprived that you could come up with a better solution. Right now, though, you couldn’t figure it out. You guessed that you really needed a more noble reason than a tank of gas. Noble desperation canceled out unimaginable acts, right?

The man shook his head at you and pulled out a roll of money held together by a rubber band. “Just get the gas and go. If I see you again, you can pay me back.”

You tried to hand him the credit card receipt. “Write down your address and I’ll send you the money when we get home.” You didn’t want to owe him. You knew from watching Al Capone movies that it was a bad life decision to owe the mob.

He shook his head again and repeated himself. “Just get the gas and go. If I see you again, you can pay me back.”

You should have questioned why the man was willing to pay, but you didn’t. He was saving you from having to take up the oh-so glamorous and upwardly mobile profession of prostitution, so you did what he told you.

You joined Golld’n in the car. She tried to say something, but you told her not to speak to you. You filled up the car, not explaining to her, and looked back to see the mob guy in the gas station before you pulled away. You wanted him to know you weren’t just some deadbeat kid that bummed money off of strangers on a regular basis. You came from a good family. You had good manners and suspected that this situation required a special kind of thank you note, but you didn’t have his address. You wanted to at least wave, but when you looked back, the strung-out station attendant was alone at the counter.

--- Caroline B.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Coming soon... TC Boyle comes to the pages of Our Stories...


Our Stories: On the matter of his process: Because he writes alot and he writes quickly, I'd like to know how many drafts a novel goes through? Does he let anyone see his first draft? Does he map out his novel and then shade in the details afterwards? (This last one I'd really like to know.)

TC Boyle: There is one draft to all stories and novels, but that draft is worked and reworked daily. When I reach The End it is time for one long fine-tuning and then press SEND. Each of the works is organic, developing structurally day by day. This is the only way I've ever worked. (It may derive from my undergrad days when I would compose very late papers in a single draft because of a great and pressing need.)

Keep checking the site and let us know what you think when we go live.

Monday, March 24, 2008

what is success?

I've been wondering what constitutes success as a writer.

Is it publishing a short story? Two short stories in a year? Ten? Or must it be a collection?

If you call yourself a fiction writer and you sell an article you hated writing, is that a success?

Does it have to do with where your stories are published? Which is a bigger success: publishing a story for fifty bucks in a rant-journal only locals read, or publishing a story for free in a beautiful national print journal where you get two author's copies?

Is it all about the money? If you publish your novel with Random House and they refuse to buy your second book because of mediocre sales on the first, is that worse than self-publishing and selling 500 copies and keeping all the profits?

Or prizes? Is winning a prize more of a success than actually seeing the story in print?

My head is spinning.

Perhaps it's just art: success lies in how you feel about it. In that case, the author who gets hives over the horrible cover art chosen for her second novel is in worse shape than the guy who is over the moon that the New York Times actually printed a letter he sent them.

Honestly. What is success?

I have no answers. Only questions. Do comment.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Our Stories Heads off into the Bloggin' World

Hey All,

A while back JK and I were kicking around the idea that we should do a blog. Then we got busy. I forgot about it. He reminded me. Then he forgot about it. Then I reminded him. Finally, I said, "why not just do it." So here it is.

Over the course of the next three weeks you're going to see some changes to Our Stories. This year we've decided to shake some things up a bit and build on what we've been doing. For now--just want to say hey to everyone and you'll hear more from us soon.


Alexis E Santi