Monday, November 30, 2009

On Alice Munro

Alice Munro is much revered in MFA programs, including my own at Emerson College. I think it may be law that every MFA graduate read and analyze at least one of her short stories, if not several of her collections.

This annoys many. She's not edgy. Her language isn't flashy or fun. She's not experimental. She's often melodramatic and her plot lines can feel heavily constructed. Plus, her stories mainly take place in her native rural Canada---how unsexy is that? (Sorry Canadians. But really.)

I fell in love with the stories in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage even before I began studying writing at Emerson. "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" (which was made into the film Away From Her ) is the best love story I've ever read. It gave me a new appreciation for what it means to grow old, and what it means to be devoted to another person. I think of it often. Stories that stick with you are great stories.

I like Munro. She chose the short story form because she wrote while she raised children, and it was what she could fit into her life, around nap times and later, the school day. She writes about women, families, and aging. Again, not always sexy material, but material with depth. And she mines it for all its worth.

Her new book, Too Much Happiness, was reviewed in the NYTimes yesterday. I suspect it's worth a read, even if its not her "best work" as the reviewer suggests. Were my best writing Munro's worst, I'd be a happy writer.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Best of Our Stories coming soon...

Dear all,

We have been squeezing in extra hours for the past two months to create the Best of Our Stories volumes 1 & 2. Jo Hsu, our publishing intern this summer was instrumental in getting this done. Today I ordered the final drafts of proofs and I should receive them this week. Baring no additional errors in the volumes they will both be available to order by next week.

On the cover we feature the art work of Saint Louis based Colin Michael Shaw. He was generous enough to lend us the pieces and I am proud to showcase his work. Find more about him at

Stay tuned on ordering instructions!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A View from the World of Book Publishing

In September, Daniel Menaker wrote an illuminating essay about trade publishing from the publisher's perspective. Menaker is the fiction editor of The New Yorker and was the former Executive Editor-in-Chief of Random House so he's got some power and experience on the subject. Go check it out.

Really. Go ahead.

I'll wait.



Fine, fine. I know it's a long piece. So here are some of the bits I found most interesting:

Most trade books do not succeed, financially....Many books that do show a profit show a profit so small that it only minimally darkens a company's red ink.

Not particularly sunny news for those of us hoping to land a book deal, is it? So what books are successful?

[M]ost of the really profitable books for most publishers still come from the mid-list -- "surprise" big hits with small or medium advances, such as that memoir by a self-described racial "mutt" of a junior senator from Chicago. Somehow, by luck or word of mouth, these books navigate around the rocks and reefs upon which most of their fleet -- even sturdy vessels -- founder.

Not so helpful either, is it? How does one become the author of a surprise hit? Menaker doesn't know. No one knows. Much of success is chance. There are too many books published (Menaker guesses 75 "half-decent" ones) per week, and not enough review space to accommodate them.

Okay, now I'm depressing myself. How about something on writers?

[T]his is a business fuelled largely by writers' need for attention, and no one wants to crush any writer's dreams before a book is even published. Especially since every now and then they actually come true....

Usually, writers, like anyone else who performs in public and desires wide recognition, no matter how successful they become, have an unslakeable thirst for attention and approval -- in my opinion (and, I'm embarrassed to say, in my own case) usually left over from some early-childhood deficit or perception of deficit in the attention-and-approval department. You will frequently find yourself serving as an emotional valet to the people you work with.

Great. He thinks we're all nuts and require great coddling. Hmmm. Probably a little true for some of us. Maybe even most of us. So maybe the buried advice here is to get thee into therapy and leave your baggage at the door when you land your book deal and leave your poor editor alone.
Despite their often intense neediness, writers are often fascinating and stimulating company.

Ahhh. Much better. We are stimulating company! And producing thought-provoking literature from us is what Menaker loves most, and wants the reading public to crave, even if he does think there are only "about a million very good -- engaged, smart, enthusiastic -- generalist readers in America."

I'd like to think that the Our Stories audience factors into that million, and that our passion for excellence in the written word will keep the publishing industry from crumbling.

But if not, I guess we'll have online literary magazines to write for and read.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Welcoming our new staff

At Our Stories we seem to increasing our waist line. We started off quite small, there were four others besides myself. It's amazing watching Our Stories grow and increase its pool of talent. This most recent recruitment brings the staff size to 15 staff members.

I'd like to welcome the following staff members into the fold: Cheri Johnson, Steven Ramirez, Kseniya Melnik, MK Hall, Want Chyi and Jennifer Ruden.

They all were thoroughly tested to ensure they would meet the challenge of reading and critiquing your stories.

For now that's all. I've asked them all to chime in and maybe post their bios, otherwise you can find more information here on the staff page.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Makes it all worthwhile

Not often I jump in on the blog, but I have to give a shout-out to writer Dani Raschel Jiménez who completed a workshop with me in May.

Here I sat in my desk chair, still adrenaline-high from my own reading at KGB (it went great, thanks audience, I was even surprised by my current Deluxe workshop student showing up, delightful!) and into my inbox pops the notification that the new issue of Fickle Muses is up, featuring "Reasonably Unforseeable"--a story by none other than our own Dani Raschel Jiménez! "Reasonably Unforseeable" was a really twisty, very magic-realism, practically slipstream story that Dani worked hard. And hard work, as they say, pays off: she made it happen. Read "Reasonably Unforseeable" at! Congratulations Dani--it's fantastic, and all of us at Our Stories are proud of you.