Monday, March 28, 2011

Meg Pokrass author of DAMN SURE RIGHT

Meg Pokrass is a mistress of flash fiction, her new book, DAMN SURE RIGHT has been praised by Frederick Barthelme, Kyle Minor, and my friend Jessica Anya Blau, among others.  Meg is a rare voice in the crowded room of fiction: honest, brave, funny and tender: she says it like it is without apology or explanation and I think that is what makes her work so breathtaking.  Meg has written a guest post about the writer in public.  It is one thing to write your truth, it is entirely another to say it out loud. Please join me in welcoming Meg... see you in the comments!

The Serious Writer and her Pussy

The serious writer has embraced the word “pussy”. Other words for this part of the female anatomy are repugnant, carnivorous. 

A pussy has a life of its own. A secret life. One can smuggle drugs inside a pussy. 

As a serious writer, in mid-life, she must master speaking the word “pussy” with confidence and authority. She practices doing so out loud for her next book store reading. The serious writer is starting a book tour to promote her new novel which is bursting with ‘pussy'. 

She practices reading in front of the mirror, engaging her slightly furrowed brow... medium voice...

"'I love your pussy,' Ian says softly to Trina, his hooded eyes at half mast," the serious writer reads to her refection in the mirror.

“'I love cock', Trina offers, imagining his range of movement.” 

Her dialogue is raw. Edgy.
The serious writer is known for this. 

"'You're huge, Ian... my my my...' and she is touching it through his cords. She is feeling its neck, perhaps its beak... but doesn't want to frighten Ian by admitting to her deepening fear...her hunger,” the serious writer reads.

"'My god. You're damp,' Ian says, stroking her muff, her moistened ball of hair, the underwear covering Trina's pussy," the serious writer says, her voice tiring.

(The serious writer is sick of the adjective “wet”. She is experimenting with other adjectives. She wonders if a man would really say ‘damp'... Not just any man... but Ian, the vegetarian with an occasional weakness for farm raised fowl.)

She looks at her face in the mirror. It is a successful face, one that has accepted three Gertrude Smallwood awards. A face that should not have any trouble with the word 'pussy' for fuck's sake.

“Pussy,” she says it again. She says it, right to her face.
Meg Pokrass is the author of Damn Sure Right, a book of 88 flash fiction stories from Press 53. Of "Damn Sure Right,"  Frederick Barthelme says "Meg Pokrass writes like a brain looking for a body. Wonderful, dark, unforgiving". Meg’s flash fiction, poems and animations have appeared in The Rumpus, Wigleaf, Gigantic, Used Furniture Review, Joyland, PANK, Big Muddy, Gargoyle, The Pedestal, Keyhole, Moon Milk Review, Annalemma, Mississippi Review, FRIGG, Smokelong Quarterly, elimae, Bananafish, Ramshackle Review, A-Minor Magazine, Monkeybicycle, Everyday Genius, 3AM, Foundling Review, Mud Luscious, Juked, Eclectica, Word Riot and various upcoming anthologies of flash.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Katrina Kittle author of THE BLESSINGS OF THE ANIMALS

I'm thrilled to have Katrina Kittle as a guest on the blog.  The author of Two Truths and a Lie, Traveling Light and the latest, The Blessings of the Animals, the award winning Kittle writes passionate stay-up-late-at night stories with vivid, wonderfully poignant characters.  She has the uncanny ability to write about the quiet moments in life that fill our days with wit, passion, humor and empathy.  The moments that make us human.  In the following post she writes of the inspiration for The Blessings of the Animals.  It will endear you to Katrina, an animal lover, gardener, cook, teacher and writer even more... and if you haven't read the book yet, I predict you will very, very soon.  As always, I'll see you in the comments!

A Horse, A Cat, and a Man (or, the initial inspiration for my novel, The Blessings of the Animals)

I had a horse, a cat, and a man in my life for the same fifteen years.

And, then, within a year, I lost them all.

The horse and the cat died. The man simply decided he didn’t want to be married anymore.

The horse and the cat helped me deal with the loss of the man.

The man was brooding and moody, essentially unhappy. Why that is so appealing to a young woman is beyond me, but I fell for it. He also loved books, was an intrepid traveler, and made a mean mocha. He attended every single performance in the run of a show I was in when we met.

The cat —Montgomery—was no bigger than a fist when I stopped at a red light and saw him nearly drowning in a rain-filled gutter. He had the gumption to hiss at me when I opened my car door and plucked him out of the storm. Within seconds of being wrapped in a fresh-from-the-dryer saddle pad, he was unconscious. When he woke, hours later, we fell in love.

He grew into one of those giant yellow toms with boxing glove paws—complete with the extra toes. He understood the concept of tag. He sat on my chest for nine hours when I returned from surgery for a broken nose, dashing away to eat or use his litter box only when the man was with me. When I wrote, he had an unsettling habit of watching my face as I typed as if he were listening to the story being told.

The horse—Degas—belonged to my friend Judy. A leggy elegant bay thoroughbred like the racehorses in Degas paintings, he’d been abused at the track and had an unpredictable, jittery edge. Always seething, he once took another horse by the throat and tried to kill it.

Many a time I sat atop a more seasoned horse watching Judy and Degas whirl around on a muddy trail, hashing out a disagreement about whether we were going forward or back to the trailer.

I didn’t question Judy’s devotion to him, though. I’d ridden him. The fluid gliding walk, the floating trot, the forward momentum—riding any other horse felt like a dull chore after being on Degas. Plus, his resentful wariness was a challenge. I had a sullen man, after all.

One day, after grooming him, I turned to leave his stall and he grabbed my fleece jacket in his teeth. After my pulse stopped racing, as he held the fleece and tugged, I realized he wasn’t trying to bite me—he was saying, “don’t go.” When he did it again the next day, my jacket was unzipped and I shrugged out of it, to see what he’d do. He held the jacket out of my reach for several minutes, playing “keep away,” then dropped it…only to snatch it up again just as I got close.

Between the playful interactions, he’d return to his ears-laid-back, teeth-bared fury. He continued his tantrums on the trail, insisting on being the lead horse, treating every ride like a race, unable to relax.

Then, one day, for reasons known only to him, Degas released the anger of his past. I rode him, a periwinkle sky above us, the woods spicy with the tea-like odor of moist decay, the confetti of saffron and crimson leaves falling down all around us. At a narrow place in the trail, we fell behind Judy and the horse she rode. I expected Degas to fume. He’d been known to bite the butts of horses who blocked him from the lead.

But he sighed. His staccato jerkiness smoothed and slowed. I scratched his withers, the reins long. His hooves crunched an even cadence through the fallen leaves. When Judy called, “You okay?” I was startled to see we’d falled nearly twenty yards behind. Degas’ ears were floppy and sideways. He didn’t hurry to catch up. He was just ambling.

Judy and I worried that he must be ill. We felt apologetic about our assumptions later when it became apparent that he was simply…happy. After years of fretting and fussing and being enraged, he just let it all go.

Degas became as reliable as any other horse in the barn. He loved to have his tail scratched and would stretch his neck giraffe-like and snap his teeth together, the equine equivalent of a dog thumping his leg when you scratch just the right spot. Like an impish kid, he loved to pull my jacket from a hook and toss it on the ground, then crane his neck and look away, feigning innocence.

I took great solace in Degas when Montgomery grew ill. The cat became aggressive and foreign—jumping on me in my sleep, snarling, seeming not to recognize me, even biting me. He began to have seizures that left him bewildered. Once, sprawled in my lap, he experienced a seizure that lasted a full, tortured minute, during which he urinated all over me and the couch. Another seizure sent him tumbling down a flight of stairs.

The vet discovered an inoperable brain tumor. I lost something palpable as I watched all evidence of Montgomery’s presence slide away—the cat’s euthanized corpse immediately looked nothing like him. Some part of my heart left the room that day as clearly as his being did.

No sooner had I planted impatiens on Montgomery’s grave but Degas went lame. The horse had Cushing’s Disease and was prone to founder—inflammation in his legs. He had to be kept on a dry lot and denied sugary treats like apples or carrots. He developed laminitis, which caused the bottoms of his hooves to swell. He walked in a small, cramped shuffle. His coat, unable to shed, curled into sickly-sweet smelling, sweaty cowlicks.

When he could no longer walk, he’d let me sit crosslegged in his stall, with his head in my lap.

When he had to be put down, I felt as if I’d had a limb amputated.

I experienced that feeling again a month later when my husband told me he didn’t want to be married anymore, packed his car, and left.

I was unraveled with sorrow. Flattened. Leveled. But once I put myself back together, like Degas, I was pissed. I carried my anger and betrayal like a pack on my back. I had been done wrong, and it colored everything I did—every interaction I had, every action I took, every word I said.

Months later, exhausted, unhappy, too thin and haggard, I heard someone (not referring to me) speak of a “bitter divorced woman” and felt my limbs fill with ice water. Had I become one? That pack on my back was heavy.

And I thought of dear Degas and that moment on the autumn trail.

I could be the angry victim…or I could be happy. Dragging that damn pack around kept me connected to my ex, kept a direct line open to the heartache.

I dumped the pack. Abandoned it right there on the trail.

Oh, occasionally it would catch up and find me again, secure itself to my back, but each time it did, it weighed less, and each time it became easier to shrug off.

I didn’t reduce Montgomery’s memory to the final act of peeing and convulsing in my lap—I could remember him for the time he fell into the bathtub with me, for the way he wiggled his way cocoon-like under the fitted sheet to nap, for his junkie-thief ability to locate and retrieve catnip no matter how thoroughly I’d hidden it in the house. I didn’t reduce Degas’ memory to being unable to stand for three days—I could remember Degas for lifting my ginger ale can and tipping it back, drinking it like a person. Or for the way he loved the blue chicory that grew in late summer and could “get” me every time, jerking his head down to snatch a snack as we strolled in a field. Or for the silly way he liked to paddle in the creek with a front leg, soaking me with his splashing.

So why had I reduced my history with my ex to one cowardly act on a snowy day? 

I eventually came to remember the gifts of my marriage, those times we cherished each other. It was easier to remember our awe as we stood watching a grizzly walk away from our tent in Alaska than to be angry. Or the way, when camping, we’d forget every time and give each other bug-sprayed kisses that made us spit. I could remember my ex for the way he curled his toes inward, monkey-like, when he sat reading, or the way he loved to nap in hammocks, or the filet he could grill to perfection. I could remember him following on foot over a mile to take my favorite photo of me and Degas in the creek. I could remember the flowers he bought me the day we buried Montgomery.

Remembering helped. You never forget the pain, but it helps also not to forget the love.

Katrina is the author of Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie, and The Kindness
of Strangers, and the newly released The Blessings of the Animals (August 2010).
The Kindness of Strangers was a BookSense pick and the winner of the 2006 Great
Lakes Book Award for Fiction. Early chapters from that novel earned her grants
from both the Ohio Arts Council and Culture Works. The Blessings of the Animals
was an Indie Next pick (August 2010), a Midwest Connections pick (September
2010), and chosen by the Women’s National Book Association as one of ten Great
Group Reads for National Book Group Month (October 2010). Katrina is thrilled to
announce that her first "tween" novel, Reasons to Be Happy, will be published by
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in Fall 2011.

She has taught high school and middle school English and theatre. She has also
worked as a house cleaner, a veterinary assistant, a children’s theatre
director, a costumer, and as case management support for an AIDS Resource

When not writing, Katrina enjoys gardening, cooking, traveling, acting, and time
spent in the presence of animals (especially horses). She lives in Dayton, Ohio
with her fat cat and a kickass garden.!/katrinakittle

Monday, March 7, 2011

Emily Gray Tedrowe author of COMMUTERS

Commuters (HarperCollins 2010) was the first book I was asked to blurb so it will always hold a special place for that reason, but also for the delicate beautiful story of two people falling in love at the end of their lives.  For those of you who have not read Emily Gray Tedrowe's book, I am not giving anything away.  The main characters are in octogenarian territory, one close, one already there, and this new union causes anxiety for every person in their lives, except them, mostly for selfish reasons.  Emily writes of this passion, of taking second chances, so effortlessly, so engagingly, you will be drawn into the world of this late-in-life couple and won't want to leave.  Among the notables that agree with me in this stellar debut novel are the Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Review, Kirkus, Booklist, Entertainment Weekly (Best New Paperback) as well as Target who named the book to their amazing Breakout Book program. 
Please welcome Emily to the blog, as always, I'll see you in the comments!

Moments in parenting, in writing: a mother reflects     

1) My first child, my daughter, is three weeks old.  I’ve moved past exhaustion into a nether-world of too-bright colors, too much caffeine, and very little humor.  When my mother-in-law offers to come over once a week to give me a break I’m so relieved I probably cry.  I cry a lot in those days.  It would be the first time I separated from my daughter—she even slept in bed with my husband and me—and the very idea is sad, is exhilarating.  What do I want to do? My mother-in-law asks.  Take a nap?  Go to a movie?  See a friend?

Write, a voice inside me says, against every inclination I have to sleep, sleep, sleep.  So that first day I trudge to a coffee shop down the block.  For a while I just sit there, off balance from the sudden proximity of other people.  I just want to be in bed.  Or holding my baby.  In bed holding my baby. After a while I open my notebook.  Whose thoughts are these?  Bit by bit, I pick up the thread and find my way back into the story.

(Thank you, Karri, for the gift of that time.)

2) She is now one year old.  I’m caught up in a short story about an imagined day in the life of Jim Croce, the (real) singer-songwriter.  What I need are photos, biographical details, music sheets—and I find them, online, but that’s not enough.  I push my daughter in her stroller up twenty blocks or so to the main branch of Chicago’s library.  Her face lights up at the sight of the looming gargoyles, but today we don’t go to the children’s room.  Instead, I hand her toys and rattles and contraband Cheerios while paging through reference materials, scribbling whatever looks useful, steadfastly ignoring the glances that come our way.  My daughter strains against her stroller straps, makes noises that are cheerful, and then agitated.  I unbuckle her and she crawls around the floor while I flip through Jim Croce’s liner notes.  She cries and I breastfeed her, sitting at a table with researchers and street people.  It’s a race against time now to get home before her nap, so I copy whatever I can, writing left-handed when I need to, a sweet girl on my lap and a story in my head.

(Thank you, library guard, for your patience that day.)

3) 5:15 am, my alarm goes off.  This is the worst part, I tell myself, that painful sound and the climbing out of a warm bed.  If I can make it through these moments (I can’t always, especially after nights where we’re up with a crying child), the rest gets easier.  Coffee helps.  And a quick bleary tour of the internet.  Soon enough I’m writing, slow at first and then faster, better, as the caffeine kicks in and I wake up to my novel. 
            We have two girls now, one infant and one preschooler, and they are sleeping upstairs while I write at my desk for this one hour before the sun comes up.  When it does, they’ll be awake, and loud, and need milk and breakfast and diaper changes.  But for now, it’s quiet.  I’ve shut off the baby monitors; my husband will hold them at bay if they wake up too early.  I can work now, one eye on the clock, both hands on the keyboard.

(Thank you, Courtney, for those mornings.)

4) My youngest is two and a half.  She’s in her high chair, waiting for a snack.  I’m snappish, discombobulated, wishing I could be alone.  My novel has been on the market for three weeks, and I’m not handling it very well.  Several times, I get my heart broken when an editor says she loves the book, but eventually passes on it.  I check my email forty times an hour.  I bark at my kids.  I can’t sleep.
            When my cell rings, I’m spreading peanut butter on apple slices for a hungry, fussy toddler.  At the sight of my agent’s number on the screen, my heart skips a beat.  She tells me that we have an offer for my novel, from an editor and a publishing company I hadn’t dared to hope for.  Phone wedged between cheek and shoulder, I shriek and laugh and dance, to the delight of the startled girl in the highchair.  Minutes later, I get off the phone, dazed.  My daughter is puzzled; she’s holds up what I’ve given her—a butter knife.  Later, we discover apple slices in the cutlery drawer.

(Thank you, Alice, for sharing motherhood and work with me.  And for that life-changing phone call!)

5)  It’s a hot late-spring day and I fear I’ve already sweated through my fancy new silk blouse.  The girls are absorbed by a kids craft project but we’re smack in the middle of a packed book fair and the crowds are making me nervous.  I’m also worried; will my husband make it from work in time to watch them before my panel begins?  It’s the first event for my book tour, and I so wish I didn’t have to be mom right now.  I don’t have the luxury of pre-reading nerves, because I’m fending off two sets of glitter-glue hands from my black pants.
            Courtney arrives, and we all go into the small auditorium.  I meet my fellow “first time author” panelists, and note that none of them have brought children.  In fact, there are no other kids in the rapidly filling room, aside from mine.  Crap.  Not for the first time, I doubt my ability to balance this hybrid mom/writer life.
            While my youngest is kept busy (and quiet) in a discreet back row with my husband’s iPhone, my older daughter, now 7, chooses to sit in the very first row.  Directly in front of me.  She clutches a copy of Commuters and beams at every word I say.  My heart fills, and when it’s my turn, I find myself reading to her.  With love.

(Thank you to my daughters.  For everything.)

Emily Gray Tedrowe lives in Chicago.  Her first novel, Commuters, was named a Target Breakout Book and an IndieBound Next Notable pick.  Visit her on the web at

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Greg Olear author of Totally Killer and Fathermucker

Greg Olear and I met on The Nervous Breakdown where he is a senior editor.  He and I are also published by Harper Collins along with Jessica Anya Blau (Drinking Closer to Home
and Susan Henderson (Up From The Blue), a talented group I still can't believe I belong to.... and it's been great getting to know all of them as we navigate the publishing world together.  If you hear writers are a snarky, unsupportive bunch, well, I haven't met any of them, quite the opposite.

Enough about us, this is about Greg, and I can't be more excited about his hilarious guest post. Greg is one of those writers who is articulate as he is witty, possesses an unnerving understanding of the celebrity sub-culture as reported by US Weekly, all the while being well-versed in a variety of topics both political and social and can write his way out of a damn paper bag. I had the honor of reading his forthcoming novel, FATHERMUCKER, about the day in the life of a stay-at-home dad who finds out his wife may or may not be cheating on him, and was honored to offer a blurb.  I could compare Greg's writing to a combination of Nick Hornby and Tom Perrotta, but I fear I would be doing Greg a dis-service, because his voice is distinctly his own.  Funny, at times tender, and always achingly and accessibly human, you will run to get this new book.  For now, until October 2011, we have Greg here on the blog.  As always, I'll see you in the comments!

Eight Reasons Why Stay-at-Home Dads Are Better Than Stay-at-Home Moms
By Greg Olear

A quick caveat, before you hit me with a rolled-up Ms. magazine: I don’t really think stay-at-home dads are better than stay-at-home moms. That was just a ruse, to get you to click the link. Besides, everybody knows that the ideal child-raising set-up is not to have just one parent at home, but rather to be adopted by the Jolie-Pitts.

That said, if necessity dictates that one half of the couple remain at the hearth to keep the proverbial home fires burning, there are some advantages to having that person be Dad.  To wit:

1. We can fix stuff.
Although there are probably dozens of women adept at re-tarring roofs and snaking drains, home repairs tend to fall under our bailiwick. If something stops working in our house, and I’m not around, here’s what my wife does: she calls me in a panic. “The wireless router isn’t working,” she’ll say, or, “The thermostat is on the fritz,” or, “Help!  There’s a bug,” and that will end her involvement with the problem.  If Dad is the first responder, we can have the Internet humming, the furnace serviced, and the spider crushed before Mom even knows something’s wrong.

2. We’re good with heavy lifting.
A friend of mine summed up the balance of power in married life thus: “All husbands are good for is schlepping stuff.” He’s divorced now, but he makes a good point. Not that women can’t haul stuff—y’all do Pilates and yoga and spin class; you’re strong—but I think even Betty Friedan would concede that when it comes to lugging canvas bags laden with $200 worth of juice boxes, tomato sauce jars, kitty litter, and cases of Caffeine Free Diet Coke, we’re more genetically suited to the task.

3. Our material needs are simpler.
Stay-at-home moms have a reputation for dowdiness that is completely undeserved.  You may keep your hair short, but you still get it cut, and colored, and blown out—not to mention the obligatory mani-pedi—with far greater frequency than the minivan gets an oil change. And just because your clothes are “comfy” doesn’t mean there aren’t closets full of them; my wife has more workout pants than I have articles of clothing period.  We SAHDs are simpler. A pair of jeans, a modest rotation of ironic t-shirts, a decent pair of shoes, a fifteen-minute trip to the barbershop every two months, and we’re good to go.

4. We won’t take up with the help.
Painters, exterminators, plumbers, gardeners, landscapers, pool boys, UPS guys, electricians, movers—pretty much everyone who comes to work on the house during the day is a dude. Overworked and undersexed stay-at-home moms might be tempted by the strapping young buck with the weed whacker. Not us. Remember the bohunk who painted the Sopranos’ dining room and wound up getting all flirty with Carmela?  Something tells me he wouldn’t have put the moves on Tony.

5. Our presence makes our kids more confident.
An important study at Harvard (Or was it Stanford? I don’t remember, and I can’t find it on Google, but I’m pretty sure someone posted it on Facebook a few months ago) found that having a father prominently involved with raising a child during the first two years is a big boon to said child’s confidence going forward. Daughters in particular really benefit from having Daddy around. In short, the more time we spend with our little girls, the less likely they are to wind up on the sixteenth season of Teen Mom.

6. We’re immune to mommy politics.
Your friend Jen is pissed at your friend Lisa because Lisa never commented on, or even “liked,” the photo Jen tagged her in on Facebook, and this afternoon, both of them are coming to a playdate at your house, so the contents of the diaper may hit the fan. This is the sort of thing that drives SAHMs insane. Not us dads. No one expects us to choose sides in internecine mommy battles. We’re like the chaperones at a high school dance—we stand idly by the bowl of punch (or pot of coffee, as it were) and watch the drama unfold.

7. It’s in our nature.
Pop culture is full of these alpha males—the Gordon Geckos and Don Drapers, the Donald Trumps and Jack Welches—who get off by brokering million-dollar deals before breakfast (as the bearded douchebag in Die Hard so eloquently put it), just as the lion is generally thought of as King of the Jungle. In actuality, male lions just hang out while the females do all the hunting. Male humans have the same inclinations. We may put up a good front—here a sexist comment, there a war cry—but secretly, we like being househusbands. Most of us do not aspire to robber barony. Don Draper? We’d rather be Kevin Federline.

8. One word: lollipops.
You’re all about, “Hey, try this delicious hummus,” and, “You know what would be good? This organic kiwi.” We’re more liberal with the yummy treats. There’s a reason it’s called a Sugar Daddy.

GREG OLEAR is The Nervous Breakdown's senior editor and the author of the novels Fathermucker (Harper, October 2011) and Totally Killer (Harper, 2009), now available in French (Éditions Gallmeister).  He is a speaker at the Quais du Polar noir festival in Lyon.

Please follow him on Twitter (@gregolear), friend him on Facebook, visit his website (the cleverly-URLed, and, if it's not too much trouble, compose a Miltonic sonnet in his honor.