Day 1: NaNoWriMo and Me

For the first time, I’m doing it. NaNoWriMo, that is.

My plan: Expand on a pair of short stories that are linked with at least 50,000 new words.

Who else has done it? How’d it go for you?

At the end of Day 1, I’ve logged about 970 words in about 90 minutes of writing. Only about 49,030 words to go.

Felt good. I tried, and failed, not to edit and re-edit a few sentences. Trying to get into the frame of mind of just putting words down.

Wish me luck.


Publication: ‘Slalom’ in The Sunlight Press

My short story “Slalom” has just been published in The Sunlight Press, edited by Beth Burrell and Rudri Bhatt Patel. Check it out.

Book review: ‘Insurrections’ by Rion Amilcar Scott

insurrections-coverI recommend the story collection Insurrections by Rion Amilcar Scott.

The stories offer glimpses of life in the fictional town of Cross River, Maryland, a largely black settlement founded in 1807 after the only successful slave revolt in the United States.

In “Good Times,” a troubled man with a wife and child finds his way back into the good graces of his family through the help of a neighbor and a ratty old Cookie Monster costume. In “Everyone Lives in a Flood Zone,” a man searches for a brother who is linked to criminals in a flooded out section of town and finds unexpected solace with strangers.

And in “Juba,” a young man is mistaken for a pot dealer named Juba, and gets arrested. Angered, he tracks down Juba and finds not only a pot dealer, but a man on a mission to capture and save the dying language of Cross River. He is even translating the Bible into the language that used to be spoken by the black residents of Cross River.

What Scott achieves with this story, and many others in the collection, is to let readers experience the strangeness and joy of these kinds of unexpected encounters. The narrator of “Juba,” for example, is on his way to a job interview when he is arrested. The  police action—they throw the narrator to the ground when arresting him—echoes the kind of violence against black people in America that has given rise to the social media hashtag #LivingWhileBlack. That Scott is able to take his story (and his readers) through  such an undercurrent of social injustice and violence, while also bringing his narrator deeper into a drug world, and toward concerns of language, and not just language in general but a specific kind of language of a people in a specific (if fictional) place that is being lost.

What an amazing place to take a story. Scott is a writer that earns a reader’s trust and willingness to go wherever his stories lead. It is one of the main reasons why spending time in Cross River is so enjoyable. Check out the book now. You can buy it from the publisher, University Press of Kentucky. A new collection of Cross River stories, titled The World Doesn’t Require You, is slated for publication in 2019.

Rion Amilcar Scott won the 2017 PEN/America Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction for Insurrections. His website is and you can also find him on Twittter at

National Book Critics Circle Announces Finalists for 2017 Awards

IMG_8528.jpgThe National Book Critics Circle has announced today winners of three prestigious prizes and nominees in nonfiction, biography, autobiography, poetry, criticism and fiction. The awards will be announced on March 15.

  • Carmen Maria Machado’s debut story collection, Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf), is being honored with the John Leonard Prize, which recognizes an outstanding first book in any genre. It is named in honor of founding NBCC member John Leonard.
  • Charles Finch is being awarded the 2017 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing.
  • The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award will go to John McPhee.
Here is the complete list of NBCC Award finalists:

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Review: North and Central by Bob Hartley

34748200We had a Zenith television when I was a kid. It was big, bigger than me. When we wanted to change the channel, we had to get up and turn the dial. When the plastic dial broke, or at least the part that connected it to the channel mechanism on the TV, then we superglued the broken bit of plastic back together. We used the dial until it broke, again. We superglued it again. This kept going on until the plastic dial couldn’t be repaired anymore. Then we just risked cutting our fingers against the sharp-edged plastic of the now-exposed channel changing mechanism. We pressed our fingers against it, twisted our wrists and changed the channel. There were only 13 stops on the dial, and only four stations: ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. We made do and we kept that TV long after friends started to buy Sony Trinitrons. Eventually, we got something from Panasonic.

Bob Hartley’s second novel, North and Central (Tortoise Books, 240 pages, $16), is set in a Chicago bar whose clientele consisted mostly of Zenith factory workers and who, no doubt, would mock my use of “clientele” to describe them. “Drinkers,” perhaps, is better? “Strugglers,” perhaps, too, as Zenith is on the decline due to competition from Japan—the entire neighborhood is rough shape. Another name for those workers could be “Trump voters,” which is more about when I read the book than when it was written or its setting a few decades ago in the 1970s.

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Review: Following Tommy by Bob Hartley

15826921 Following Tommy by Bob Hartley is a gem of a book: hard, brilliant and valuable.

It tells the story of Jacky O’Day, a bookish teen who lives in a changing Irish neighborhood in 1962 Chicago with an alcoholic father and a troubled older brother, Tommy. All of them live in the devastating aftermath of the early death of the woman in their life, the clear-headed mother and wife who had kept the three on the straight and narrow.

Without her, Jacky follows Tommy into his forays of petty crimes, as if that is the only viable path through their hardscrabble world. When Tommy’s crimes grow more violent, though, Jacky begins to question their relationship and himself.

Hartley delves into questions of identity and race, and offers a dramatic portrait of how a specific kind of Chicago neighborhood operates, with and against the law.

Through it all, Hartley’s clear, concise prose remains unflinching and cutting at times.

The slim volume from the independent publisher Cervena Barva Press is highly recommended.

2017 in Review in Publishing

Thank you goes out to all the readers out there who’ve read my stuff, and to the editors and publisher who put my poetry and fiction out there for the world to read. Continue reading →

Lincoln in the Bardo and the impossible audiobook

audiobook_ilOn paper, it sounds like something magnificent: master short-story writer George Saunders’s very first novel! An examination of a moment in the life of America’s greatest president!

As Penguin Random House says:

George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

And then there’s the audiobook: 166 characters! 166 voices!

“The first truly blockbuster audiobook? …  it’s going to be incredible”

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I just pre-ordered Chuck Kinder’s Silver Ghost


Outlaw. Writer. Professor.

Chuck Kinder was my professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s MFA program. Like many of his students, I benefited greatly from his imaginative approach to writing, the often imaginative worlds opened up by his constant question: “What if?”

In an exciting turn of events, his 1978 novel “The Silver Ghost” is coming back into print through the work of Braddock Avenue Books where one of the publishers just so happens to be another one of Chuck Kinder’s former students, Jeffrey Condon.

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