Selling Shorts

Donald Ray Pollock‘s recent interview with the Southeast Review covers a lot of interesting territory about short stories, not least the hard time that short fiction has these days (cf. this post):

I think everyone knows that it’s hard as hell to find a publisher for a collection of short stories, hard but not impossible. They just don’t sell that well, which is a mystery to me. Most people are so “busy” these days and distracted by technology and bullshit that you would think short fiction would be more appealing to them than a big novel, but that’s apparently not the case. Too, there are just so many of us trying to publish stories. I read slush for The Journal for a year and was amazed at the amount of stuff submitted every month. A lot of it was damn good, but, heck, the magazine could only accept maybe 10-12 stories per year.

As for me, I was very, very lucky to land with Doubleday. An agent just happened to pick up an issue of Third Coast, which is a small but respectable magazine, read “Lard,” and then emailed me. Within a few weeks, his agency had sold Knockemstiff. As for opposition, I probably got 150 rejections from magazines over the course of maybe five years. All the “big” magazines kept rejecting me, along with plenty of the smaller ones. But, as everyone will tell you, that’s to be expected. You just have to keep sending stuff out and plugging away. It’s a tough racket, but those who really want this thing will do that, just keep writing regardless of the number of rejections they receive.

The intro to the piece notes that Pollock hopes to eventually teach fiction writing. He’s got his wish this week—at least for a day.

Dept. of Self-Promotion: Denver Post books columnist David Milofsky has an interesting piece about what the future of book blogging might look like in the face of dwindling newspaper content and increasing paywalls. I’m quoted in the article as saying that we’ll have more original content on blogs and fewer blogs that just link out to other things. Like, uh, this post does. Life is a bundle of contradictions.


I’m back from having spent the better part of a week in Toronto, where I heard Clay Shirky, Charlene Li, and lots of other smart people speak at my employer’s annual meeting. (It’s also where Candy Spelling was pitted against a Build-a-Bear Workshop, but that’s another matter.) I’ll get back into the usual swim of things shortly. (This has been the longest I’ve been separated from this blog since I started it, I think; it’s a strange feeling.) In the meantime, consider taking a look at the Southeast Review‘s Q&A with Donald Ray Pollock; D. G. Myersappreciation of Philip Roth‘s Goodbye Columbus on its 50th anniversary; and, perhaps because I’ve been exposed to too much celebrity journalism while biding my time in airport terminals yesterday, Miley Cyrusthoughts on The Catcher in the Rye.

Links: Collectors

Naoko Mayuzumi, who’s generously compiled a bibliography of Haruki Murakami‘s Japanese translations of American writers, recently wrote in with news of a new translation, based on Remembering Ray: A Composite Biography of Raymond Carver. The page has been updated accordingly.

This blog isn’t available on the Kindle. The main reason I’m not signing up is that I think that free is a perfectly fine price to put on what I what I’m slinging here. But it’s not the only reason.

Telegraph classical music critic Michael White considers the recent death of composer Nicholas Maw by pulling out a 2002 feature on Maw’s opera based on William Styron‘s Sophie’s Choice, with some comments by Styron.

Jeffrey Eugenides thinks that Saul Bellow‘s Herzog is a great cure for writer’s block, but given that it’s going to be a while before he finishes a follow-up to Middlesex, it’s probably best to take his advice with a grain of salt.

Critical Distance, an new effort to create a repository of thoughful reconsiderations of recent American fiction, launched yesterday with founder Dan Green‘s essay on Russell BanksAffliction. I’ll have more to say on this project soon-ish.

The summer issue of Bookforum is available online, including an interview with Aleksandar Hemon.

If you’re looking for a group summer reading project, your ship has just come in.

Knockemstiff author Donald Ray Pollock gave thanks for the $35,000 prize he received at the PEN Literary Awards earlier this week. “It was good timing,” he said. “I’m getting ready to get out of grad school and there are no jobs right now.”

Roundup: To Build a Fire

Kevin J. Hayes is back with another question. Last time he was looking for tips on travel writers (glad I could be somewhat useful); this time he’s hunting for authors who’ve mastered multiple genres: “Take Henry James for instance,” he writes. “Best known as a novelist, James was also a fine travel writer and memoirist. I can justify discussing James in two or three different places, but I do not have room to discuss every genre of every author. So, here are my questions. Which American authors excelled in more than one literary genre? Where should I discuss them? Are they important enough to deserve discussion in more than one chapter? Boy, that’s a loaded question. Here’s a more fundamental one: what constitutes literary importance?”

Hell if I’m going to address that last question before breakfast. But a few names that immediately spring to mind: John Updike (see John Gross‘ excellent piece in the new NYRB on his most recent nonfiction collection); Mark Twain; Paul Theroux; Maxine Hong Kingston; Paul Auster (stretching here, but I do admire his memoir, Hand to Mouth). There has to be more. Maybe Walter Mosley gets credit for at least attempting his recent literary-erotic works?

How about Jack London, allegedly the most-read author in the world? Today marks the first day of the Geneva’s international book fair, and among the displays is Francis Lacassin’s 52-volume set of London’s works, translated into French.

An AP story explains just how lucrative the life of the much-hyped short story writer can be: According to the piece, Donald Ray Pollock‘s new collection, Knockemstiff, has sold all of 3,000 copies. It’s early yet, but that’s still short of the 27,000 hardbacks that were run off. So how do you avoid the remainder bin?

Sunday Miscellany

The Financial Times reviews Junot Diaz‘s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, now out in the U.K.

The Case for Ink: 5 Reasons I Won’t Give Up on Books.

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, will open an exhibit in April featuring representations of Poe in comics.

At yesterday’s “A World of Fiction Writing” conference at American University, Josh Emmons participated in a panel titled “Fiction Under Forty,” and spoke a little about how young writers are discouraged from shopping short-story collections; first novels don’t sell too well, but debut story collections sell worse. Maybe this doesn’t apply to 53-year-old authors of debut story collections: The Wall Street Journal has a large takeout on Donald Ray Pollock, a longtime paper-mill worker whose first collection of short stories, Knockemstiff, comes out next month. (Sorry, that’s connected short stories. Is this a new thing, a workaround for first-timers to get around the marketing folks who complain that the first book is “just” a book of short stories? I’m sure the “connected story collection” has always been with us, but at this early hour I can’t recall a single one.) One of his stories is available for free; congratulations to Pollock for getting the phrase “hotter than a fat lady’s box” into a major American newspaper, online or otherwise.