Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blog Migration

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting much lately. That's partly because I've been swamped and partly because I've been developing a new integrated website and blog. Beginning today, Perpetual Folly can be found at a new location:

That site, which is integrated with my website,, is still under construction, but is now functional. I need to do some organization in the new place, but I hope you will visit me there.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Issue of Prime Number Magazine: No. 19

The new issue of Prime Number Magazine has just gone live.

Issue 19--that's the 8th issue, for those familiar with primes--includes short fiction by Laretta Andrews-Mitchell, Frank Scozzari, Arthur Powers, and Gerry Wilson; poetry by Richard Downing and Mary McMyne; nonfiction by Eileen Cunniffe, Michael Royce, Michael Brantley, and Susan Grier; a craft essay by Maria Giura; and reviews of books by Kevin Simmonds, Kirby Gann, and Marc Schuster. The cover photo, shown here, is by Cath Barton.

The editors are now reading for Issue 23 and beyond. As always, we need distinctive poetry and prose: short stories and essays up to 4,000 words; flash fiction and non-fiction up to 1,000 words; short drama; craft essays; book reviews; interviews; poetry of all kinds.

Take a look at a few of the past issues to get a sense of what we like, and then go to our Submission Manager to submit your best work!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The New Yorker: "Miss Lora" by Junot Díaz

April 23, 2012: “Miss Lora” by Junot Díaz

Read the story—its available for free online—and then read the Q&A with Junot Diaz, which is at least as interesting. Díaz has a distinct voice, especially in this character of Yunior, whom we’ve seen in his work before. In this story, Yunior’s older brother has died and Yunior, who is sixteen, begins sleeping with Miss Lora, and older woman in the neighborhood.

There isn’t much of a plot, really. The relationship progresses in secret and Yunior goes off to college. And that’s about it. But what’s really happening is that Yunior is growing up and coming to terms with his brother’s death and also with who he himself is. On its own, I don’t love the story, but it’s a nice complement to the other stories that, I gather, will be in a new collection later this year.

One thing I don’t like about this story is the point of view—second person. Díaz says in the Q&A that he knows he’ll lose some people with this approach but that it was the only way he could write it—first person was too close, third too distant. I do believe that second person is sometimes justified. If the speaker is identified and is separate from the “you,” then that is really just a first person dramatic monologue addressed to a second person. More often, however, the “you” and the speaker are the same person—the narrator is speaking to himself. In that case the POV is justified if there is some reason why the narrator is stepping outside of himself—some trauma or life event that, in effect, splits him into two. Jennifer Egan did that well in Goon Squad, Lorrie Moore has done it effectively, but usually I don’t see the justification for it. Here, one could argue that the split is caused by the double-whammy of Yunior’s brother’s death and the life-altering affair Yunior has with Miss Lora. But I don’t think these events are portrayed so traumatically, and so for me the second person doesn’t work.

I don’t know anyone who cares about this as much as I do, so I doubt there will be too many other objections to the POV of this story, despite Díaz’s own expectations.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The New Books Daily

I have been running a feature on this blog called "Forthcoming Books." Most Wednesdays I identify a book that's due to be published that I think will be of interest to readers (and me) but I don't always hear about new books, so there are lots of things I miss.

So today I've started The New Books Daily, using the amazing tool. It will search Twitter and Facebook for news about new books and automatically compile the daily. The first issue is shown at left.

If you have a new book coming out or know about a new book, just Tweet using #newbook or post on Facebook or Google+ using keyword New Book and, if it works, your comment should show up in the next edition of the paper.

Monday, April 09, 2012

The New Yorker: "Transatlantic" by Colum McCann

April 16, 2012: “Transatlantic” by Colum McCann

As fans of Colum McCann know, the man likes to blur the lines between fact and fiction. Think of the tightrope walker in Let the Great World Spin. In this story, the two pilots who make an early Transatlantic flight are real historical figures, although other characters are invented.

But as I was reading the story, I didn’t know that. I suspected it—having heard McCann speak on the subject of fact/fiction just last weekend—but still didn’t know how the story would end. Midway through the reading, I began to worry that there were only two possible endings. After all, the two pilots at that point were half way through this dangerous journey and it wasn’t looking good. If they succeeded, that was going to be anticlimactic. Heroic, but boring. If they failed, that was going to be anticlimactic as well. There didn’t seem to be any good way out. History tells us that they succeeded, but, fortunately, the story doesn’t quite end there, and McCann pushes things a bit further. The pilots land on Irish soil and are met not only by British soldiers but by villagers coming from mass. The point has already been made that the airplane is a converted bomber—a wartime tool being converted to other purposes, and this, it seems, is where McCann has taken the story, and may also be where he is going with the new novel.

This is the “miracle of the actual,” a line from the story and one that I think he must have used in our seminar last weekend, although I can’t find it in my notes. It’s taking the real and boldly pushing it further. I highly recommend reading the Q&A with Colum McCann, which sheds further light on his approach. It also reveals, which wasn’t obvious to me, that this is actually a version of a chapter in his new book.

In my opinion, the best of the year so far.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

SWAG Writers

I love going to literary events such as talks or readings by authors. They don't happen too often in my immediate area, so sometimes I drive down to Lexington to Washington & Lee University where they have readings several times a year. I'll drive to Charlottesville to readings at the University of Virginia or the Indie bookstore in town. Occasionally there will be a reading at another venue within driving distance, and I may get to those.

But there was very little of this happening in my own town of Staunton. (Book signings, yes, frequently by self-published authors, but that's less of an event than a reading; it's more about selling.)

So I started an organization: The Staunton-Waynesboro-Augusta Group of Writers (SWAG Writers), which is affiliated with the Blue Ridge Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. The mission was to promote the literary arts in Augusta County, and my idea was that I would invite writers from outside the area to come for readings, pairing them when I could with local writers, giving everyone some exposure. This has worked well. At some point, together with other "members" of SWAG Writers (we don't really have membership--anyone can participate), we decided to start a monthly social, which we call WriterDay, copied after Writer Wednesdays that James River Writers holds once a month. That was fun, but it didn't draw too many people, so we added an open mic component to WriterDay, and since we did that we've had steadily increasing attendance. WriterDay happens on the Second Wednesday of every month at The Darjeeling Café, 103 W. Beverley St., Staunton, VA. We meet at 6 and the open mic readings begin at 7pm (up to 5 minutes per reader).

But I still love the readings that we host, and I wanted a place to record the great posters that Curren Media Group has designed for those, as well as a few of the pictures from the events.

Our very first reading, on Bloomsday (June 16) 2010, featured novelist Domnica Radilescu, from Washington & Lee University, and local poet Alan Christy, at Irish Alley. (Very appropriate setting; we even had a short reading from Ulysses.)
In September 2010, our reading featured visiting poet Todd Davis and local poet and essayist Janet Lembke at the newly reopened Darjeeling Café.

In January 2011, we hosted novelist Sarah Collins Honenberger and poet Sam Taylor, our first visit to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley Art Center in Waynesboro.

We held our first Poetry Fest in April 2011, at the Darjeeling Café, and invited 8 area poets, including Sarah Kennedy, to read.

In September 2011, I shared the stage at the Darjeeling Café with novelist Michele Young-Stone.

In October 2011, we hosted two writers from North Carolina at the Shenandoah Valley Art Center: Marjorie Hudson and Val Nieman.

In February 2012, we invited fiction writer Chris Gavaler and Lesley Wheeler to come up from Washington & Lee University.

And, most recently, we hosted Charles Shields, the biographer of Kurt Vonnegut and Harper Lee, for a talk that was held at Mary Baldwin College.

In addition to all these readings, we also want to present some panels and talks to the public. So far we've only done one of those, on Self-Publishing.

Friday, April 06, 2012

New-to-me LitMag: Palooka

Until today, I'd never heard of Palooka. Or maybe I had but hadn't paid attention. But I had reason to visit their website and I'm intrigued.

Pictured here is Issue #2 (#3 is on the way, apparently), and it's been well reviewed recently in The Review Review and New Pages.

Sounds good to me.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Writing Your Life's Stories: The Many Routes to Memoir

I'm very excited to be a guest speaker (along with Sandra Beasley and Art Taylor) at Dianne Hennessy King's workshop: Writing Your Life's Stories: The Many Routes to Memoir. The symposium will be Thursday, May 3, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at the Vienna Community Center (Vienna, Virginia). For more information about the program, go here.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The New Yorker: "The Porn Critic" by Jonathan Lethem

April 9, 2012: “The Porn Critic” by Jonathan Lethem

This one does nothing for me. Fortunately, because the story is available online for anyone to read, I don’t have to summarize it. You can read it for yourself. I’ll just say that it’s the 90s and the main character, Kromer, works in sex shop. Among his duties is reviewing porn for the store’s newsletter and, consequently, his home is filled with VHS tapes. He’s got some friends who come over . . .

Did anything happen in this story?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Forthcoming Books: The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

I found this trailer for Deborah Copaken Kogan's novel The Red Book (Hyperion, April 2012) quite by accident. I'm possibly not the target audience for this novel, but I like the concept anyway. It's about a group of women who graduated from Harvard and now, in anticipation of a reunion, they have to share their accomplishments for The Red Book--true or otherwise.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The New Yorker: "P.E." by Victor Lodato

April 2, 2012: “P.E.” by Victor Lodato

The story is amusing at times. But there's definitely more to it than that. We learn from the Q&A with Victor Lodato that the author began with the voice of the narrator, Freddy, which is credible, as that’s the most noticeable element of the story. Freddy is the child of junkies and has been out of contact with his father for many years. Now, though, the father is arriving in Tucson for a visit, which naturally leads to great tension, and also some funny dialogue.

As it happens, Freddy is a proponent of Parallel Energetics, a belief that we are living several simultaneous existences. We don’t get too much of the PE dynamics in the early part of the story, but as the conversation with his father becomes more difficult, the PE comes out and Freddy even considers calling Salvatore, his PE mentor.

But wait! Something’s not quite right here. (Read the Q&A to hear about the author’s notion of the “reversal” that happens toward the end of the story.)

Not only is the story filled with wonderful conflict—estranged father comes to town—but Freddy himself is full of contradictions: he was once skinny, but now he’s fat, for example. And his choice to flee reality by escaping into what he believes are these parallel existences suggests that Freddy’s got some problems, and they don’t all have to do with his father.

An interesting story from a writer I’d not previously heard of.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Virginia Festival of the Book: Day 3

Friday was a busy day, so I'm only just now getting around to writing about Day 3 of the Virginia Festival of the Book.

I met about 25 writers for lunch at Bashir's Taverna, which was fun--lots of people I knew and some I did not. Then I headed over to the Library for a panel sponsored by WriterHouse: Readers and Social Media: New Ways to Communicate. I had heard much of what was said, but I learned that maybe I need to look into Pinterest. I've been resisting.

I stayed on at the Library for another WriterHouse panel, this one on Retelling the Tales--three novels that are retellings or reimaginings of familiar stories. The panel featured Margot Livesy, Sharyn McCrumb, and Hillary Jordan.

And then I had to run out to the Barnes & Noble for the panel I was moderating: Reconstructions ("novels of war, man-made destruction, and their aftermaths") featuring Casey Clabough, Taylor Polites, and Joe Samuel Starnes. I thought the panel went really well. All three authors presented their work clearly and read relatively brief sections, and then did a great job of answering questions--mostly posed by me, since I'd read their books.

By the time the panel was over I felt guilty about leaving the dog alone so long so I rushed home. Saturday is another day.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Follow Me

I promise I won't inundate you with Tweets. Some days I post more than others, but usually it's not too much. But I'd love it if you would Follow Me on Twitter. Click on the Follow Me button in the Right sidebar, or find me @cliffgarstang.

And if you follow me, I'll try to reciprocate.