Small Stories, Small Spaces

I am not going to launch into a reintroduction or make excuses because I promised I wouldn’t last time. I will just say things as they are.

A few months ago, I was asked to help read submissions for Keyhole Magazine, which I happily agreed to. They now have a new online portion to the magazine and it’s worth a look. It will be updated periodically.

I’ve been reading small books and messing around with poetry. Most of my thoughts work themselves into short fiction or notebook scribblings or to-do lists. The dregs become the poems.

Vector, issue 2

Three poems of mine will appear soon in the second issue of Vector. One of these poems features a fictionalized version of my sister. If anything, that should sell you. I also noticed that this issue features a lot of writers who also happen to be editors of other literary magazines (Monkeybicycle, Word Riot, Sundog Lit, Untoward). A colorful bunch. Characters from the internet have arrived and we will haunt you.

PANK 9

I am also happy to say that my short piece of fiction, “The Geography of Squares and Circles,” will appear in the print issue of PANK 9. The piece is about a family with very different moving parts, parts separate like the seasons. They exist like islands, and unfortunately, it takes a son’s self-destruction to bring them together.

Sundog Lit, Games issue

Online, I had a fragmented piece of nonfiction appear in the Games issue of Sundog Lit. It’s about growing up, alienation, sexual identity, and video games acting as both a means of escape and a place of solace. It’s probably one of the most personally intimate pieces I’ve published yet. Admittedly, I felt like this wasn’t very different from writing fiction. The themed issue itself was large and fantastic, which the Millions selected as recommended reading.

Going smaller now: I have a short short in Ghost Ocean (in which I also do a reading for you) and a piece of Twitter-sized fiction in Nanoism. They are sad, of course, but also maybe a bit surprising.

My sister is trying to write a story about one of her boy band concert experiences and her professor wants her to show, don’t tell. Of course. So I offered her a first line: “We were hugging and sobbing.”

Mom has found an old, unfinished dollhouse in the garage that we’re going to put together. As a hobby, she used to build sets from pieces. Looking at all of the small furniture and knickknacks scattered on the table, I am anxiously waiting to see what kind of place I will call my own.


Writing for Yourself

After all this time, I’ve never really kept a private journal for myself. I mean, I wrote stories in black-and-white composition books when I was little and I had my own online journal when I was a teenager (still kind of do), but other people always read these things.  My family and teachers enjoyed reading my books and my friends commented on my journal. There was always this audience, even though I claimed to be writing for myself.

Well, I’ve finally decided to change that and start writing in a simple brown notebook that no one knows about. No one knows about it and no one reads it. It’s only for my unfiltered, unedited thoughts. There aren’t any stories, just these wide strokes of feelings vomited on to the page. I don’t plan on articulating myself properly with this – it’s mostly just for therapy. Looking back on everything else, I don’t know why I haven’t done this sooner. I don’t know why I didn’t find a place for this before. No big deal I guess, except for how strange it suddenly makes me feel and how it’s made me realize that maybe I haven’t really been writing what I feel, and how, maybe, I’ve still been a bit too safe in how I go about it.

If someone finds it, I’m not going to act like a teenager. If they read it, they can be horrified or disgusted or amused. Probably a combination of all the above.

It’s also made me realize how awful I am in verbalizing my own feelings. I can’t seem to spit anything out. I usually end up laughing because it makes me so uncomfortable. Maybe it makes me scared. Either way, I seem to treat my emotions like they aren’t really my emotions. Writing about them in a fictional way has never been difficult, but writing about them without the fiction is something entirely different.


Another Pointless Trip to the Bookstore

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to a local Barnes and Noble. I hadn’t been to this particular one in a really long time, or even to any other actual physical bookstore. The only other local bookseller around here is a place called Volume One, which I’ve been to a few times. It’s nice (and there are shelves and shelves of books there, with that great old book smell that you want to shove your face in), but their books are all used and they don’t really have any new stuff by contemporary writers. And then we come to my other dilemma: Barnes and Noble no longer seems to carry what I want either.

On this most recent trip, I noticed how things had changed considerably. Nooks are in the very front instead of a showcase of new bestsellers that just recently came out, and they completely rearranged the store’s shelving. Poetry is non-existent except for Homer. I also noticed a distinct change in genre: there were a lot of new sections dedicated to “young adult” books. Not only that, but these sections were further divided according to sub-genre: fantasy, dystopian, romance, etc.

“Young adult” is very popular now. I’ve read quite a few articles popping up here and there claiming how more young adults must be reading avidly now, considering how popular this new genre has quickly become. But really, I can’t help but wonder: Is it really more young adults reading young adult fiction, or more adults reading (and writing) more young adult fiction? I’m not sure.

I always thought of coming of age stories as stories that anyone could write. Hypothetically, I mean. If people were forced to actually write books, even if they weren’t “writers” themselves, I would hypothesize that this would be the genre they would naturally gravitate towards more than any other, just because we all grow up and we all remember what that’s like. But therein lies the problem: not all of them will be particularly good reads (or particularly well-written).

I hope this isn’t coming off as too cynical. I just really want to give my money to a bookseller other than Amazon, but it’s fairly difficult if Barnes and Noble doesn’t even carry what I want and ultimately forces me to return home, bookless, and order what I want online anyway (and probably, for less money elsewhere). I wish there were more local independent bookstores. I would open one up myself, in my dreams, but somehow, I don’t think it would be a particularly wise investment here (even in my dreams).


Growing into a Reader

This may surprise you, but I wasn’t always the most voracious reader. In fact, as a child, I didn’t really feel compelled to pick up books outside the classroom at all. I didn’t hang out at libraries, and I didn’t fall asleep late at night drooling on the pages. I read books mostly because I had to. So I can’t ultimately blame them for my current—and probably permanent—infatuation with the written word. If anything, I blame my other strange hobbies that provided the first fuel for this fire.

When I was young, I had my own vegetable garden that I tended to in the backyard. It was a small corner where I grew tomatoes, bell peppers, and string beans. My string beans were the favorite—Nana would always use them in her cooking and told everyone that they were the best. In school, when we were asked to discuss what we wanted to be when we grew up, I would tell everyone that I wanted to be a botanist. My teachers were obviously impressed that I even knew of such a word, while my classmates would raise an eyebrow. “A botanist?” they would wonder. “What on earth is that?” And then I would always have to explain to them what it was: a scientist who studied plant life.

So, you see, at that age, I never even wanted to be a writer. I didn’t see it that way at all. But, in retrospect, one thing became clear: even at that age, I was already interested in the growth and intersecting of small life in a small corner, and I always equipped with a magnifying glass to hold up to the leaves.

Although I didn’t take it very seriously back then, I sometimes liked to write stories and create my own characters. I remember how I would make books out of construction paper and give myself long, bizarre pseudonyms. The words in the books would be accompanied by my awful illustrations. The first book was made for my mom—a “get well soon” present—and it was a story about a torn-up paper bag floating to and fro around the town. It would detail this bag’s adventures on the wind and what it would see from its perspective. My mom still has it in her closet.

I grew up a little—eventually, but not that much—and, one day, I received a strange gift from one of my mom’s coworkers: a horse marionette. It had orange hair and rainbow limbs and I named him Freddy. For some reason, I was instantly fascinated by it and decided that I wanted to take up studying the very esoteric art of puppetry. I remember how my mom actually had a puppeteer perform for me at one of my birthday parties and how I absolutely loved it. Despite these weird fascinations, I’ve always had a family who consistently encouraged my creativity. I didn’t have a dad who yelled at me to be a man and play baseball—I had a dad who helped me make a stage for my plays out of a leftover refrigerator box and some window curtains. I had a mom whose other coworkers and friends managed to find me puppets from all around the world: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, Slovakia, the Czech Republic. My relatives started to add new ones to my collection too, and I started to write scripts and cast the puppets as my characters. I would practice the plays and sometimes get my friends to help out too. I would put on puppet shows for my family and charge admission. And, although I was sharing my stories and using my imagination to give these dolls on strings personalities, I still wasn’t interested in books. But the spark was there and I suppose it was inevitable.

Alongside my puppet shows, I had started to play video games as well. One day, my cousins played Mortal Kombat with me and I was hooked. I asked for a Super Nintendo for my birthday and I would play games every day—but only after I finished all my homework, of course. My mom allowed me to play any game that I wanted—yes, even extremely violent games like Mortal Kombat—and I’m grateful that she did. But I grew especially obsessed with adventure games and role-playing games: the games that focused specifically on the creation of alternate worlds with memorable characters and vivid atmospheres. Eventually—and also inevitable—my puppet shows became inspired by the worlds and adventures that I saw. Reading books and writing short stories came next.

In middle school and high school, I had a few English teachers that encouraged me. It’s always nice to have the support of your family and friends, but I think this other kind of support was necessary too—coming from an educational system and a different kind of authority—in order for me to take writing more seriously. It was in high school when I started taking advanced English classes and creative writing, and when I began to read books on my own time as well. I started to love fiction itself. My teachers in high school taught more than just the fundamentals and I’m very grateful for that—they pushed me to my limit, to the point sometimes where I didn’t want to write anymore. I finally began to read much more avidly and critically. I started learning about writing as a craft, and began treating it more like an art form rather than just a hobby that would occasionally save me from boredom. It became more than just an escape. I won a few awards and prize money, and then realized that I couldn’t see myself going on to study anything other than English at a university. I got my degree and continued to write.

Although I’ve dropped all those other hobbies—my garden is gone, my puppets are gathering dust in boxes somewhere—I still love to play video games. And there is a stigma attached to gamers, you know: essentially, that we are all overgrown kids just playing with toys. And you could argue, that all these strange hobbies I grew up with—even the act of writing fiction itself—do ultimately originate from a childlike wonder about the world. But I’ve never given up on these stories since, and I don’t see why I ever have to.