Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pre-order the book!

No, that's not an order.
But it has come to my attention (thanks, Heathe!) that you can now pre-order Bone Worship at Amazon and!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Farsi Disclaimer

Lately I’ve been wondering if my novel might set off a few cultural landmines in terms of criticism. I guess if Bone Worship inspires any kind of controversy, that’s a good thing. Publicity being publicity. But it still makes me nervous. Am I going to face several irate Iranian-American readers at book signings, poised to point out what I got wrong about Iran? Will I be excoriated for not being Iranian enough? What is Iranian enough, anyway?

In writing Bone Worship, I wasn’t trying to write a book about race. I wanted to explore ideas of love, familial and romantic, of growing up, finding your voice, and ultimately using that voice to ask the necessary questions a young person has to ask: about who your loved ones are (as real people) and about your own identity. In doing so -- and by writing about an Iranian-American protagonist in the midst of an arranged marriage -- I have managed to, er, accidentally write about race, along with a lot of other things. Ultimately though, I just wanted to write about a Georgia girl who goes to the University of Chicago, falls in love with science (and with one of her teachers), flunks out, and returns home to her mysterious, confounding parents. And the possibility of an arranged marriage. Indeed there are a whole lot of landmines to be triggered there: feminism, racism, May-December romances, North vs. South.

Of course, I have to navigate those mines in other ways too. Is it okay for me to join a group of Iranian-American writers when I wasn’t born in Iran, when I don’t speak Farsi? Am I allowed to write a book with several scenes in Tehran when I’ve never been there? Is there some kind of test I have to pass to be a legitimate Iranian-American writer? What about the simple fact that I look so darn white, that I have traces of a Southern accent, that I hardly seem – to those who know me – “ethnic” at all? Expatriate writers, exiled poets and playwrights – these people we should listen to about matters of race. But there is also something to be said for our own experiences. Those experiences are valuable whether you are native-born of a country, second generation, bi-racial, or whatever cultural mix you happen to be. All have a story to tell.

Perhaps, in the end, what matters is the writing. To have written a good first novel. To be in a group of writers-of-a-certain-ethnicity first because you’re a writer, and second because you have a cultural heritage. We’re all just a jumbled mess of voices after all, right? (For that matter, I’m a soon-to-be member of the Willamette Writers of Oregon, even though I’ll always be a Montanan in my heart.) I might be criticized for a lot of things when this book comes out, for the notion of a modern girl even considering an arranged marriage in the first place, for failing to capture Iran’s complex beauty. But I hope I won’t be found guilty of not having an authentic voice, an authentic experience. Because finally, including race and going beyond it, what it comes down to is telling stories. All worth telling.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Publication News

Segue, the online literary journal of Miami University-Middletown, will publish my short story, "It Is All Getting Away From Us." It also happens to be the title story of my second book, a collection of short stories I hope to have published after Bone Worship. Link to follow...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Editorial Board Divided By "Hyena"

(Well, not by an actual hyena. Now that would just be plain silly. And terrifying. Though it probably would expedite the submission process.) The hyena in question is my eponymous story, “Hyena,” and the editorial board is that of the Blue Mesa Review, the University of New Mexico’s excellent literary magazine.

BMR has published such luminaries as Joy Harjo and Leslie Marmon Silko, both of whom managed to unite a perspicacious but contentious board of readers. You see, I figure I’ve spent several of these blogs waxing rhapsodic about the 1% of story submissions I’ve sent out that have been accepted for publication, and the rest of the time lamenting outright rejections, form letters, and editors who read my work and subsequently bled from the eyes. But I’ve neglected to discuss the in-betweens, the limbo land of a jury divided.

Probably because it’s a new experience for me. This may be the first time, in fact, that I’ve queried an editor about my submission status – in this case because they’ve had “Hyena” for just under a year now – and been told that the editorial board was split. What does this mean? Half hated it, and half drooled over the story of a couple vacationing for a month in South Africa, during which their safari guide is partially consumed by a leopard? Or some cross-section just shrugged, feeling ambivalent about animal maulings and a marriage on the brink?

Naturally I’ve come to my own paranoid, delusional, sexist conclusions. A-ha! The board must be divided along gender lines. Clearly the men hated a story told from a female protagonist’s point-of-view! (But she was a desperately flawed character – can’t the women-haters get on board with that?) Bingo! The women readers hated her because she rejected her adopted baby! Everybody hates baby-haters! (But wasn’t her rejection a poignant moment, one in which she at least becomes partly sympathetic?) Maybe it’s neither of these. Maybe some contingent saw through my thinly veiled attempt to fictionalize an "Anderson Cooper character" in honor of my celebrity crush, and being Sean Hannity fans, has decided to penalize my ever-lovin’ CNN self.

Oh well. Maybe the board will unite in the end and decide to publish “Hyena.” I hope so, if only because The University of New Mexico and BMR have a permanent place in my heart. My husband and I spent a wonderful summer living in Albuquerque, roaming the campus, hiking the Sandias, braving the Aerial Tramway, and enduring a trial-by-fire introduction to the red versus green chile wars. (Not to mention a strange, beautiful, transcendent moment I shared with an orangutan at the Rio Grande Zoo.) Whether BMR rejects my story or not, I sure miss you, New Mexico. I can’t lie. It would be an honor to be associated with UNM’s fine literary journal. But it's equally great just to have grazed past, if only for a moment and if only by association, Bill Richardson’s lush beard.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Blogia Apologia

I’ll admit it.

This whole blog business still feels a little strange to me, and not simply because it took me three days to select an actual photograph of my head, and then expand my head so that it fits in a slightly more visible space above the shamelessly promotional “ABOUT ME” sidebar. (Don’t laugh – the photograph selection process is harder than it looks. If you choose to go with the default photo size, you will appear roughly the size of a pocket gopher. Fine if you’re not Heidi Klum, right? Problem is, if someone should dare click on gopher you to expand the photo, something out of The Ring happens to your face, and you become blurred, demonically distorted, and new, unfortunate moles appear on your face. To avoid this depressing turn of events, you can post an enlarged photograph of yourself.) Sans a glamour shot by a professional photographer, you’ll have to go it alone and seek out something where you’re centered, all parts are represented – it’s amazing how many Hannibal top-head-sheared-off pictures exist of me – and where you don’t have, at least in my case, an angry smirk. Which is, if you must know, my “resting face.” At present, I exist in a somewhat washed-out looking state, but I figure that’s okay, since I’m currently an Oregonian. It goes along with the nougat and the hemp pants.

Once you deal with your mug, it’s on to the blogging, wherein you do your best to strike the right tone of geniality and humor, intelligence and wit. Or none of the above. In a futile effort to learn exactly how to blog, I consulted the blogs of several writers I admire, only to learn that A) none of them actually had blogs, B) they considered blogging the direct antecedent of the recession and/or subsequent death of professional journalism, and C) the ones who do blog do so with a snarky, venomous vigor that single-handedly defines and deconstructs the zeitgeist, and basically scares the crap out of me.

How did I get here? Why am I doing it? Can I say “crap”? Does anyone, save my friends and family, even read this thing? More importantly, can Oprah sue me for the Favorite Things/sex toy analogy?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I do know this: When my editor tells me it’s in my best interest to start blogging, to introduce America to my voice and my wheat-colored head, I say how much, how loud, and yikes, maybe I should get a haircut. When she tells me to build my brand, I pump a fist into the air and shout “Yes!” while wondering how exactly Nike is going to fit my head on the side of a tennis shoe. I’m still struggling to find my voice, to not get sued, and to find a way, in the end, to make people excited to read Bone Worship. I hope I don’t offend sensitive bookstore conglomerates’ collective eyes with my blogbastic ramblings. I hope no one holds this thing against me when it comes time to throw out some names for the Dylan Thomas Prize. Ultimately, to quote Stefan from Top Chef – and probably some well respected, albeit severe German philosopher whom he’s paraphrasing – “It is what it is.” It’ll have to do.

At least until the website. ;)

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Totenbein" called Nabokovian

99.9% of the time, when a writer receives some piece of correspondence from a literary journal in her mailbox or inbox, it's a rejection. Of course, what you want is something personalized, with some concrete, albeit arbitrary, reason why they couldn't publish your work. Something like, "It was brilliant, it blew us away, but it was just too long." Hopefully it's polite. Often it's a form letter, with no handwritten response at all. Even these can be valuable. If The Paris Review sits on your story for two months instead of two weeks before rejecting it, you can consider that a minor victory, because somebody from the freaking Paris Review actually moved his or her eyes across your words.

Other times, however, literary journal responses are downright weird, or frustratingly vague. Some of my personal favorites include "Fascinating, original work with compelling, poignant characters, but ultimately not what we were looking for." Okay then. I'll send you my cliched work with hackneyed characters next time. Or "Loved the voice, intrigued by the plot, but just couldn't get excited about it." I think my all-time favorite was one that was simply my cover letter, with the word "Sorry" scrawled across the bottom. I actually felt pity for them! Once there was just a "No." Which I imagined as being more akin to "Noooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!" A kind of nightmarish rejection written as they dragged themselves away from their desks.

Imagine my surprise when I received an email from Natural Bridge -- the University of Missouri-St. Louis literary journal -- indicating not only that they want to publish my story, "Totenbein," but they found it "masterful" and "entertaining." As if that wasn't wonderful enough (and quite the improvement on "Nooo!") a 14 person editorial jury and writer/editor Inda Schaenen called my story "Nabokovian." As in Vladimir. Consider me wildly undeserving of such praise, but also immensely flattered. (Frankly, I'm amazed they would want to publish a story about a world expert in mummification. Thanks for the chance, Inda!)
It'll be a while before the story's out, but in the meantime, here's the website for Natural Bridge.

While Nabokov rolls in his grave, I hear that Humbert Humbert has responded, calling me "A little long in the tooth, but eminently tappable." ;)