Monday, November 26, 2018

I Bought Hillbilly Elegy for $3.99 and I'm Going By God Going to Read It

Here's a confession: I've not read Hillbilly Elegy. But, to be fair, I've only been critical of it a few times publicly.

That will very likely change and I will spout many venomous phrases and ideas in good time. I bought the book today. So far I've only read the first sentence: "My name is J.D. Vance." I'm already mad. I'm not sure why, but I honestly am.

I know I'm going to agree with my many legitimate hillbilly friends who scorn this book. For one, you should never try to write about the hard life from a Buckeye point of view unless your name is Donald Ray Pollock. I know there's exceptions to that rule, but I've not met them yet that I know of (Chris Holbrook's collection Hell and Ohio is what's on my mind when I say that). It's been years since I read Chris's fine collection, so I can't say for sure what role Ohio plays in it. Being honest here.

So this memoir by Vance. Let's see what the deal is so I can talk about it like a good and real and informed hillbilly.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Heart Is an Organ on Fire and Other News

Since September a lot of good things have happened for me on the literary front.

I've been publishing short stories and poems in indie lit journals and books for small presses for parts of the last nine years. Parts because a great number of those years were not exactly productive. I drank away a lot of them, wrote nothing, read less. In short, I traded life as a writer for life as an alcoholic and drug addict.

When it was over (See also: hit rock bottom as a drunk and started taking responsibility for my actions as best as I could) all I wanted to do was read. The writing followed after about six months of that, and I started sending stories, reviews, and columns out into the world again. As what I considered my personal projects, I also started to write books again, with no hope anyone would ever read them except me.

Steadily I found my way back into the community with various publications over the course of about a year and a half. Editors and journals that shared my work during that time will always hold special places in my heart and mind. They gave me back a life I thought was mostly over.

Now, with three years of sobriety and my compulsion to write returned, here's the developments.

Of course this began with my prior announcement that I am now under contract with West Virginia University Press to write a book about Breece D'J Pancake and being Appalachian. I'm about half way through a rough draft on this work, which I can only refer to as a biography/memoir, though I'm trying to not toy much with labels. I'm letting this book feel its way around, breathe. I'm still in a general state of shock that I've been given the chance to write a book on Pancake. Derek Krissoff, Director at WVU Press, is going to work with me to make what I hope will be a book all of us can be proud of across Appalachia. That's my hope at least.

Some weeks later, my short story "Remodeling" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by one of my favorite journals, Cowboy Jamboree, and its editor Adam Van Winkle. It never fails to lift my authorial spirits when my peers give me this kind of recognition. If we can continue lifting each other up like this, the independent literary community will only ever need one another. Not very much longer after this nomination, Adam wrote to tell me of his plans to start Cowboy Jamboree Press, adding he wanted to see a manuscript from me, if I had anything. I sent a draft of a novel I'd been holding onto for a good while called Dysphoria. He liked what he saw and now it's another book project and my head's spinning and this about when the surreal started to set in. Read "Remodeling" in the current issue of CJ here.

In the same week, my story "South of Cincinnati" was published at my other favorite journal, BULL: Men's Fiction. Editor Ben Drevlow has always been great to me, so much so at times that his support and that of Adam's have been the only reason I've continued to submit work. I count them both, along with Sheryl Monks, editor at Change Seven Magazine, Mike Lafontaine editor at Vending Machine Press, Rusty Barnes at Fried Chicken and Coffee, and Christopher James, editor at Jellyfish Review, as true friends. Read "South of Cincinnati" here.

And just this past week Mike published another story of mine at Vending Machine Press called "The Heart Is an Organ on Fire" the title for which I directly lifted from a poem by the god-like Michael Ondaatje. In this story I've continued to work toward an occasional blending of the place I'm from, here in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, and a sense of the fantastic in many forms. In a lot of ways, I've never left behind my childhood days reading Stephen King novels and short stories. Should you be inclined, read the story here.

Yes, I googled myself. But look what I found!

I googled myself yesterday. It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. I have a busy online life and so I like to see what...