Wednesday, December 23, 2015


I like to post a list of New Year's Resolutions, not that I think anyone cares, or should care, but because I'd probably forget some of them anyway. So this won't be that interesting to read. I've been through a lot fo changes in the last couples years. I think I'm on a pretty good track right now. I've got a new job that pays well. I'm getting to a good place, spiritually. I have a new microwave.

I. Myself
A. Physical
1. Lose weight
a. Daily Exercise
b. Eat better
c. Daily and weekly goals
2. Focus on problem areas like diaphragm for breathing, back
B. Mental
1. Depression
a. Go back on Meds? I don't think they really worked.
b. Counesling? I don't think that really worked either.
c. Will exercise do the trick?
2. Focus on activities that help with mental processes like puzzles, reading, etc., rather than watching movies all the time.
3. Read 100 books

II. Ellie
A. Fun activities
1. Create a mermaid penpal for her & send letters with illustrations
2. Reading
B. Be more physical

III. Financial
A. Pay off credit card (hope to do this by mid-year)
B. Student loan
1. Pay off with supplemental income
C. College fund for Ellie

IV. Writing
A. Agent
1. Pick a book to revise
a. I'm thinking either COtM or DSS.
b. Query letter (as in, write one)
c. Make a list of agents
B. Self-publish some things
1. Flash collection-finalize cover
2. House stories
3. AR stories, other stories
4. Poems?
5. Bunny book
a. Editor
C. Write at least 6 books
1. War poems
2. Ellie poems
3. Jubal's Daughter
4. Necro-Files
5. Persona poems
6. Princess (Nobody's Princess?)
7. Hood

V. Lifestyle
A. Move? Have to find a place...
B. Car
1. Serviced
2. New tires
C. Evenings
1. Readings, concerts, pottery class, art class, writing group?

Saturday, May 02, 2015

The 50 States Project: CA, MO, IL, VA, CO

This is the continuing saga of my attempt to place my writing in at least one journal in every state, in no particular order.

13. California. California is a big state with a ton of journals. I always thought I’d have a hard time getting published in California for the same reasons I thought I’d have a hard time getting published in New York: because California seemed like a different world to a small-town boy from Arkansas. My first publication in California was in an anthology called Roque Dalton Redux, by Cedar Hill Press, which was an anthology on the poet Roque Dalton. This gave me the confidence to treat California journals just like anywhere else. Next, I placed a poem in The Scrambler a cool journal out of Sacramento with a press attached. They took a very playful, post-experimental poem. Big Bridge was a nice coup. I contributed to their War Papers series with a pretty dark confessional poem.
14. Missouri. One of the first publications I ever had, and we’re talking a decade ago, at least, was in 2River View which is an online and print journal. They took a couple playful, funny poems that ended up in my first book, Anthem. 2River is published in chapbook form, which was my first experience with that kind of format. I continued sending them work, by the way, and they never took anything else by me. Natural Bridge is a print journal out of the University of Missouri, St. Louis. They took an early short story of mine called “The Cow Graveyard,” which was about a couple boys stealing a rifle and going off to shoot it, and then discovering a cow in distress. Very rural, very Southern. A now defunct journal, Margie, provided me an early ego boost. I had a couple poems published alongside some of the biggest names out there. The editor had a habit of calling poets to tell them they’d been accepted. I was still in grad. school, at the time, and really felt over the moon about all this. Probably the best known journal in the state is The Missouri Review, which hasn’t published me, nor has Boulevard, New Letter, River Styx, nor Pleiades, all very well-established journals. To be honest, I assumed they were all out of my reach when I was younger. Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi is another fine Missouri journal, out of Southeast Missouri State University, which took an essay on my family’s fish farming business, and how it was affected by my father and uncles aging. Gingko Tree Review, out of Drury University, is another fine journal which took a post-experimental quirky little poem of mine. Missouri really has a plethora of great journals.
15. Illinois. My first Illinois pub. was in Euphony out of the University of Chicago. They took a poem later to appear in my first collection, a fairly surreal piece. Arsenic Lobster was, for me, a real coup because I tried for years to get in to this hip, independent journal. They took a funny, surreal little poem and then collected it in their annual print issue. Sou’wester is an Illinois journal I haven’t been able to crack, though I spent a while really trying a few years ago.
16. Virginia. The first journal I cracked in Virginia was The Blue Collar Review a print journal of progressive, working class literature. I actually won their Working People’s Poetry Contest with the title poem to my first poetry collection. As you can imagine, Blue Collar likes poems about work with progressive themes. They tend to favor narrative with no frills or tricks. Sow’s Ear Poetry Review is a solid print journal that took a couple tries to break into. They took a narrative, rural-themed poem. The William and Mary Review from William and Mary College, was a recent pub. I cracked with a fairly straightforward confessional love poem. Gargoyle was a different story; I was intimidated by this long-running, independent journal until I did a reading with the editor, along with a couple other editors. I sent some post-experimental poems and had a few accepted. The Hollins Critic was a tough one. I actually worked on staff for two years, and placed several reviews there, along with other material, but no poetry. It took a couple years of rejections to place a poem with them—a nature themed poem about stinkbugs, which I’m sure stood out because of its unusual subject matter.
17. Colorado. I’ll go ahead and say I haven’t cracked Colorado Review, but having a poem published in Copper Nickel, out of the University of Colorado, Denver, was one of my proudest accomplishments. At the time, it was edited by the late, great poet Jake Adam York. He was the second editor to call me about my submission, and his warm personality and friendliness meant a lot to me. He accepted an old punk-rock themed poem from me that later appeared in Anthem. He had also edited Story South and gave me one of the first poetry acceptances I ever had. Even though I only knew him as an editor, his kindness touched me and meant so much, especially when I was just starting out.

-CL Bledsoe

The 50 States Project: DE, KS, NY

10. For the next installment of my 50 States Project, I’ll begin with Delaware. A little background: I started this project a decade ago and then faltered and started again. Back then, I had an acceptance from a little Delaware journal called Mobius, which has since been sold and moved to New York. Mobius was one of my first publications. They took a poem called “Shoes” which later appeared in my first collection, Anthem. The poem was a meditation on fatherhood (written before I was actually a father). I remember that the editor included comments essentially trashing the rest of my submission, which was probably warranted since the other poems were entirely forgettable and juvenile. I can’t really speak to their editorial process now, but I was really pleased that they took the time to sift through my crappy submission and find the one pearl. Recently, I placed some poems in Delaware’s Broadkill Review. Broadkill is a pdf-only journal. They’re connected to a press that publishes some really good stuff, including a collection of Richard Peabody’s work (Peabody is the editor for Gargoyle, among other things). I sent Broadkill some fairly straightforward poems, mostly confessional, dealing with everything from Edgar Allen Poe to spousal abuse. Broadkill is a solid journal focused on publishing good writing, regardless of “name” or affiliation.
11. Kansas: I’ll just go ahead and say I haven’t been in New Letters, which is probably the most well-known journal in Kansas. I have been in Flint Hills Review, though, which is out of Emporia State University. You’ll probably see me refer to Flint Hills several times throughout this series in order to establish a basis of comparison for no-nonsense journals, and that’s because Flint Hills is one of those rarely recognized journals that steadily publishes great writing without a lot of bells and whistles: the little journal that could. It’s an annual, and accepts only print subs, which is something I’ve grown to like less and less. They accepted a poem of mine from my collection Riceland, which are narrative poems about my childhood growing up on a rice farm in Eastern Arkansas. They tend to publish narrative and even the odd formal poems with often rural themes, nature themes, and generally poems in which things happen. They publish similarly themed stories and nonfiction. The criterion is good, affecting work. They like risks, but they really like writing that’s going to stay with the reader after s/he puts it down. I was very proud to have appeared in Flint Hills because of the quality of work in the issue, which, coming early in my publishing career, gave me quite a boost.
At the other end of the spectrum--in terms of style--is Johnny America, out of Lawrence, Kansas. If I were to describe Johnny America in one word, it would be whimsical. The journal claims to be named after a rabbit that lives on the moon, which is totally logical. They publish a bunch of really funny stuff, and they do it with style. They took several of my weirder stories, stuff I might send to Defenestration or Barrelhouse. The journal updates online and puts out about two print issues a year. One I appeared in was published as a series of handmade chapbooks that looked pretty cool. In a similar sense, these sorts of journals are what indie publishing is all about. They’re a little out there, they don’t take themselves too seriously (though they do maintain standards of good work), and they make publishing fun. And that’s important. Journals like Artichoke Haircut and Shattered Wig, in Baltimore, the great Defenestration online or Barrelhouse, and, of course, Johnny America, add the spice of humor and weirdness to the stew of publishing, and keep us from imploding from our self-important pretentiousness. Humor gets a bad rap.
12. New York. For a long time, I was wary of New York. It sounds silly, but I assumed a country boy from Arkansas could never get published in the Big City. I assumed that New York Writers were writing things I could never ken, all dressed in black, smoking cigarettes at little tables outside of trendy bistros with crappy food you weren’t supposed to actually eat. My first publication from a New York journal was, oddly enough, a formal poem I wrote in high school in a journal called The Comstock Review. Color me surprised. It was in Syracuse, though, so that didn’t really count, right? It was a nice little journal that really helped me to understand that there are a ton of journals out there with all sorts of different styles. My next foray into New York came with an acceptance from Barrow Street. This one, frankly, surprised me; this was exactly the kind of journal I thought I could never get into because I didn’t know the secret handshake, and yet they took a funny, weird little poem of mine, sort of a James Tate meets John Ashbury piece that one would think they’d like, but one never knows. Barrow Street is a hip journal that publishes more experimental work, and lots of names. Go figure. After that, I had a couple poems accepted by New York Quarterly. I was, similarly, surprised that I got into this one. They took a couple fairly formally experimental poems (one caveat: they have since sat on the poems for more than a year without publishing them). I went on to write several book reviews for them as well.
I’d like to touch on a New York journal that I really liked which is on hiatus: Caper, from Patasola Press. The thing that impressed me most about Caper, and the press in general, was its eclectic tastes. It’s a solid journal with no real pretentions, which can be hard to accomplish. It publishes good writing from across the spectrum of styles, schools, and approaches. Just really good stuff. I hope it’s able to come back, though if it doesn’t, at least it had a good run.
-CL Bledsoe

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The 50 States Project: TX, MD, MA, PA

6. Texas: Texas has been going through a kind of renaissance of arts and literature in recent years. I could list a dozen excellent writers out of Texas and just about that many excellent literary journals. One of the first Texas journals I had work appear in was Concho River Review. CRR is over 25 years old and associated with Angelo State University. I sent them some a handful of narrative, rural farming themed poems, one of which they published. I think of CRR as being similar to Flint Hills, out of Kansas, or Westview, out of Oklahoma: a solid journal that feels a little old-fashioned and tends not to publish a lot of “name” writers, but one that will never disappoint. Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review is based in Austin and associated with the city, funding-wise, but not UT Austin as far as I can tell. It took a couple tries before Borderlands took something of mine. Again, I sent them rural, farming-themed poems, basically using this as a backdrop to play out the drama within the poem, which was family-related. I would say Borderlands is a somewhat selective journal. These are amongst the strongest poems I’ve ever written and appeared in collection Riceland. Texas Poetry Journal took a formal poem of mine about farming. Front Porch is the online journal of Texas State University’s MFA program. It’s fairly new. I placed a rural, farming-themed story with them, a humorous story though it borders on being about child abuse. FP also nominated me for a Pushcart, so I’m partial to them. They have a soft spot for Southern, especially Texas-related work. FP reminds me of a young Story South. Pebble Lake Review was another excellent journal which has recently joined the Big Library in the Sky. Among the many other fine Texas journals I haven’t attempted yet are American Short Fiction, American Letters and Commentary, Gulf Coast, and Bat City Review.

7. Maryland: As I’ve discussed elsewhere, when I moved to Maryland, I began sending work to local journals to try to get involved in the local community. One of the first that I attempted was Potomac Review. PR is based at Montgomery College. I placed with them a couple very strong narrative poems dealing with the effects of a serious medical situation on my relationship with my ex-wife, and also communication issues, but with humor. So there was definitely a lot at stake. Artichoke Haircut was an awesome independent journal run by a group of active literary Baltimoreans. This was the journal I had the most success with, in terms of reading opportunities. They announced a reading for an issue release. I asked if I could join, and I’ve been back several times since. AH publishes funny, experimental, short work, similar to a working-man’s Jubilat or a Good Foot but with much more of a sense of humor, as one could imagine from the name of the thing. Really sad to see them go. Of course, one of my favorite MD journals is JMWW. JMWW is an independent journal based in Baltimore which publishes some of the best writing out there. The way I got into JMWW was a little unusual. I did a reading with the editor. She had a book that needed a reviewer, so I volunteered. After they ran my review, I took that relationship to the next level and placed a handful of poems with them. These were fairly straightforward confessional poems about my past as a musician, so they appealed to a youngish artistic audience.

8. Massachusetts: Up front, I’ll say there are several very well-known journals in MA which haven’t published me. A few have, though. One of my favorite MA journals is the independent journal Naugatuck River Review. NRR publishes narrative poetry. I sent them a handful and they took a page-long poem with a pretty rough-and-tumble storyline (with bodily fluids, drug use, etc.), the kind of poem most journals would ban me for. Ballard Street Poetry Journal is a shortish independent journal. They took a narrative poem about taking my daughter to visit a farm immediately after a cow committed suicide, unbeknownst to us, and the effect that had on two girls that worked there. They also took an homage to Woody Guthrie. Both of these poems have fairly rural themes but could also be interpreted as fairly political. Again, I’d compare BSPJ to Borderlands or a Flint Hills. On the flipside, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, is an interesting little Western Massachusetts journal, much more like Artichoke Haircut. They took a fairly odd prose poem of mine. Boston Literary Magazine is an online, independent literary journal. They took a love poem of mine. Probably my favorite journal out of Massachusetts is Fried Chicken and Coffee an online, independent journal run by the former editor of Night Train, which was one of my bucket-list journals. When it closed, I thought I’d missed that opportunity, until FCC opened. What I like about FCC is that it publishes down and dirty stories and poems about Appalachian life, sort of a rural-themed Thieves Jargon. I sent them a series of stories about a couple of poor-as-dirt, neglected kids who survived by their wits in a hostile world of drug dealers and hard people. Diner is a journal with a food connection that published a poem from my first poetry collection.

9. Pennsylvania: One of the first journals that published me, half a decade ago (in one of their first issues) was the independent Pittsburg journal Caketrain. Caketrain took a surreal prose poem. Caketrain is an innovative journal and press that puts out some cutting edge writing, so it’s quite different from most of the journals I’ve discussed so far. It’s probably closest, again, to Jubilat. Schuylkill Valley Review is an excellent journal with a regional affiliation. I was actually solicited to write an essay for them on Edgar Allen Poe (along with a poem from my first collection). Coal Hill Review is the online wing of Autumn House Press. I’ve had a somewhat unorthodox relationship with them. Often, I’ll target journals that are part of a press as a way to build a relationship with that press. I sent Coal Hill a couple book reviews, and they liked them enough to ask me to do a review column. I have gotten some great books to read out of it. Gettysburg is a very good PA journal that I haven’t breached.

-CL Bledsoe

Found Poem from Doritt Carroll's collection Glttl Stp

This is an erasure from Doritt Carroll's collection, Glttl Stp, from Brickhouse Books.

If there were two birds singing in two trees,
it would be the moment when they both paused--
not to take in air--but because it was the right
place in both their songs to pause.

And you, glass that you were, looked no different empty
than you had, full, as the sun looks down
with its one eye, lizard and blinkless. Everybody dies
the same, boning up like skeletons, stinking
like toilets. Morning comes fast. We're planted

like bulbs. You can't uneat the apple. But there are days
my heart is truly riven with the urge to take a stick
and get it given. I don't understand. I want to know.
We don't need the real thing sometimes. We just need
to think we've seen it.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The 50 States Project: OR, WI

If you’ve been reading this blog series, you may remember that I set out to have work published in literary journals in every state. Scroll down to the previous installment to read my caveat about how I select journals to attempt.
4. This time, I attempted a nice mix of states, starting with Oregon. This might seem a little left-field, but the primary printed journal I targeted in Oregon was Clackamas Literary Review. CLR was one of the first journals I fell in love with when I was beginning to send work out. This is totally random; for some reason, a bookstore near my undergrad. alma mater carried it, so I started reading it and was really impressed. It was the fiction, really. CLR publishes solid fiction that might play around with structural experimentation or unusual narrators, but mostly just tells engaging stories. The poetry ranges from narrative to confessional with few examples of the pop-culture referencing that most lit journals seem to focus on nowadays. The stories and poems in CLR tend to have something at stake. I don’t believe I’ve ever read a story/poem in CLR involving a 20-something hanging out at a bar, complaining about how tough he’s got it. If you were to ask a non-writer What is your idea of good fiction/poetry? Any given issue of CLR would probably have several examples.
Something that surprised me was that CLR is published out of a community college in Oregon City.

This is one of the oldest pubs of mine I’ll reference in this column, but it was a real score for me. Early on, I sent a few not-very-good stories (which were the best I had at the time, as an undergrad.) and the way I finally broke into CLR was with some narrative poetry about a period of my life when I dealt with some severe health issues. What made these poems work is that I tended to focus on other people as much as myself (it wasn’t of the ‘poor me’ variety, but rather ‘me’ as a situation which afforded me the opportunity to focus on someone else.)
For those crying foul, I’ll admit I’ve never even attempted The Portland Review. This isn’t because I’m intimidated by their pedigree and austerity (though, of course, I am) but because they honestly never came onto my radar.

Another Oregon journal, this one online, is Oregon Literary Review. The way I got into this journal was fairly unorthodox. OLR publishes drama as well as poetry and fiction, so I placed a couple ten-minute plays with them. (Backstory: I spent an aborted year studying playwriting at the U of AR MFA Playwrights program. So I had a handful of short plays gathering dust and have written a few since.) These were somewhat surreal, humorous plays.

One thing that became really apparent to me with OLR is that many of these journals, especially older ones and university-related ones are run more or less by one person, exceptions would be university journals run by students. These aforementioned folks tend to have pretty specific, hard-won ideas of what good writing is they’ve developed over years of teaching and editing. They’ve burned through all the posturing and cliques and gotten to the heart of why they do this; they just love writing. If you’re sending them polished work with something at stake, they tend to respond well.

5. Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Review claims to be the oldest journal in Wisconsin. Like most older journals (“older” meaning around fifty years) they tend to publish strong narrative fiction, strong confessional poetry with the occasional narrative poem: work that doesn’t take too many risks structurally or subject-wise. (I’m not implying that risk is bad; risk is good. But the old-fashioned viewpoint is that risk needs to be earned to succeed. I think these older journals tend to feel this way, also.)
I broke in TWR almost by accident; I sent them some narrative poems, again, dealing with a difficult time in my life when I was dealing with medical issues, my childhood and relationship with my father, and basically mortality. Heavy stuff. These poems I’ve referenced are in my new collection Riceland.

Another journal in Wisconsin I really like is Verse Wisconsin. VW is the new incarnation of Free Verse, a well-known journal which first published me several years ago. I was solicited for a special issue. VW also tends to have special themed issues, which is how I’ve managed to place work with them a couple more times. Themed issues are a great way to “back into” a journal, especially a very competitive one. The drawback is one tends not to have work that fits the theme lying around. I’ve been lucky a couple times and have had work at hand. Writing a piece specifically for a themed issue can be tricky because there might not be time, but if it works, do it.

-CL Bledsoe

Monday, March 30, 2015

The 50 States Project: AR, OK, WY

I was doing a column a while back for an online journal. The column sort of fizzled--not to point fingers, but they wouldn't be pointing at me--so I thought I'd revive it here. This is the original post in the series:

When I first started sending work out to journals, I soon became overwhelmed with the sheer number of journals out there. There are tons! Billions! Brazilians! And this was over a decade ago, also, when there weren’t new online journals popping up every fifteen minutes. One way I devised to help me wade through them was to create an arbitrary project: I decided I would try to get published in at least one journal in every state. It’s harder than it sounds: some states (Montana, the Dakotas, etc.) have few journals, and those are often themed or heavily biased in a certain direction. Other states, of course, have tons. Of course, the point wasn’t just to be published–-it was to be published well, to be published in good journals (regardless of their reputation). So I thought I would revive this project and track my success. And failure. So let’s walk through the process, in no particular order. Also, as I’ve pursued this, I’ve placed work in a handful of really good journals that aren’t around anymore, so I’m excising them from the list. I’m also skipping glossies or journals that are pretty much impossible (TNY, Paris Review, etc.) because there’s nothing really for me to share about them other than I sent them some work and they form-letter-rejected it. Also, this isn’t an exhaustive study of every journal in every state: it’s totally biased towards ones I like. So there.
1. Arkansas: Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies. This is a quarterly, print, university (Arkansas State University) journal run by faculty and with little web presence, though they do take email submissions. If you remember your history, you’ll recall that the Arkansas Review used to be the Kansas Quarterly, which published everybody and their famous brother.
I’m from Arkansas, and a buddy of mine was actually on the staff of the AR for a while, but that didn’t mean they’d publish me. I sent them a couple memoir pieces, through my friend, but they passed. I sent them fiction, poetry, etc., and they passed. It took me years to establish a decent relationship. More on that in a moment.
Let me deal with some possible preconceptions: AR is a good journal, by that I mean they don’t publish crap. A story about Ol’ Jimmy, the blues man who played a mean mouth-harp since his woman left him down in Memph-o probably isn’t going to make the cut. Imagine how many stories/poems/etc. like that they’ve seen, and then try something different. They publish traditional narrative fiction and narrative or confessional poetry, but AR has a very specific focus: the Mississippi River Delta. The work they publish relates to place (i.e. the Delta), significant people from the region, cultural elements, etc. What does that mean, exactly? The Mississippi River Delta is one the most impoverished places in the country. Pick a bad quality (drugs, poor education, suicide, etc.) and the Delta is at the top of the list for it. But it’s also the birthplace of many artists, musicians, writers, etc. The editors are very aware of the socio-economic, racial, and historical realities of the Delta. They publish poetry, fiction, interviews, reviews, etc. but they really like scholarly essays when they can get them. This might be a good “in” to keep in mind.
So getting back to my many rejections, remember the buddy I had on staff? He took over as the reviews editor and offered me a book no one else would take. I took it. It was a tough review, but I used that experience to build a relationship with the editor. I did another review for them, and after that, I sent along some poetry dealing with my experiences growing up on a rice farm in eastern Arkansas. They took them. Since then, I’ve had a handful of poems published in the AR and several reviews, though they’ve rejected me plenty of times also. They’ve even reviewed me. I can’t stress how important it was that I build that relationship and “get on their radar.” That’s been a very effective ice-breaker for me with several journals. Reviews, interviews, and nonfiction in general are great ways to do this. There are a Brazilion books published every year and hardly anybody reviews them.
There are a handful of other journals in the state. Oxford American is there, now, but I consider that a glossy which I’m not covering in this project. (OA really likes reportage, though, and unrecognized Southern art – music and film, especially, but also food. But mostly, they like you to already be famous.)(Of course, there’s a lot of weirdness around OA right now.)
Another standout journal in Arkansas is Foliate Oak. It’s not on the level of selectivity of AR, but it’s a fine journal that’s been around for at least five years. It’s an online journal which puts out a best-of print issue, annually. It’s also a university journal (University of Arkansas at Monticello) but is run by students. The first thing that drew me to FO was a “writers we like” list that included Kathy Acker. Okay, says I; let’s do this. (I read a couple issues online to get a feel for their aesthetic.) But this is misleading because FO tends to publish traditional narrative fiction and fairly straight-forward narrative or confessional poetry. They’ve got good taste, though. It’s a solid journal.
* * *
2. Oklahoma: Nimrod is a print university journal (University of Tulsa) that holds a lot of contests. Of their two yearly issues, one is a contest issue, and the other is themed. Either of these can be another great “in.” I discovered Nimrod while at the University of Arkansas just by reading issues on the newsstand, locally. The way I got into Nimrod was through a special issue on the theme of family. I sent them thematically similar work to the poems I sent to the AR. On a side note, it took them a year to publish the poems, and they published one they’d actually rejected, which I’d placed elsewhere in the meantime. They also only take hard-copy subs, which is a pain. But for all its quirks, Nimrod is a standout publication that consistently publishes solid work.
Another, probably better-known journal in OK is The Cimarron Review. This is a top-notch journal that has published who’s-who of American literature. They’re a university journal at Oklahoma State University, staffed by faculty. They also tend towards fairly straightforward fare. I discovered CR, likewise, while I was at the U of Arkansas and read issues on the newsstand. I placed a memoir piece in CR about my late-teens/early 20s experiences working at a grocery store run and staffed, in part, by members of the KKK. It was culturally relevant, provocative, and didn’t cast me in the most positive light, so it took some risks. I have to say, the pieces I’ve mentioned that I placed in the previous journals probably wouldn’t have made it into CR because they were a little too regional.
* * *
3. Wyoming: Owen Wister Review. The OWR is a 30+ year old print university journal out of the University of Wyoming, run by students. Owen Wister was the author of The Virginian, a western, but they don’t focus exclusively on western-themed work. Again, imagine how many stereotypical western stories/poems they must get and how bored they must be of them. And lest we get too uppity about westerns, let’s remember that Cormac McCarthy started his career writing westerns. (OWR has published McCarthy, btw.) I was having a hard time placing my more traditional fiction, so I found OWR. I was impressed with the samples I read online: lots of nature imagery and character-focused short fiction, and just solid writing. I placed a story with them set on a farm about a neglected bruiser-type teenager and his relationship with an alcoholic farmer. I don’t have a ton of stories like this, but I think OWR would be interested in less regional work. A few of the fiction pieces I’ve read have been somewhat formally inventive, though nothing too groundbreaking.

-CL Bledsoe

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Having Fun with Writing

This is maybe going to come off heretical in a couple places, but I want to say something about finding joy in the process of writing. There's a great book on writing fiction which you should, of course, not even bother thinking about reading called Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Where she differs from many other writing self-help gurus is the idea of focusing on the small moments, one at a time. Don’t think about the big picture so much while you’re writing—you will obsess over those things in the shower or as you’re lying in bed trying to go back to sleep a half-hour before your alarm goes off. When you’re writing, be in the moment. I will go a step further and say not only should you focus on the small picture, but focus, above all, on having fun.

Yeah, I know. It’s a hard sell. And your MFA buddies are totally going to make fun of you for not being miserable (like all true are-testes), but that’s okay. It will be our secret until you actually manage to make a career as a writer and they don’t. So fuck them. Here are the basics to get out of the way: I set a 1000 word quota--I do this with poetry (a poem a day) as well--every day. (Lamott says 500. Stephen King says either 1000 or 2000, I forget. I know a writer who does 250 or 300. Some people do chapter quotas. It doesn't matter. The point isn't writing a million words a day; it's writing a little regularly, keeping in the habit, etc. etc.) The reason I do 1000 is mostly arbitrary (I'm not good with math), but I can get a good scene and a little more out in 1000 words, usually. So, for me, a shape emerges. There you go. There’s your regimen. That’s all you need. You’re like a freaking athlete training for the Olympics, if the Olympics consisted of never making any real money at the thing you work your ass off to do. Hmm. Sorry. Maybe you can get an endorsement deal for pizza and Mountain Dew? Anyway, now to the good stuff.

The most important thing about this is finding some element of the story I really enjoy writing--that discovery is what keeps me going--every time I write. I usually have some starting place in mind, an important detail or scenario that I know will probably lead me somewhere. I give the car a push down the hill and keep my eyes open for something fun. Really, this is my goal when writing—not to impress anyone, not to fit a market, hell, not to even be good, but to find something fun. Something interesting. Because all of that other stuff is happening, anyway. (Granted, I’ve been writing novels for a while, now, so I’m kind of on autopilot at times, in terms of structure.) Maybe that fun thing means a gag, which is great, but how often do we find good gags? Maybe it means I spend a hundred words on a really nice description of…whatever. A pleasing turn of phrase. A surprising plot development. Maybe it’s 50 words, 25 words, 10 words of dialogue where I just nail this character’s accent, attitude, background, whatever. And it’s so good and so real that Goddamn. Goddamn.

Okay. Great. Hell, maybe it’s just some detail that makes me smile (like naming all the murder victims after people in my workshop). Just find that fun thing. Nothing else really matters that much. You will take that fun thing with you the rest of the day. That’s why you’ll come back to the keyboard tomorrow, and the day after, and…well, it’s the weekend after that, but totally, again on Monday…

Once I've found that fun thing, I pretty much stop, if I’ve hit my quota. It probably took me a while to set that thing up—getting the characters into the conflict that led to the great dialogue, getting them to the location where I was able to give the great description, whatever. If I haven’t hit my quota—every so often, the best thing I write is in the first 200 words—then I try to get the hell out of that situation and into something completely different so I can set up the next fun thing. Of course, it depends on the scene, etc. But, usually, it takes me a while to get going, so I’m pretty much at my quota.

Of course, one would hope that everything one writes is brilliant. Good luck with that. I will say, for me, once I get the car pointed towards that fun thing—and much of this is instinctual, sure—the writing is much, much better, and I’m really just riding out the clock until I hit my grand. And when I’m not finding it, the writing is shit. So, I change gears, move to a different section, focus on a different element of the story, whatever.

Also, it should go without saying that I’m not talking about filler. I’m not suggesting just to wax poetic about bearded trees and clouds. I’m saying move forward with your story but always be on the lookout for opportunities to explore joy. Yes, these are sometimes detours, but they are also often the best parts of the story. Maybe they take the story in a new direction. Of course, plot can be fun, right? That can absolutely be your fun thing; though, for me, it’s usually more character-driven. If you're having fun, the reader will have fun. But if you are slogging through mud, so will the reader. But hey, they’ll just quit reading.

I also don't spend all fucking day on this. I'm not going to bash my head into the wall every time I write because Jesus Christ why the fuck would you do that? I would never write again! That’s missing the whole point! But people do... This is the same thinking that makes people quit diets or exercise—they make the thing onerous and then wonder why it sucks so bad. Don’t do that. Focus, instead, on joy, on having fun. Yes, it's work, but it's work you theoretically enjoy--that it where the joy comes from. I usually allocate an hour, even a half-hour if I’m busy, but I've been writing novels for years, so don't cripple yourself with ridiculous expectations. Really, try to get to one fun thing and then quit for the day. That way, you've got that accomplishment to feel good about. Hey, I wrote a really nice description of some character’s beard, and some other stuff. Boom. Done. Go have a drink. Wait for that plane ticket to Stockholm.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Arkansas Poems

My last poetry collection, Riceland, took more than a decade to write. It was a focused, cohesive collection, I like to think, and after it was published, I started thinking about all the stories and ideas from my childhood and hometown I hadn't included for various reasons. I'd already written a kind of sequel to Riceland called Driving Around, Looking in Other People's Windows, which is coming out later this year. It focuses on my young adult life, marriage, the birth of my daughter, and the subsequent breakup of that marriage. But it doesn't focus on my hometown really at all. Those stories kept nagging me, so about a year ago, I started writing some of them. I was going through one of the darkest periods in my life, so it was good to look back, but I think the artistry of those early drafts suffered because of all the distractions. But slowly, I've been revising and sending them out. And I'm going to collect a few of the published ones here. Bear in mind that these are just the poems that have been published or accepted for publication. This is 15 out of 75 or 80 poems, and these aren't necessarily the best, though they are some of the more universal ones.

"After He Sobered Up" and "Cows" appeared in Gravel.

Atticus Review featured me back in December along with a couple poems from the manuscript. There's a lovely introduction along with "How to Recycle a Farm Truck," "Tea," and "Etiquette." Another poem, "Hair," which is from Driving Around, appears in this issue.

"Bread Crumbs" should've been in Riceland but didn't make the cut. It was originally in Arkansas Literary Forum. I'm pasting the revised version:

Bread Crumbs
by CL Bledsoe

My brother’s soul was all vermilion and fried chicken, grease
stains sweated through his aura and dribbled behind him
like the path of a slug. I tried to walk in his footsteps, slipped
and slid behind him, sometimes to the ground, sometimes right
into his back. He would turn, grab my arm and lift me up
like so much laundry in the air. Up there I could see his bald patch, eggs
in the bird’s nest in the ceiling of our porch who thanked their mothers
they were born sparrow, gnawed bones spread over miles
like the corpses of winds. He would set me down, hold
me until I was steady, my arm in the air saluting, then turn, plod forward
and never fall. There were children in foreign lands starving
for what fell from him, starving for the air he ate like chocolate.
* * *

"Good Intentions" was in the Kentucky Review.

"Frogs" appeared in Poetry Quarterly. No link so I'll post it:

by CL Bledsoe

He made the mistake of leaving her
alone in the truck while he went to check
on the integrity of the levees. She waited
a good fifteen minutes before she put on
man-sized boots, waded out after him,
and got stuck in the saturated soil.

They say you can dive underwater
and a moccasin will pass overhead,
but when she saw one slither across the top
of the water, she didn’t bother testing
this hypothesis and instead set to hollering
until dad returned, neatly chopped
the thing in half with his shovel, yanked
her free and carried her back to the truck.

This time, she stayed only five before
climbing out and finding a slough on the edge
of the field exploding with thousands of baby
frogs. That’s where he found her, some
time later, looking up at him with big
dark eyes and offering him a tiny frog in her hand.

* * *

"Funnel Cloud" appeared in Emerge Literary Journal. No link, so here it is:

Funnel Cloud
by CL Bledsoe

Lightning crackles, illuminating the dark
clouds, swirling black and purple, blue
and gray. My sister and I, propped, all

scabby knees and elbows, on our parents’
bed, watch the churning air. The cloud dips
at the bottom of the hill, sprouts a trunk

that reaches for the ground in hunger
but withdraws, finding only dirt. The gyre
spins, rises back into the air and moves

closer. The lightning is gone. We see
nothing but dark until a white crash reveals
the whirling dervish just outside the window

with a delicious tremble, stretching down, buoyed
by the wind. It passes above us, out of sight.
Darkness settles outside again full of grumbling

thunder, chattering rain, violence we can’t name.
Somewhere behind us, a crash.

* * *

Floodwall ran one called "Hard Times, Arkansas."

Right Hand Pointing ran a couple. Here's "War with Korea." They also ran one called "A Good One," but I revised it pretty heavily, so I'm pasting the newer version:

A Good One
by CL Bledsoe

Dad, swaying, drink in hand, shit-eating grin
smeared across his face as he tells a nasty joke.

Mom, lips pursed, trying to catch any non-
laughing eyes to share her distaste. He’d say,

“Just go to bed.” And when that didn’t work,
“Why don’t you just laugh? Everyone else is.”

* * *

Several have been accepted but not published yet. Cahaba River Literary Journal picked up "Flagging," "It Was Quiet, There," and "Something about Lightning and a Young Girl's Heart." "The Path" was picked up by Concho River Review and is forthcoming.