Speaking of awards I haven’t won yet …

Earlier this week I found out my story “Fantastic Atlas” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Ascent, the journal where it appeared back in March of this year.

This, combined with the very favorable write-up my novel How I’m Spending My Afterlife received for the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Contest (which it did not win, alas), has made for a very affirming and confidence-building week for me.

Of course, it is just a nomination. I haven’t actually won anything yet. And as John Fox points out in a pretty divisive blog post, a lot of people get these nominations every year. That’s because every small literary magazine is eligible to submit up to six pieces they published during the previous calendar year. There is, therefore, a school of thought that says the nomination itself is pretty meaningless unless it’s followed by a win, or at least a Special Mention, and that boasting about it is unseemly.

My take: Nah.

Nobody says we shouldn’t brag about getting our stories published. In fact, that’s just good self-promotion, and it’s pretty much required these days (hell, self-promotion is the reason I wrote this post in the first place). So why wouldn’t I be proud of it when an editor tells me that he thinks my story was one of the best things his journal published this year?

And I’m not the only one who feels this way, either.

So yes, I’m gonna brag about it, and I hope I win. I got a Pushcart nomination! Hooray! Go me! But even if I don’t win, it really is an honor just to be nominated.

I’ll definitely mention it when I start sending the short story collection out to agents and editors, though. Way up high in the query letter. They are gonna hear about it, boy howdy.

There’s more to life than winning awards, you know (though that’s probably pretty nice too)

Earlier this year, I entered How I’m Spending My Afterlife in the 26th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. The judge who read it had some nice things to say (I assume they would have told me if I’d won anything, and since they didn’t mention anything, I guess I probably didn’t, which is okay because I am getting plenty of validation from this critique, let me tell you):

HOW I’M SPENDING MY AFTERLIFE knocks it out of the park. Wonderfully produced, its colorful, evocative and clever cover is sure to draw many an eye and pocketbook. And readers will likely not be disappointed; Alton Carver is fully developed, appealing scoundrel who owns his mistakes but doesn’t quite know what to do with them and his wife (widow?) Nicole is equally misguided. The true victim of the piece is an innocent, daughter Clara who is portrayed realistically as well. Readers may recognize parts of themselves and others in these characters; motivation in and of itself to keep turning the pages.
But author Spencer Fleury pulls together other elements as well, including a plot that bubbles along at rapid pace and lots of humor. Alton makes no bones about his love for all things materialistic, such as parting ways with his beloved Porsche when he fakes his death. “…you either understand what I’m talking about or you don’t, and if you don’t I feel sorry for you.” While Nicole calls Davis, her ineffectual lover, “an idea hamster…coming up with ideas and never taking them anywhere, just…spinning his giant hamster wheel until the next one came along.” Such writing is reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen, another chronicler of all things Florida.
Although the book has some vagaries, such as exactly how much money is at stake, where it is located and what happens to it after events unfold and the exact nature of Alton’s initial crimes, these are not enough to detract from the an excellent escapist read. And like any good piece of writing, it’s reflective of society in general and imparts a solid moral lesson that allows readers to figure it out for themselves.
  • Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5)
  • Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 4
  • Production Quality and Cover Design: 5
  • Plot and Story Appeal: 4
  • Character Appeal and Development: 5
  • Voice and Writing Style: 4
Thanks, contest judge! I’m glad you dug it.

Four More Years

Exactly four years ago today, after a three-and-a-half-day cross-country drive, I arrived in San Francisco for good.

My dreams of moving here had grown more and more powerful since 2007, when I first managed to visit, but I’d actually had it in my head that I wanted to live here since at least 1993, when during Coast Guard boot camp I requested an initial duty station anywhere in the Bay Area. (I got New Bedford, Massachusetts instead, which I hear has come a long way since then. But I digress.) I left Florida two days after the string of disappointments that were Election Day 2014 in the Sunshine State and Continue reading “Four More Years”

Things I miss about Florida, part 3: Thunderstorms

Florida summers are brutal. The double-whammy combination of high heat and humidity makes venturing outside for more than a few minutes at a time supremely uncomfortable, unless you like the sensation of having been basted in a thin slick coating of your own perspiration at all times (I, for one, do not). The sun is relentless, bright enough some days to give you a headache from just looking out the window. You will often find your steering wheel is too hot to touch without gloves.

But on the other hand, there are thunderstorms.

Image by William Carson

If you’ve never experienced a Florida thunderstorm, I can tell you they’re not like thunderstorms I’ve experienced elsewhere. Florida storms are Continue reading “Things I miss about Florida, part 3: Thunderstorms”

These Are My Records: “Yellow Submarine”

If there is a Beatles album that could be described as “non-essential,” or “disposable,” or “give me my money back,” it’s Yellow Submarine. Consider—and then quickly dismiss—the entire second side, which is just a series of short orchestral compositions by George Martin for the soundtrack to the animated film of the same name. This leaves us side one—a handicap, but not a fatal one; there are plenty of worthwhile albums out there that have one really good side and one that’s best ignored—but the two famous songs on that side (the title track and “All You Need Is Love”) weren’t even new when this album was released.

The original plan was apparently to release the other four songs on side one—you know, the actual new-in-1967 ones—as a standalone EP. Had they done so, it almost certainly would have gone on to be held in higher regard than Yellow Submarine ever was. These tracks are mostly pretty good: George’s two turns at the mic act as bookends, first in the passive-aggressive, floating-dream-state dig at his bandmates’ business practices that is “Only a Northern Song” and then on the psych-pop masterpiece “It’s All Too Much;” in between, Paul the ditty-meister leads a few back-porch jug-band verses of what basically amounts to a goofy childhood nonsense song (“All Together Now”). It’s fine, if somewhat uneven, work.

But the track that would have held that EP together—and the one that works the hardest to redeem this disc—is “Hey Bulldog,” a four-four stomper with a tough-guy piano riff intro and some absolutely screaming guitar tone in George’s solo. It also has Paul and John barking like dogs for reasons that are unexplained (and probably best left that way). If you follow that link, be sure and listen to the way the slight echo in the snare hits in the chorus adds tension and forward motion, but is something you probably wouldn’t even notice unless it was pointed out to you.

Ever since I was a little kid (we had a lot of Beatles albums in my house growing up), I’ve been able to put “Hey Bulldog” on a loop and just let it repeat for half an hour or so. Too bad it doesn’t get the support it deserves from the rest of the disc, but if you happen to spot this in the bargain bin at your local record shop, it’s probably worth a couple bucks on its own.