In the Classroom

  • Train Dreams: A Novella
    Train Dreams: A Novella
    by Denis Johnson
  • Bluets
    by Maggie Nelson
  • We the Animals: A novel
    We the Animals: A novel
    by Justin Torres

October 1st

Last October 1st, Jane and I ate cake and drank Prosecco to celebrate the release of Tell Everyone I Said Hi. The last couple weeks, I've been wondering what it means for a book to turn one year old. Specifically, I've been wondering what that number might amount to in human years. It might be argued that literature lasts forever, that this book of mine is but an hour or half a day old, but I think we all know that's not really true. Still, it's been a fun year. I kept my expectations low, and they were exceeded times roughly a million.

Since I last updated this blog, a few things have happened. But first, a little story: Before I went to graduate school, I was working as a juvenile probation officer. It was a tough gig, and I was pretty good at it. Most of the hours I spent away from juvie, I was reading and writing, trying to get better at this thing I loved. This was a while ago, 2000-2002. Jane and I were living in Champaign-Urbana. During that time, I found Dan Chaon's book Among the Missing at the local bookstore. I'd never heard of Dan Chaon, but I saw that it was a collection of stories, and I checked out the blurbs. The blurbs, and this was when the book was in hardcover, were amazing. I think Lorrie Moore wrote one, and Michael Chabon, and Jean Thompson. All of these writers I loved and admired. I bought the book and started reading it that night when I was on break at the detention center. It blew me away. I mean, it filled me with envy. I wished I'd written each and every one of that book's stories.

Later that week, my friend Aggie Zivaljevic told me about a book she'd just read called The Esther Stories by Peter Orner. Aggie had read a few of my early attempts at writing, and she saw something in Orner's work that she thought I might appreciate. I made another trip to the bookstore, grabbed a copy, and began reading, again, that night on break at the detention center. And again, I was just blown away, filled with envy and awe. I don't think I've ever again read two books back-to-back that impacted me so deeply.

Fast forward a dozen or so years, and I'm working as a professor. One of my colleagues just so happens to be pretty good friends with Peter Orner, and Peter, well, he has a new book out, a collection of stories, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, so this colleague of mine was bringing him to campus. This was a couple weeks ago. Here's a picture of Peter. Peter was coming down to Galesburg from Ann Arbor, and he was running a little late. The crowd had gathered, and one of my colleagues asked me to read something of Peter's to fill the handful of minutes between when people might start to get restless and Peter would arrive. I picked up a copy of The Esther Stories and read the first piece. Halfway through it, I was feeling the pull of the past, the duplex Jane and I had once inhabited in Urbana, the raw desire I had back then to string sentences together into story. I couldn't believe that I was standing before a room filled with people and doing this simple thing, reading a beautiful story out loud to them. The moment was powerful, somewhat crushing.

Fast forward a couple of weeks from that, and Jane and I were headed back to Champaign-Urbana for the Pygmalion Music Festival & the Pygmalion Lit Fest. This was just this past weekend. We arrived on Thursday, had drinks, saw some music. On Friday, Jane had to travel to Springfield for work, and I stayed at the hotel to work on the novel she and I have been writing together. That night, I read from that novel in a space just one block away from the coffee shop I used to write at in Urbana on my days off from the detention center. Later that night, I saw some more music, listened to other great writers read their stuff. Then, the next day, I was sitting in a beer garden in Champaign, and who was taking the stage? Dan Chaon. He read from his novel-in-progress, and that moment was not unlike the one I experienced when I was holding Peter Orner's book in my hands and reading from it to my colleagues, to strangers and my students.

All of which is to say, this life I've been living has felt somewhat charmed lately. In certain ways, it's felt unbelievable. And now this book of mine, it's turned one. This last trip we made to C-U, Jane and I didn't even drive by the detention center. We probably should have.

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In other news: I really dig Story Swaps, and earlier this summer, I contacted Scott Garson to see if he'd want to swap stories. He was up for it, so we got in touch with Faith Gardner, and she was game, too. I love the story of Scott's I read, but I'm not sure I did it justice. Scott, however, knocked my story out of the ballpark. I might never be able to read that thing again.

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A couple weeks before the Pygmalion Lit Fest, I traveled down to Macomb to give a talk and read some fiction at Western Illinois University. Barb Harroun was an amazing host, and I loved getting to meet and talk with some of her students. The talk I gave was on the impact place has had on my writing. I'm thinking I might post it here on this blog sometime.

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The week before I traveled down to Macomb, Jason Braun came up to Monmouth to interview me for his radio show, Literature for the Halibut, which airs on KDHX, out of St. Louis, about my upcoming talk. You can listen to the first part of the interview here.

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Lastly: I have a new story coming out in Winter Tangerine Review. It's called "Resources." I like this one, though it's encountered some resistance in the world. I'm glad it's finally found a home at WTR, and that they've given it some editorial attention, some care and love. I'll let you know when the issue has made its way into the world.



It's September, which means the grass here in Illinois is long dead. Soon, the leaves will change. Just yesterday, first-year students at Knox moved into the dorms. I met with seven of them and took them out to dinner to welcome them to campus.

It's September, and I haven't updated this blog all summer. A year ago, I was three weeks from TELL EVERYONE I SAID HI's officially dropping. Those were exciting times. Soon, the book is going to celebrate its first birthday, and to be honest, things are still pretty exciting.

Back in July, I was something of the writer-in-residence at yeah write!, an online writing community full of lively and engaged folks. Here's a link to the last post I wrote for them, which includes links to the first three.

More recently, Fourth River, the literary magazine of Chatham University, ran an interview I conducted with Abbey Hood. Abbey asked some great questions, was a real pleasure to correspond with. (Please ignore the photo posted with the interview. I've never liked it, and thought I'd had it scrubbed forever from the Internets. But I was wrong. And, yes, I'm a little vain. I apologize.)

A few reviews continue to trickle in. Here's one by R. Jess Lavolette that was published in the Notre Dame Review. Reviews unavailable online have also shown up in recent issues of Mid-American Review & Sycamore Review.

Lastly, I have some pretty cool events/readings coming up. The first one, soon, is in conjunction with this exhibit at the Western Illinois University Art Gallery. Jane and I traveled down there on Thursday for the exhibition's opening reception. Here's an Instagram pic from the event. I'm grateful to Barb Harroun & Ann Marie Hayes-Hawkinson for asking me to be a part of it all. On the 16th, I'll be giving a gallery talk at 12:30, talking about the impact of place. On the same day, at 4:00, I'll be giving a reading, doing a Q&A.

And there's more goings-on, including an upcoming trips to Champaign & Columbia, Missouri. Details can be found on my Events page, which I just updated.

I also spent some time tonight updating my Books page. Maybe check it out?

And speaking of books: I spent much of the summer co-writing a novel with Jane. So far, we think it's pretty good. If the whole thing doesn't blow up in our faces, we hope to have a working draft done by the beginning of the new year. Keep your fingers crossed for us?


Early June

The above video doesn't have much to do with anything, I suppose. Or maybe it has to do with everything.

The writer Andrew F. Sullivan, author of the June 2013-released story collection All We Want Is Everything (look at that cover!), from Arbeiter Ring Publishing in Canada, tweeted something at me today that went like this: A good recipe for sorrow: "Hold on Magnolia" from Songs: Ohia paired with a heavy dose of Chad Simpson's story "Tell Everyone I Said Hi."

I'd never heard of Jason Molina/Songs:Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co, but I read about him while listening to "Hold on Magnolia," and holy shit. My heart was breaking all over the place. And then there was that gorgeous footage in the YouTube video of the demolition derby in Columbia, Missouri.


I still don't know how I missed Molina for so long--and during all of those years when I was listening to Uncle Tupelo & Wilco & Son Volt & Jay Farrar & Whiskeytown & Ryan Adams. I'm going to buy the Songs:Ohia album right now.

But back to the reason for this post, which was just supposed to be my touching base, catching y'all up on things now that school's out and I have the time:

Right around the time I wrote my last blog post, an excellent review of Tell Everyone I Said Hi, written by Alexander Lumans, a guy who writes some pretty great stories himself, appeared in The Collagist. I really love this one. I mean, the dude quotes Mary Ruefle.

A little while later, I was interviewed by Sarahana Shrestha for The Short Form. She asked me some great questions, and I was grateful for her insights into the book. It's always a pleasure to talk with people who are smarter than you are, especially when they don't hold that kind of thing over your head. Plus: That website! I love the look of that thing.

And then a review of TEISH appeared in the PANK blog. This one was written by Dawn West, another great writer/thinker. I didn't think I could like a review as much as the one that Alex wrote for The Collagist, but this one is right up there with it, for sure.

I think that's everything for now. I'm entering summer mode--hunkering down to get some real work done. And I've been making some plans to give readings and visit classrooms come Fall & Winter. In case I haven't been clear: I'm still feeling pretty lucky about all this.


Early April

This past Friday, Jane and I traveled to Iowa City to particpate in the Mission Creek Festival Lit Crawl. It was a great event. I read with some amazing writers: Eleni Sikelianos, Sarah Fox, Chris Martin, Hugh Ferrer, Mary Austin Speaker, Blair Braverman, and John Colburn. I was actually so nervous, I thought I might die. Seriously. While I was reading, I was imagining keeling over, an ambulance coming to extract me from the place. All in all, though: it went okay.

Before Jane and I left for Iowa City, we found out that TELL EVERYONE I SAID HI had been named to the longlist the the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, which was awesome.

Everything that's happened since my book came out, it just makes me feel so lucky.

A couple other things coming up this week:

This Thursday, I'll be reading with my label-mate, Marie-Helene Bertino at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. I think I mentioned before on this website: I'll write more about Prairie Lights later; I anticipate it being pretty emotional.

This Sunday: My buddy Eugene Cross, author of Fires of Our Choosing, invited me to talk to his students at Columbia College. He taught my book there in a class on writing and publishing, and I'm excited to go and hang out with a bunch of undergrads who've been assigned to read Tell Everyone I Said Hi. On Sunday, though, before my visit to his class, I'm going to visit The BookMarket in Glenview, where I'll read, and answer some questions about how my book came into existence, etc. I'm looking forward to it. And I'm hoping that some of you all, if you're near Iowa City or Chicago, will come out and introduce yourselves in the upcoming week. Please. I mean it.



Back in October I published a new story, "Translated from the French," in the inaugural issue of Better: Culture & Lit. They even have a video of me reading the story: Janey filmed me--I was a little embarrassed during it all--standing at the pulpit in my office, reading. I may or may not have been wearing pants. At any rate: Better has been publishing some great work, and now they're doing a Kickstarter so they can spread their Better goodness even further. Here's their Kickstarter video:

In review news:

Jess Stoner published a super-generous and thoughtful and beautifully written review of Tell Everyone I Said Hi over at Necessary Fiction. You can read what she had to say here.

Over at Babble, Brian Gresko made an annotated list of short story collections parents will love, and he was kind enough to include my book in a line-up that, well, I'm not so sure I should be a part of. The other writers include Raymond Carver, J.D. Salinger, A.M. Homes, Jhumpa Lahiri, Karen Russell, Donald Ray Pollock, and Michael Chabon. You can read what Brian had to say here.

In some pretty cool anthology news:

My story "American Bulldog" has been reprinted in New Stories from the Midwest 2012. Jason Lee Brown & Shanie Latham are the Series Editors, and John McNally served as the Guest Editor for this volume. I loved McNally's Troublemakers, another winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, and I'm floored he chose to include my story in this anthology, which also has work by Charles Baxter, Dan Chaon, and Lee Martin, among others. It's truly a beautiful book, and full of amazing stories.

The title story of my collection, "Tell Everyone I Said Hi," has also been reprinted, in 24 Bar Blues: Two Dozen Tales of Bars, Booze, and the Blues, edited by the excellent Andrew Scott. He, too, has put together an amazing line-up that I'm honored to be a part of. You can see the full table of contents here.

Lastly: Several years ago, I published an essay in Barrelhouse called "Home of the Poor and Unkown." It's about Galesburg and traumatic brain injury and socio-economic class. And Duffy's, a great little bar. And the Chicago Cubs. That essay has now been reprinted in Bring the Noise: The Best Pop Culture Essays from Barrelhouse Magazine. Again, it's a great line-up; I'm thrilled they made my essay a part of it.

In some events news:

I'm going to be reading in Iowa City twice the first few weeks of April: On Friday, April 5th, time & location TBD, I'll be part of the Mission Creek Festival. There are going to be some great bands in town, and Tig Notaro, and a host of cool and talented lit folks.

On Thursday, April 11th, I'm going to be reading at Prairie Lights at 7:00 with Marie-Helene Bertino. I could spend about 10000 words delineating my connection to this awesome little bookstore, but I think I should save that for a separate post.

And, last but not least:

The Believer is holding their annual reader survey. They want to know your three favorite works of poetry and fiction published in 2012. If you read Tell Everyone I Said Hi and liked it enough, maybe let them know? Just contact letters@believermag.com with your ideas.