Svoboda_Terese_cWhy the title Tin God?

According to my esteemed Dictionary.com,  a tin god is someone, esp. a minor official, who is pompous and self-important. I’m referring to my fallen conquistador who perhaps was once pompous and self-important but as soon as he is relegated to the journey into the unknown, he’s in trouble. He has to gouge a dead comrade out of his armor and steal his tin hat in order to protect himself. His deterioration is a paean to “A Distant Episode,” Paul Bowles’ perfect story about the fall of an academic in Morocco, although maybe all stories about the disoriented in exotic climes derive from Bowles or maybe Dante’s Inferno, or even Rabelais whose narrator resides inside Pantagruel’s mouth for six months and discovers an entire nation living around his teeth.

tin-god-cover_0All over the Middle West you find people who know I’m here. Why, there was this woman in Minnesota—you saw her in the grocery-line-kind-of-paper—who found God in her dishwasher, on a scratched plastic Goofy cup. But there are others who know there’s something going on and so are forever talking aliens. Aliens, and I don’t mean just the unregistered citizen-slaves who trim trees and pick fruit, they talk about people of real color, purple, for example, with weeds attached to the person’s undersides or insect parts where their mouths should be. Sometimes that same newspaper puts them on the front page with a star’s parts. And there are also those who know there’s something going on but they can’t quite put their finger to it. What they end up fingering usually isn’t god, in general, the human mind always running to evil like it does. Remember the girl who last year offered her firstborn to the rising river?  I was behind her, in my pickup.

You can’t escape Willa Cather’s shadow if you’re a Nebraskan. Who can best “the golden light seemed to be rippling through the curly grass like the tide racing in” when it comes to nailing dawn in that state? Cather makes any competing author just want to write about New York City. But it takes an exile to really see a landscape. She was not Nebraskan, she left the rolling hills of Virginia behind for remote Red Cloud at the tender age of nine and stayed only a decade. I am a native, but I too have the advantage of an exile’s perspective, having fled to New York after my own time in a small Nebraskan town. Cather is the eldest of seven children, I am the eldest of nine. We both had a Latin tutor, we both feared “we might die in a cornfield”—her words. But I am Bohemian.

1718 – Nantucket Beach

 

1

 

I’ve seen boats as big as this whale.  I’ve seen gryphons the same size, with teeth growing in even as they were taking their last breath.

You have not.  And not a live one.

I’ve been to sea, I’ve seen all you’re supposed to, being at sea. I am sixteen, after all.

I have a note from when I started my fifth novel, Pirate Talk or Mermalade in 1997: “Why this is only dialogue: history is a series of whispers. The landscapes change but the whispers continue.” While landing Pirate Talk, I kept having to justify why only dialogue. “Talk Like a Pirate Day” by David Sedaris had yet to be invented, and Philip Roth hadn’t run his all-dialogue story in the New Yorker. Thirty years ago, Chip McGrath at the New Yorker told me I did description well. With my usual perversity, I did without. Both for the fun of it, and because I love Daniel Defoe’s dialogue. People from another time in history differ in culture from ours, their world and language is closer to sci-fi than the contemporary. I wanted the reader to feel as if he were listening through some temporal fold that physics is always promising that would allow him to overhear voices in the 18th century. But really, contemporary life is all about dialogue now, tweets and blogs overwhelming the well-made descriptive. And would you look at that cover! The great Brian McMullen made it talk!

Tonight there will a release reading for my book of prose poetry, In This Alone Impulse, at KGB Bar in NYC at 7pm. In celebration of its polyvocal soul, I’ve gathered a number of friends and fellow literarians to help me read from the book, including:

Lincoln Michel, James Yeh, John Madera, John Dermot Woods, Rozalia Jovanovic, Nicolle Elizabeth, Todd Zuniga, James J. Williams III, Terese Svoboda, Emma Straub, Sasha Graybosch, Nick Bredie, Nora Jean Lange, Joe Sullivan, Peter Schwartz, Timmy Waldron, and Brianna Colburn.

All outstanding writers in their own right, I really look forward to hearing how they give voice to these poems. The reading will also feature videos from people across the country, including BL Pawelek, Ryan W. Bradley, and AD Jameson. I’ve personally been recording videos for these poems for a while now, and I encourage you to watch one or two here. (Want to make one of your own? I’ll send you a copy of the manuscript and let you have at it!)

Here’s a link to the event listing. Please come, or suggest it to a local friend!


A big hello from the Fiction Editorial Team–Stacy Bierlein, Alex Chee, Shya Scanlon and yours truly.  We’re all so excited to unveil this section of the new-and-improved TNB that if we told you how thrilled we really are, you might be a little alarmed.  You might even suspect that we have too much time on our hands . . . which is so far from the truth it would be comical.  So suffice it to say that we’re really, really glad you’re here, and both proud and humbled to be on this journey through the terrain of contemporary fiction with you.

First, a little story:

This September my son Giovanni, who is three-and-a-half, started preschool.  The plan was that once he was in school, I would finally have enough hours “to myself” to get all my work done.  On that list: running Other Voices Books‘ flagship Chicago office (well, flagship may be a rather grand term for a desk in my basement), teaching at two universities, raising three small children–and then, in my nonexistent spare time blogging for both TNB and HuffPo, in addition, of course, to writing my own fiction and prepping to market my second book coming out in 2010.  Oh, I think I recall that I was also going to kick up my yoga practice this year in all my “free time,” and start reading some books that weren’t: a) fiction, b) submissions to OV Books or c) by writers I know.

Um, yeah.  Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.  Or maybe it’s just that sometimes the best laid plans are not really all they’re cracked up to be.

Giovanni had been at his first day of preschool for exactly four hours when my phone rang.  It was Brad Listi, who at that time (this now seems like a distant memory) didn’t frequently call me.  He proceeded to explain his idea for a TNB Fiction Section.  Then, to my surprise, he asked if I would consider editing it.

Absolutely anyone who knows anything about what my life looks like would tell you that I should have run for the hills.

Instead I was ecstatic.  I think within a minute and a half, I had basically signed away not only my own name in blood, but that of my longtime business partner Stacy Bierlein, Exec. Ed. of OV’s Los Angeles office, who is now my co-Editor in this venture too.  I recall buzzing around my house for the rest of the workday making lists of all the writers I couldn’t wait to let know about TNB.  When Shya and Alex joined the fray soon after, the conference calls and barrage of emails that commenced were dizzying.

If you care anything about contemporary fiction (and you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t), you know that review venues are shrinking by the day.  Books sections in papers and magazines are closing or radically reducing space; longtime literary magazines are losing funding and folding.  Corporate publishers are spending less on book tours and indie presses often can’t afford to spring for them to begin with.  It is harder and harder for writers to market their work in traditional ways.

This is where TNB’s Fiction Section comes in.  Our aim here is not only akin to that of all good literary magazines–to showcase some of the most vibrant writers working today–but also to help provide these writers with a vehicle to market their books.  This is why we provide links to authors’ websites and sales pages: to help directly connect the writers we love with their audience–TNB’s large, loyal and growing readership.  We also aim to provide you insights into these authors and their work that you can’t get just anywhere, which is what’s behind the “self-interview” concept.  Here, authors answer all the questions they were always afraid to answer in other interviews, or that they wished all those other guys would’ve asked instead of asking what time of the day they write and whether their desk faces west or east.  TNB’s Fiction Section is a tantalizing triple-threat on that week’s Featured Author, so that by the time you’re done, you should be as smitten as we are.

Some writers we’ll be showcasing this year include Stuart Dybek, Steve Almond, Stephen Elliott, Antonya Nelson, Jonathan Evison, Joshua Mohr, Aimee Liu and Terese Svoboda . . . among many, many more!  Please stay tuned.  New work goes up every Sunday night.

Finally, on behalf of Stacy and myself, I’d also like to say how truly fun it’s been to work with such a wide variety of writers again.  When we closed Other Voices magazine in 2007 to focus on book publishing, we gained many exciting opportunities to champion indie books out in the world, but we considerably narrowed the pool of writers we were able to champion, since Other Voices Books publishes only two titles annually.  So it has truly been a joy to be able to reach out to more writers again, to consider so much new work, and to merge our passion for book and magazine publishing here at TNB.

We hope to hear from you soon and often.  Onward, and go TNB!