Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hypertrophic Press: Spring 2018 Issue

Hey y'all.

This post is a week overdue, but I'm thrilled to be part of Hypertrophic Press's Spring 2018 issue. My short story "Chinatown," originally published in Luna Luna Magazine (three! years ago), has been dusted off. The issue is available online and as a beautiful print issue, a lovely collection of poems and stories held together by some of the best artwork I've ever seen, courtesy of Victoria Olt.

You can purchase the print issue here.

Thank you to Lynsey Morandin and Jeremy Bronaugh for their hard work and dedication to this literary project. And a special thank you to Maddie Anthes, who works as their acquisitions editor and was gracious in accepting my work, which I didn't expect to be published again. Its original publication home underwent a redesign, and previous work vanished. "Chinatown" is one of my personal favorites, and I'm thrilled it's back out in the world again. I'm sending love to all three people: I hope editors and readers around the literary world know how much they're appreciated, since so much of what they do is behind the scenes.

And a thank you to AJ Wolff, b.g. thomas, Chloe N Clark, Courtney LeBlanc, Kanika Lawton, Hannah Gordon, Kathryn McMahon, Liz Howard, and Paul Schiernecker. It's an honor to be included with you and your amazing craft. Hugs and high fives all around.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2017 Readings, 2018 Goals

Hi there. I hope 2018 is off to a great start for you.

Every year, I do a recap of the books I read in the previous year, plus a look at my stated goals, to see if I met them. Here's what I wrote last January:

"My goals for 2017 as a reader aren't as detailed as my goals as a writer. I (still) want to spend more money on small press titles, because we as a community need to sustain them. I'm not preaching from a soapbox, because I could have done more to financially support worthy literary organizations. With the Trump administration just weeks away (oh fuck, just typing that makes me angry), small presses will need to to remain voices and homes for the voices that might be silenced or marginalized by the powers that be. I want to remain optimistic about 2017, but deep down, I worry it'll be a shitshow. So, I want to do less talking about supporting diverse demographics and more buying, reading, and promoting of them."

"Deep down, I worry it'll be a shitshow." Oh boy, was I prophetic. Not only was 2017 a terrible year from a civic and international point of view, it was awful for me, personally. As I've written in my TinyLetter, I'm a straight white male: no matter how hard my life is, it wasn't personally under attack by virtually every aspect of the GOP and T***P administration. But I was dangerously underemployed for most of 2017. My teaching position wasn't renewed, and I was left scrambling, searching far and wide for freelance gigs, new jobs, and any measure of gainful employment. I lucked out and received a full-time management promotion at my bookstore, which made the second half of 2017 much less anxiety and depression-ridden. When I had baskets full of free time, I was either job hunting or staring at the ceiling in panic. At times, I couldn't bring myself to get lost in a book or my own writing, because I felt guilty for indulging in these activities.

That said, I didn't finish too far off last year. In 2016, I read 55 books. Last year, I finished at 53. For 2018, I want to double down on small press support, especially with so many eagerly anticipated titles forthcoming. I'm not going to make any grand, specific goals, because I'll undoubtedly fail, so I'll shoot for 60-70 books.

I have a Goodreads account, but I only use it to update my readings, not to rate or review titles, I'm going to do that more this year, but I feel uneasy with the horribly unscientific nature of the site, but I do know that ratings are helpful for small press writers. In lieu of ratings or playing favorites, the books that I've highlighted in bold spoke to me in various ways. You can call these my favorites, or merely strong highlights.

If you have your own list or goals, I'd love to read them. Feel free to send them my way. And here's to 2018: let's remain vigilant and supportive of the literary community. I wouldn't be anything without it.

1.) Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

2.) The Body's Question by Tracy K. Smith

3.) Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller

4.) Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

5.) I'll Tell You In Person by Chloe Caldwell

6.) The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

7.) Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song by Kara Vernor

8.) The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead

9.) The Insides by Jeremy P. Bushnell

10.) Versed by Rae Armantrout

11.) One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

12.) Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith

13.) Shrill by Lindy West

14.) Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

15.) Massive Cleansing Fire by Dave Housley

16.) Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

17.) Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell

18.) Bloodline: Five Stories by Ernest J. Gaines

19.) Baseball Life Advice by Stacey May Fowles

20.) All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

21.) Bruja by Wendy C. Ortiz

22.) A Manual for Nothing by Jessica Anne

23.) St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

24.) Tacos by Cyn Vargas

25.) Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

26.) Lightwood by Steph Post

27.) Teche by Shane K. Bernard

28.) Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard

29.) Friendship by Emily Gould

30.) Hunger by Roxane Gay

31.) Dream-like Houses by Joyce Chong

32.) Made For Love by Alissa Nutting

33.) A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

34.) Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home by Shasta Grant

35.) Eat Only When You're Hungry by Lindsay Hunter

36.) Speedboat by Renata Adler

37.) Animal Heart by Paul Luikart

38.) Chemistry by Weike Wang

39.) The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore by Jared Yates Sexton

40.) Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

41.) Different Seasons by Stephen King

42.) Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

43.) The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

44.) Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

45.) Stephen King's The Body: Bookmarked by Aaron Burch

46.) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

47.) The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

48.) We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

49.) The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

50.) The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

51.) Sons and Other Flammable Objects by Porochista Khakpour

52.) Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado

53.) Felt in the Jaw by Kristen Arnett

Monday, August 28, 2017

TinyLetter: Rising Rejections

I just posted my first TinyLetter, a slightly rambling introduction to what I hope to accomplish with (hopefully) weekly letters and updates.

From now on, I'll just share the URL whenever I do a post, but for this first one, I'll share it here in full.

If you'd like to subscribe, you can do so here:

Even though I haven't posted here with any frequency, I'll still have original content that I'll update on this blog for the sake of variety. I like using social media in various forms, as in: not excessively cross-posting for one blandly unified collection of feeds.

Hi there, and welcome to my first TinyLetter.

I'm still figuring out how to navigate this space, and while I do have ideas on how I want this to take shape, there may be stumbles and hiccups along the way. So bear with me.

I first mentioned writing a TinyLetter a month or so ago. What I hope to accomplish is straightforward. After a year living in Lafayette, Louisiana, I want to document how my writing has changed after Southern immersion. Do I call myself a "Southern writer?" Is such a label necessary, and if so, what claim do I have? Just because I've eaten a ton of po' boys and I'm a writer, should I worry about how my new environment has shaped me? My last published story ("Love Bugs," Split Lip Magazine, December 2016) was explicitly Southern, and my latest WIP is heavily immersed in a Southern landscape. So am I a Southern writer? I don't know, but that's something I can explore later on. I'm concerned with how using my surroundings in fiction translates into honesty and reality, especially when faced with Southern stereotypes that I had in my head upon the move down here, and when famous Southern writers tend to form a small sect that is influential, both positively and negatively.

For now, as my bio suggests, I want to talk about anxiety, depression, and rejections. I hesitate to describe myself as depressed, because it's the kind of word that can be thrown around easily, and I've never been diagnosed with it, or treated for it. But my last several months were a spiral of negative feelings. After working as an adjunct instructor last fall, the university I worked for wasn't able to offer me any courses. I found myself dangerously unemployed for months, trying to find work in an area that had a) doesn't have a wealth of jobs available, and b) tends to give openings to family and friends in need of work. My girlfriend carried the financial weight, and I applies for dozens and dozens of jobs, with almost no return calls or emails. I was scared, depressed, and didn't know what to do. Between worrying about money and feeling isolated, my motivation to write was nonexistent, which led to even MORE writing anxiety: writers are supposed to write, no matter what. But I felt guilty and nervous carving out writing time when I didn't know what the future was going to hold.

I got damn lucky. A full-time management position was offered to me at the bookstore. I interviewed, got the job, and I'm now on better financial footing. And now I'm trying to get some long-simmer writing projects dusted off. I'm not entirely out of the woods. I still have anxieties and problems. And this is where writerly, geographic labels come back into play. I'm trying to be more brave, to write more openly about my problems. My reluctance to do so is a Midwestern trait (or, given my words above, a stereotype). I keep my fears bottled up.

And this is where this TinyLetter swoops in. I want to be more open, and I genuinely hope my own stumbles are reassuring to other creatives. This is a terribly simple hope, one I'll return to later.

Let's get back to rejections. Here are concrete numbers, presented as accurately as possible. Since January 2017, I've received:

16 short story rejections
14 novel rejections (both agents and presses)
1 fellowship rejection
1 essay rejection
1 poem rejection

I started submitting work back in 2012. I'm fully prepared for this to be the first year since then that I haven't had a single piece published. Of course, I still have many pieces both long and short floating around various journals and presses. These could be future rejections or acceptances. In addition to feeling like I wasn't a writer for most of this year, I've also dealt with the steady onslaught of rejections. Therefore, my anxieties have been twofold: "Writers write (which I struggled to do, given job woes and depression), and "Writers write to write, not to be published." I've struggled to accept this To borrow a phrase from writer Tasha Coryell, I think my post-MFA crisis year is this year, not last year. I had ups and downs last year, but I still ended 2016 with four publications.

I'm not treating this first entry as a full-fledged essay. I'm not going to say I've overcome the aforementioned obstacles, nor am I going to give any sappy notes to anyone who might be reading this, platitudes along the lines of "Hey, our struggles are the same!" We're not the same, you and I. I'm not going to assume that my being fairly open about my issues is going to make someone sit back, slap their forehead, and think "I'm not alone!" The psychology of writers and writing advice deals far too heavily in absolutes. I stop reading when I see phrases like "all writers must" and "real writers to do this." So if my future letters end up being looks at craft and process, I won't present them as set in stone. What works for me might work for you, but most likely not.

But here's the thing: you're not alone. Whatever you're dealing with, we all do. Am I being hypocritical? Yes, just as I'm hypocritical with my own creative struggles in the face of life struggles. Writing highs and lows are the same and different for everyone. But if my laying this out here offers you solace, I'm happy to do so. However, the last thing I want this TinyLetter to be is a sad sack diary entry. I want the majority of my messages to be detailed unpackings of current WIPs, readings, and entries on what it means to be Southern when one is a transplant (I plan to propose this as a presentation for next year's Deep South in the Global South conference).

I've been editing this over the last two days, but I'm going to stop for now. Thank you for reading these initial ramblings. And welcome.

-James Yates
August 28, 2017

Sunday, August 27, 2017

TinyLetter Debut

I've let this site lag quite a bit lately, but I've started something that might help me jump start some new posts and ideas.

I have a TinyLetter account now. You can subscribe here:

Here's a brief synopsis of what I hope to accomplish with this new platform: "I'm writer based in Lafayette, Louisiana, originally from Chicago (and, in a roundabout way, Lynnwood, Washington). In addition to my very sporadically updated blog, I want to use this TinyLetter to work through some forthcoming projects and ideas. Also, as I come out of a very long personal/creative funk, I hope my notes and thoughts help other creatives know they're not alone."

Once I get the posts up and running, I'll copy and paste them here as well.

Happy reading and writing, y'all.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Claire Polders' Favorite "(Dead) Father" Flashes

Late this morning, I had a pleasant surprise. Writer Claire Polders wrote a list for the great literary journal SmokeLong Quarterly, examining her favorite "(Dead) Father" flash fictions.

She graciously included my 2016 story "Empire State Building," published in matchbook literary magazine. If you missed it the first time, you can read it here.

About my story, Claire wrote: "Should we hate or love our fathers for their lies, their exaggerations, their obsessions? In this touching story by James Yates, in which more is said than written, I was left pondering that interesting question."

Wow. Thank you, Claire! Plus, I'm just damn stunned to see my work sharing company with the likes of Mai Nardone, Lydia Davis, Steve Edwards, Aubrey Hirsch, Horia Gârbea, Sudha Balagopal, Emily Devane, Paul Maliszewski, and John Cheever.

Overall, this just reminds me to be more vocal about my appreciation for other writers. And don't ever think that a kind word or sharing a link to a favorite piece is an empty gesture; it can come at a crucial time for somebody. I've been in a very long, frustrating creative funk that I'm slowly coming out of, and having a writer kindly share my work was a much-needed boost.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions

Earlier this week, the literary journal Wigleaf announced their Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions 2017 list, selected by the wonderful Amber Sparks, who wrote a fierce, necessary introduction to her choices:

"Why stories? Why now? After all, the thinking seems to go – at least, in my social media hive mind – there are more pressing matters, more urgent issues. More rallies to attend, more phone calls to make, more abuses of power to resist. And all this is true – and it is urgent – and it is necessary to respond to the tyranny of the moment with all of our force and might and voice. At the same time, though, I feel certain that to lose our sense of story is to capitulate more absolutely in the face of fascism than any other surrender we might make. The stories we tell are the shape of the world, and the warning of the world to come or the hope of the world we might make. Writers have a unique gift to offer to a sick and sore society: the stories that can keep us alive."

I was caught by surprise when I realized my story "Love Bugs" was on the longlist of stories considered for the Top 50. Over the years, I've browsed and read some stellar writers on the Wigleaf 50 and the longlist, and seeing my name included this year, alongside some staggeringly talented writers, was strange and lovely.

Writing should never be about publications or recognition, but real talk: this year has been hard for me in a creative sense. I'm working on some new stories and even outlining a second novel, but none of my work has been accepted for publication, and the process of finding an agent and/or publisher for my debut novel has led to dead ends and radio silence. I know this is part of the game at times, but more than once this year, I've felt nervous, worried about what my writing is doing, and battling strange, random bouts of impostor syndrome. So, to see myself included on a longlist was touching, because it reminds me that I am doing good work (most of the time, anyway), and I just need to keep pushing and working.

Thank you, Wigleaf. And congratulations to the Top 50 writers! I can't wait to catch up on all the great work published in the last year.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Literary Magazine Project: Introduction

In the past, when I updated this blog regularly, I often did two things consistently: 1.) I'd have a great idea, say something along the lines of "I'll write about this soon!", and then never get back to it. 2.) I'd recognize this failure, claim to not make plans in writing, and then the cycle would repeat again.

But in this case, I'm taking on a smaller scale project for 2017, and I think the benefits I'll outline here have merit.

The accompanying photo shows two shelves of back issue literary magazines and journals. While I'm sure others have much more impressive collections, I have to admit that I haven't finished a lot of these. There are a handful that I've read front to back, some issues I've read selections out of, and some that I haven't touched. People love to talk about collecting books, and this word has spawned endless memes and book posts. But what about literary magazines? Are they counted as books, especially when piled up? Or should they be considered their own class?

This also came about because there are many books I want to reread this year, and I realized that nobody talks about rereading literary magazines. I'm not under the assumption that I'm doing anything unique or radical. This is my own project, to help myself as I put more emphasis on supporting the literary community that has supported me.

I'm not concerned with definitions; what I am concerned with is dusting off some older archives, and giving new attention to pieces that might not have been widely read in the last couple years. When literary magazines are published, they receive attention, hopefully some sales, but this often isn't sustained. The bump in sales and clicks is probably at its strongest when the issue debuts. What I'm hoping for is a renewal of this energy.

So for the rest of 2017, I'm going to read these all from beginning to end, and I'll document hidden gems, early pieces from now well-known writers, and give older literature a bump.

I'll also add to my collection as the year goes on, through single issues that I find and through subscriptions that I'll be taking out in due time. As for online literary journals, I'll work those in, but I'm not sure how. For now, the focus is on the printed, physical ones, especially in this age when not many journals still produce actual magazines.

I started this last night, and I already made a pleasant discovery: I'm reading a 2010 issue of Eleven Eleven Journal, and I read an early piece by Alissa Nutting, one of my favorite fiction writers. I'll include more analysis when I report back on the issue, but this is what I want: to see the early development of writers, and to discover names that have slipped under my radar. Maybe these are writers who are still widely published; maybe I'll fall in love with a story by someone who published one piece of fiction in 2012 and never published again.

I'll either do single issue recaps, multiple issue analysis, or a combination of the two. I might incorporate online magazines as well, but this will mostly be devoted to the physical copies, old and new.

If anything else comes to mind, I'll update this post accordingly. For now, I like this foundation, and I'm eager to really get it moving.