Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page


In Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Dubrovnik, Montenegro, Pittsburgh, Uncategorized, Vermont on October 30, 2010 at 7:46 pm

This afternoon, a dream finally came true: I picked up 162 copies of my book, The Archipelago, from the offices of Autumn House Press. They look fantastic — I even love the spine. I am so grateful to my Autumn House dream team: Kriscinda Meadows for keen editing, Rebecca King for her magnificent design, Rick St. John for his business acumen and Michael Simms, President, who took a chance on a 30-year-old grad student.

And now you, too, can have your own copy.

There are two ways to find one:

Amazon: You can go to and order a copy. This is the most efficient way to track it down. Orders will start shipping on November 1, 2010. You’ll have your very own volume, full of mind-blowing adventures, in a matter of days.

Me: If you don’t want to pay for shipping, and you tend to run into me on a regular basis, I plan to carry around copies wherever I go. Copies are $20 (which is about the same price as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and it’s $280 less than a Playstation 3! What a deal!). I now have 162 copies to peddle, and nothing would make me happier to furnish you with one.

What will you discover among these pages? You’ll learn:

  1. What it’s like to get solicited by prostitutes in Athens.
  2. How it feels to fly down mountain passes in Albania. In a bus. In the middle of the night.
  3. Just what it takes to wreck a hotel room in Tirana.
  4. The joys of getting interrogated by Montenegrin border patrol.
  5. How to cross a [potentially active] mine-field.
  6. The awesomeness of Austrian mimes.
  7. What to do when confronted by American G-Men at the Sarajevo airport.
  8. The mysteries of “Turbo-Folk.”
  9. How Bosnians courageously survived the siege of Sarajevo.

Makes the perfect Christmas gift.

Thanks to everyone who made this project possible! Enjoy!

Evening of the Living Dead: 2

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Spider, Tidal Bore Hotel, Nova Scotia.

“What’s the deal with the preacher?” Kylan said, pointing to a creepy guy with a goatee. “He doesn’t even look like a preacher. He looks like a guitarist for a goth band.”

“And why does all the music sound like it was composed on a Casio?” I rejoined.

Come to think of it, what ever happened to those two goofy undertakers at the beginning? And why was the priest carrying a puppy at the end? And who was that reporter interviewing him…?

If you’ve only seen the original Night of the Living Dead, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. As it turned out, we were watching the “30th Anniversary Edition,” a film heavily modified by co-writer John A. Russo in 1999. Russo and his team removed about 15 minutes of the original film and added new footage, filmed with many of the original actors. Russo succeeded enough to fool us: The additions were bizarre, but then again, so is the rest of the movie.

When we reached the end, we were confused. What had we just witnessed? By the time we realized our mistake, it was too late. We had already “seen” Night of the Living Dead, if only as a hackneyed new version. Most of the middle was intact – including the bloodthirsty little girl devouring her own father – but it was impossible to tell the original movie from its additions. That night I spent hours sifting through YouTube clips, comparing the 1968 version with Russo’s little extras.

When it comes to movies, you only have one chance to see a film for the first time. I still remember seeing Citizen Kane (with my Dad) and Apocalypse Now (in my friend’s basement), and those first viewings are as clear today as any re-mastered print. Cinephiles like me are always eager for that first communion with a classic. If Night of the Living Dead didn’t live up to expectation, it’s not George Romero’s fault. It was ruined by Russo, who upheld a common myth: Masterpieces aren’t good enough as they are, and should be tampered with.

If I ever stumble into Romero on the street – which is always a possibility – I’ll have to apologize for the mix-up. After waiting so many years, it’s a shame to mar my favorite holiday in such a way. But I take heart: In a year, Night of the Living Dead may feel fresh again, and maybe I’ll give it another whirl. And regardless of what happens, there’s always Dawn of the Dead. The original, this time.

Evening of the Living Dead: 1

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2010 at 10:26 pm


Cemetery, Bloomington, Indiana.

After 13 years, I finally did it: In preparation for Halloween, I sat down and watched Night of the Living Dead.

October after October, I’ve missed my chance. Local theaters screen the movie. Friends loan me their DVD’s. But life gets busy and then, before I know it, Halloween is over and the movie remains unwatched.

Not this year. A few days ago my girlfriend and I drove to The Dreaming Ant in Bloomfield and picked up a copy. Neither Kylan nor I grew up in Pittsburgh, and Vermonters and Philadelphians aren’t nearly so attached to America’s original zombie movie. When we arrived home, we switched off all the lights and lit some candles. We were ready to seriously freak out.

Let’s just say that Night of the Living Dead isn’t exactly what we expected. I knew it was filmed in black-and-white, I knew that corpses rose from their graves, and I knew that most of those graves were located in the Pittsburgh area, in Evans City. Other than that, we knew nothing. Exploding truck? Catatonic blonde? Noble African-American hero? It was all news to us.

It’s tough to watch a Revered Classic. It’s like bumbling into a really meaningful conversation – you’ve missed a lot of the context, and you don’t fully appreciate what you’re hearing. It doesn’t help matters that Night of the Living Dead is a really awkward movie; the editing is choppy, the acting is weak, and all the violence seems to happen in slow motion.

I’m aware that this was a low-budget movie, filmed 42 years ago and produced without big-name actors or studio equipment. I know how important the film was – and is – to Pittsburgh. And I love that Pittsburgh has become the capital of zombiedom. Still, Kylan and I kept glancing at each other skeptically.

The Dice are Cast: 3

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2010 at 3:07 am

A tram in Sarajevo. Which is in Eastern Europe. Where I might spend a month writing a play.

Bakeless Literary Prize: I sent a book-length manuscript of poetry to the Bakeless Literary Prize, which is sponsored by the Breadloaf Writers Workshop, and the winner receives book publication by Graywolf Press. Crazily, the Workshop is located in Middlebury, my hometown.

Carnegie-Mellon University Press: I sent the same manuscript to CMU Press, which only accepts submissions in October for some reason.

Six Gallery Press: And just for good measure, I sent the same manuscript to Six Gallery Press.

Henry Holt Publishing: After reading my first column in McSweeney’s, an editor at Henry Holt Publishing sent me a letter of interest, asking whether I might have a novel lying around. I wrote back immediately, explaining five different projects I’ve been juggling, all kick-ass and sellable. He’s pondering this. I have literally bitten my nails to their nubs…

Quirk Books: After weeks and months of negotiation, auditioning, discussion, waiting, I have, for the second time, been ultimately rejected by Quirk Books. My friend is one of their editors, he’s one of my favorite people on Earth, and he’s rooting for me, but my manuscript just doesn’t quite work for them. The stress of almost being accepted has nearly caused me to explode into individual molecules.

The Baltic Writing Residency: This would allow me to live and work in Latvia for a month. Part of the former U.S.S.R., stunningly beautiful, full of characters and possibilities. I would write a play and monologues based on my stay. Totally awesome.

Crab Orchard Review: Sent some poems to them. Who knows?

AWP Conference: This is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. For most people, this means nothing. To MFA people, the AWP Conference is El Dorado and Shangri-La mixed together. This is where dreams come true. I am attending, but if they accept my pedagogy paper, the trip will be subsidized with 300 buckeroos.

American-Scandinavian Foundation: Also dead in the water. I wanted to write articles about Iceland after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, but it required an inscrutably complicated paperwork process, plus tons of letters of recommendation, and at this point, my advocates are exhausted from writing so many compliments about me. They deserve a freakin’ break, already.

These are the basics, and they don’t even include the countless queries, pitches, submissions, adjunct applications and book proposals I’ve sent out over the past few months. Fifteen agents have not responded to me in any way, even to decline. I also won’t bother to mention the dozens – scores – of grants and fellowships that I started to apply for, only to realize at the last minute that I am ineligible (not a woman, not transgendered, not a “person of color,” not from a “disadvantaged community,” not a resident of South Carolina). I fervently support all these special-interest grants, because there are lots of talented folks who could use the funding. But these parameters could really be more prominently displayed.

Now we play the waiting came.

The Dice are Cast: 2

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2010 at 3:03 am

Photograph of the Castle Isenberg museum. Which is in Germany. Where I might spend part of 2012. Maybe.

These are the things I’m applying for – grants, fellowships, residencies, whatever. I find a new one every week. Applying for them has become its own obsession – Lord knows what I’d do if I actually get one. These will all take me in separate directions, so I leave it up to Fortune. As Julius Caesar famously said before crossing the River Rubicon: Alea iacta est (“The die is cast”).

Guggenheim Fellowship: Reserved for the most elite artists in the nation (nay, the world), my chances of earning a Guggenheim are infinitesimal. But hey, why not? My proposal is to write a book about the nation of Laos, the tiny, landlocked nation in Southeast Asia – also known as the Most Bombed Country on Earth. I want to attend the Rocket Festival, which is one of the most provocative cultural traditions I’ve ever heard of. If I earn a Guggenheim, I would travel Laos for several months in mid-2011.

Howard Foundation: Same idea, if I can convince the folks at Howard that I am a “mid-career artist,” whatever that means.

Fulbright: Dead in the water. I found out that I’m eligible for a Fulbright two weeks before the deadline. I filled out all the paperwork, listed all my references, and then it turned out that I had to “have contacts in Laos,” which I don’t. There was no way to convince the Fulbright people that I could make contacts while I’m there, because I’m expert in making contacts. Ah, well.

Hodder Fellowship: Same Laos concept, except that I would have $63,900 and an office at Princeton University to write my masterpiece. Don’t get me wrong: I WOULD WRITE A ROCKIN’ BOOK. Will the people at Princeton believe that I am a “writer of exceptional promise”? Well, why the hell not?

U.S./Japan Creative Artists Program: Due to a recent obsession with haibun (a Japanese tradition of travelogue and poetry), I want to travel the pilgrimage of Bashō, a 17th-Century haiku poet and Zen Buddhist who wandered medieval Japan, risking his life every day, to document his world. He is considered the Shakespeare of Japan, and I want to retrace his footsteps and write a book about it. If I got this residency, I would live in Japan for three months in 2012.

Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship: Virtually nobody knows that I love poetry, I take it very seriously, and I write a lot of it. Since I write mostly about provocative instances in foreign countries, I figured I am a prime candidate for the Lowell Scholarship, which would entitle me to $50,000. Oh, and I’d have to live in a foreign country for a year. Dream come true? Yes.

American Academy of Berlin Fellowship: I have always wanted to write a book about the “Meistertrunk.” Basically, the Holy Roman Empire laid siege to the city of Rothenburg in the 1631. The invader, the Count of Tilly, offered to spare the town if one of the councilmen could drink a 3.5-liter goblet of beer in a single swig. For this, I would spend several months doing research in Rothenburg and Berlin (in 2012).

The Dice are Cast: 1

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2010 at 2:59 am

Photograph of the Mekong Delta, in Vietnam. Which is right next to Laos. Which is where I would like to spend part of next year.

Holy cats.

Autumn speeds by. November is upon us. Half my semester has elapsed.

I haven’t written a blog post for, oh, nearly three months. So what I have I been doing in all this time?

Applying for stuff.

I realized that, if all goes well, I’ll have a Master’s degree in May 2011. When all I think about is (a) midterm papers and (b) what I can scrounge up to eat before my three-hour night class, it’s hard to remember why I’m doing this. And by “this” I mean consuming enough caffeine to give George Jung a heart attack. “This” means lost sleep, night-terrors, and forgetting to drop my tuition payment in the mailbox until the very last day, so I must deliver it by hand, even though the check was filled out a week ago.

But seriously, grad school is a blast. Now and again I’ll be sitting in class and get this strange sense of panic – because classes will one day end, and already I miss them. These incandescent fellow writers. My wise-womyn professors. One day, I won’t be able to workshop essays about how much I abhor Burlington, Vermont, because we’ll all have our degrees and six-figure jobs at Ivy League universities. We’ll be too busy gallivanting around the world and schmoozing with editors by cell-phone… on our yachts… in the Aegean.

But before that happens, I have to figure out 2011. Like, the year that follows Christmas, which is fast approaching. This has become my new obsession, the one that keeps me up at all hours, typing my address into little online forms. Drafting “letters of intent” and “career biographies.” Because one way or another, I’m determined to do something awesome next year, and I’ll be damned if I know what it is.