Peauxdunquians reading at Words and Music

On Thursday this week, November 20, the annual Words & Music Conference kicks off at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, featuring a number of award-winning writers, as well as a strong cast of editors and agents. Also, at the 3:45 session on Thursday, several Peauxdunque writers have been selected to join in a reading of new works.

Amy Conner, author of the new novel, The Right Thing, will be mistress of ceremonies for the event. Among those invited to read are Maurice Carlos Ruffin, winner of the Faulkner Society’s 2014 gold medal for Novel-in-Progress for All of the Lights, Kay Sloan, the 2014 winner of the Novella gold medal for Give Me You, and the winner of the Short Story gold medal, N. West Moss, for Omeer’s Mangoes, who was also a runner-up in the Novel-in-Progress category, who will be reading excerpts from their winning work. Others invited to read are Terri Stoor, a previous short story gold medal winner, and Andy Young, a previous gold medal winner for poetry, who has a spectacular new collection out, All Day It Is Morning. Competition finalists Tad Bartlett, J. Ed Marston, and Emily Choate, will also be reading, along with Mary Helen Lagasse, prizewinning author of The Fifth Sun, who will read from her new book, Navel of the Moon, scheduled for 2015 release. Event is included in writers and sponsors packages. There will be a cash bar.

Ruffin and Pruyn, publishing again!

In publication news from Peauxdunque, we’re happy to announce that Maurice Carlos Ruffin‘s story, “The Boy Who Would Be Oloye,” has been accepted for publication by Massachusetts Review; and that AGNI Online has accepted for publication Cassie Pruyn‘s poems, “Love Lost Lounge” and “Maine Morning, Age 5.”

“The Boy Who Would Be Oloye” was recently named a finalist in the short story category of the William Faulkner-William Wisdom writing competition (Maurice was named the winner of the novel-in-progress category of that competition and the first runner-up in the essay category). “Love Lost Lounge” was a finalist in the poetry category of that competition this year.

Many congratulations!

The Writing Process Blog Tour: Tad Bartlett

And now for Tad Bartlett‘s stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour’s four questions:

What am I working on right now?

I’m working on a linked collection of novella and stories tentatively called Joe Stories. What Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is to the movie and to Texas, Joe Stories aims to be to the novel and to Alabama. Joe Stories chronicles the maturation of Joe Alsobrook, from an 11-year-old malcontent fantasizing about escape above and out of his small, racially troubled Alabama town in the story “Tree Houses,” through a 25-year-old young man, not long married, calming into a love that overcomes a turbulent past. Each of the short stories picks up events as Joe grows up, snapshots in time and relationships. The short stories use Joe as the POV character, whether in first person, faux second person, or close third, while the novella (Marchers’ Season) tells the turning point event in Joe’s life–a series of protests during his senior year of high school–through the close third-person POV of Gray Alsobrook, Joe’s dad. I’ve been working on some of the stories in the collection since 2006, and hope to finish the novella and the collection by the end of 2014. (And I damn well better, because it’s my MFA thesis, as well, which I’m due to turn in by the beginning of January 2015).

How does the work differ from others in its genre?

Hard to say, because it definitely comes from a tradition, though maybe it differs in that it comes out of several traditions. I try to honor the lyricism and controlled abandon of the Beats, while paying close attention to the societal and intergenerational debt themes of the work of folks like Lewis Nordan and Barry Hannah and the other “grit lit” writers. At the same time, I hope the stories’ calling up of place is reminiscent of Tom Franklin’s work, among others. But really, how it’s different or distinguishes itself is a judgment to be made by readers, not me. I can only write what I write.

Why do I write what I do?

Because these are the rhythms and pictures that come to me. Because I hope through translating those rhythms and pictures into words, maybe I can understand myself better and how I fit in with the people around me, and maybe the same can happen for others who come in contact with the work. Also, because it’s fun.

How does your writing process work?

I think about a piece for a long time, trying to figure out how an initial picture can evolve and justify a full story, who a character in that picture is, where they come from, where they might get to in the story, what unique element or difficulty can pop up in the story. I do that figuring and thinking for many weeks, usually, between the pop of the initial idea and the sitting down to write it, walking around with it in my head, folding into it things I walk past on the street or articles I read or snippets of conversation I hear. But then I steal time from wherever and whatever I can, from job or from sleep, and capture it as quickly as possible, in a couple days at most. Then I let a couple very trusted and reliable readers tear at the draft. Then I straighten things up for a week or so. Then I let it sit. Then I revise it and wonder about completeness. Sometimes that’s it. Sometimes I revisit and revise and tear up and rewrite over the course of multiple years, with new pictures and stories working in the meantime that may or may not influence how I think about the pieces that are still in process.

2014 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition: Ruffin gets gold medal, Choate places, and other Peauxdunque finalists

The final results in all categories of the 2014 William Faulkner-William Wisdom writing competition (run in conjunction with the excellent Words and Music writers’ conference) have been announced, and Peauxdunque is proud to be the home of a new gold medalist: Maurice Carlos Ruffin has won the gold medal in the novel-in-progress category for his work, All of the Lights! (Peauxdunque’s previous gold medalists areTerri Shrum Stoor in the short story category in 2011, and Emilie Staat in the essay category in 2012). Of All of the Lights, category final judge M.O. Walsh observed:

All of the Lights is more than a novel in progress. It is an absolute gift. The story of a black lawyer in an all-white firm, battling personal demons and marital challenges, racism and the complications of ambition, this is a novel with every level of conflict you could ask for: internal, external, familial, racial, social, immediate, and looming. Yet, in spite of this, All of the Lights also manages to be quickly paced and funny. It feels heartfelt and true because the author is the real deal and his characters—BL, Penny, and Nigel—are the benefactors of his skill. So, of course, are we. This is a novel to fly through once for pleasure and then return to savor the little things you may have missed; all the gems scattered about in the author’s clear prose and insight. Ruffin seems to know what makes us human, what makes us interesting, and a book like All of the Lights, the promise of it, is the reason I read. I’ll be shocked if we don’t see this one on bookshelves soon.

Competition coordinator Rosemary James added that, in the novel-in-progress category, “All preliminary round judges selected one entry as the standout, as their first choice. … [A]ll of them sent back words to the effect: ‘All of the Lights is the clear winner.’”

Maurice also won second place in the essay category, with his essay, “A History in Motion.” Final round judge Jane Satterfield wrote, “The vivid and resonant prose of A History in Motion reveals a writer’s fierce ambition to survive and transcend a parent’s suffering, as well as heartfelt tenderness and hope despite the disquieting signs surrounding him.” The essay is already slated for publication in an upcoming Cicada magazine.

In the short story category, Peauxdunquian Emily Choate won third place for her story, “Sky Fire Shrine Machine”! Final round judge Patrick Samway commented:

This story dramatically relates how Nadine comes to terms with the previous amorous relationships of her co-worker Brant, as they sell fireworks whose names provide a wonderful description of their increasingly tense relationship: Incoming!, Napalm Rampage, Exploding Night Arsenal, and Last Chance. Such explosive pyrotechnic devices provide a wonderful comment on the structure of this story.

Other Peauxdunque finalists in the short story category were Tad Bartlett for his story, “Flock Apart,” and Maurice, with his story, “The Boy Who Would Be Oloye.” Emily‘s story, “Eufala,” was on the short list for finalists in the category, along with Tad‘s story, “Superpowerless.”

In the novel category, Peauxdunque’s J.Ed. Marston and Tad Bartlett were finalists with their collaborative novel, The Truth Project.

J.Ed. was also a finalist in the poetry category, for his piece, “Saturday Stops.” Peauxdunque’s Cassie Pruyn, the second-runner-up in the category in 2013, had another finalist poem this year with her piece, “Lost Love Lounge.”

The announcement with full results is here: 2014_Winners

The Writing Process Blog Tour: Maurice Carlos Ruffin

Over at his blog, Lower American Son, Peauxdunquian Maurice Carlos Ruffin has posted his response to the Writing Process Blog Tour questions; we repeat them below, in all their awesomeness!

1) What are you working on?

Quite a few things. I think I get more done when I have too much on my plate, so I tend to take on as many writing assignments as possible. I just wrote two essays, by request, one for a lit mag and the other for an anthology a colleague is putting together. I always have a short story in the oven because I love the smell of it when I come home.

But the real thing is the novel. I started the book about a year ago. It’s a majestic and terrifying beast. It’ll be a blast to ride when I manage to bring it to heel.

Writing a novel is like being a safe cracker trying to escape an underground prison that’s quickly filling up with water. Every ten feet there’s a new foot-thick, iron door that you have to find a way through. But there’s no better feeling than hearing those tumblers fall into place and breaking into the next room. Every time I push into an untapped section of the novel, I fairly float around town for the next week or so.

What’s it about? The novel is what would happen if Ralph Ellison and Vladimir Nabokov got into a fist fight in heaven and then made up and had a lovechild. I hope.

2) How does the work differ from others of its genre?

I guess we have to define the genre first, huh? I think of genre in terms of teams. There’s Team Thriller, Team Hogwarts, Team Quiet Family Novel. I like to think I’m on the same team as people like Mat Johnson, Victor Lavalle, Danielle Evans, Tayari Jones, Colson Whitehead, and T. Geronimo Johnson, although I’m probably the water boy, for now. Maybe Percival Everett is the coach. Who knows?

All of these contemporary writers make some seriously off-the-chain literature. It’s a golden age. The obvious similarity among us is that we’re all African-American, but everyone has a distinct style and world view. A Mat Johnson book and a Danielle Evans book have different key signatures, but they’re all great reads.

Of course, we’re all descendants of Charles Chesnutt, Richard Wright, Ellison, Baldwin, Octavia Butler, and Toni Morrison. I like to think that my work is different enough that if Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin were still alive they would come upon each other in an airport lounge and have this exchange:

Ellison claps Baldwin’s shoulder.

“I read the craziest book on the flight up, Jimmy.” Ellison searches for a vacant table. Not seeing one, he heads to the bar. Baldwin sits, too. The bartender wonders aloud if the men are semi-famous jazz musicians. They ignore him.

“Don’t tell me, brother,” Baldwin says. “The one by that Ruffin cat, am I right?” The men share a look of recognition. On the concourse, a golf cart full of elderly passengers rolls by, whirring, beeping. Ellison and Baldwin laugh and then laugh some more. Baldwin downs a shot of whiskey. Ellison glances at the overhead television and decides he doesn’t give a damn about the latest iWidget.

“But it was good, right?” Baldwin says. Ellison sighs.

“Hell, I wish I would have written it.”

3) Why do you write what you do?

Because it’s fun! Plus, I’m a writer who is lucky enough to live in one of the strangest cities ever. Today, I saw a man, his skin painted white, ride a tricycle past my office downtown. No one batted an eye. Last week, a guy took over a major intersection and played the bagpipes while wearing a kilt. People loved that guy.

I hope that long after I’m gone folks will read my work because they want to know what it felt like to live in a time and place where all of our national hangups were magnified by the third world, farcical, frontier quality of New Orleans. Most of America is troubled by racial tension, housing discrimination, economic inequality, vicious criminals, law breaking police, and governmental indifference. But down here we do it all backwards and in heels.

There’s simply no better place be a writer. If this city’s bizarre beauty doesn’t get your literary juices going, maybe take up gardening.

4) How does your writing process work?

I gorge on stories. I’m a story gourmand. I read a lot. I watch a lot of movies. I read fancy pants graphic novels and watch seventh-rate sci-fi shows. I talk to strangers in the line at the supermarket. I talk to strangers on airplanes. I talk to myself. I do all this to ensure that something is in there when I sit down to write. That something is voice. It’s kind of creepy actually. I write a few truly awful paragraphs and stop, sure that I’m a fraud. I come back the next day, erase most of it and then suddenly this other person is telling me what really happened. I become a glorified stenographer just trying to keep up. Later, I’ll go out for a jog and ask myself if I’m sure that I heard what I thought I heard. It’s during those jogs that the voice comes back and says, “listen up, bruh. You doing aight, but you jacked up the best part. This how it really went down.” That’s where the danger comes in.

I think a story is basically voice times danger squared. The voice must be so compelling that you would listen to it in a snow storm while wearing only underwear. And the danger must be so real that you get queasy and want to stop reading, but can’t.

Revision is what separates the girls from the women. Any writer can poop out better than average lines, but going back and thinking very particularly what you want the story to be—and then chiseling away until you have actually created what you envisioned: that’s dedication; that’s writing. Simply stated, writing is, like, 103% revision. Sorry, 107%. I forgot to adjust for inflation.

I wrap a story when I think I’ve nailed down a true voice telling a dangerous story. But really I have no idea whether what I wrote works until months or years later when some editor somewhere accepts it. Writing is a strange calling.

The Writing Process Blog Tour: Emilie Staat

Next Peauxdunquian up on the Writing Process Blog Tour is Emilie Staat!

What am I working on?
I’m finishing The Winter Circus, a novel I’ve been working on for about a decade, and a memoir about what Argentine tango is teaching me about my relationships and myself. The novel is in a much more “final” stage than the memoir, which is in the first, rough stage of its life.
 
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It’s too easy for me to get obsessed with this question and I think it’s healthier not to worry about it until the work is closer to being published. That being said, my work owes a lot to traditions that have come before, of course. I read a lot and very widely.
 
There have been a handful of “circus novels” that have been published in the decade since I started writing The Winter Circus. But each of those books is different—from each other and from my novel. They each deal with a different era or aspect of circus culture. The Winter Circus explores the tension between circus life and “normal” life, between family and identity, stories and lies.
 
As for the memoir, since it’s in the rough draft stage, I’m still learning a lot about it and genre is far down the road. I didn’t really allow myself to do any reading or academic research into tango for the first few years I was learning the dance. I love research! But, I needed to get out of my head with tango and stay in my body as long as possible. I’m only just now starting to read “tango memoirs” (they exist!) and other books about various aspects of tango.
 
Why do I write what I do?
How much time do you have? How many words do I have? I’m not sure there’s a way to answer this in a non-flippant manner, except to get really dark. I’m obsessed. All artists are. There are moments, thoughts, relationships, images and characters that rotate incessantly in our heads. Sometimes we can get them out through art, sometimes we just re-work the obsession in another project, another form. I’ve written fiction, poetry, screenplays, essays, tried to write short stories, so I write in whatever form I’m called to at any particular moment.
 
How does my writing process work?
I’ve always felt compelled to fit my writing around my day job, so my process has been a response to whatever was paying the bills at the moment. It involves a lot of journaling and jotting down notes here and there, stealing time in the evenings, on weekends and vacations to stretch the notes out into beefier work, to edit. That’s part of why the novel has taken ten years to get to this point. Also, I was teaching myself how to write during that time. I’m currently spending a month at a residency called Soaring Gardens and part of what I’m figuring out while I’m here is what my process is without the daily grind. We’ll see what I learn.
 
Emilie Staat’s novel, The Winter Circus, is about an aerialist who grows up in the circus, runs away to New Orleans and learns the value of falling. She is also currently writing Tango Face, a memoir about what learning Argentine tango is teaching her about personhood, gender dynamics and relationships.

The Writing Process Blog Tour: Zach Bartlett

It’s funny about names. Or maybe it isn’t. In the beginning of Peauxdunque, there were two Bartletts, Bert and Tad. And now there’s another Bartlett, the excellently insightful and multi-talented Zach. And none of them are related. OK, so maybe that really isn’t funny, but just a coincidence. In any event, taken from his original posting on his blog, Zach B Is Tall, here’s Zach Bartlett’s turn on the Writing Process Blog Tour:

1) What are you working on?

I’m working on a novel I don’t talk about much because I still kinda
believe in the idea of jinxing yourself. But it’s going to be a genre
farce involving things I miss about New England: local culture,
artsiness, snobbery, and existential dread given physical form.

Outside of that, I regularly write short narratives and light verse
for performance at a biweekly literary event called Esoterotica. This
includes an ongoing series of bawdy limericks for cities in Rhode
Island as an attempt to free the form from Nantucket’s tyranny.

Some of the Esoteroticians and I are also collectively writing a play
to be performed at this year’s New Orleans FringeFest.

2) How does the work differ from others of its genre?

For the novel:

I like to present absurd concepts played straight, and let humor arise
naturally from the rift that creates.

A good amount of the humor I’ve seen within scifi/fantasy/horror seems
to rest on fandom pandering and self-referential in-jokes, or a
protagonist who’s oh-so-quippy and smarter than everyone else around
them. I’ve never enjoyed fiction that simply did what I expected it to
and I don’t believe in escapism, so I hope to not do any of that with
my own work.

Since literary fiction is actually a genre too, I’ll say that I differ
from some of that because my affluent aimless twentysomethings don’t
bathe in gravitas, and nobody falls victim to a quiet revelation.

For the erotica:

Mine probably differs in that it’s intended to be laughed at?

3) Why do you write what you do?

I write humor because I take a droll Wodehouse-like approach to
everything in life, so I suppose I’d find it either impossible or
unenjoyable (and therefore nearly impossible) to write in a more
outwardly-serious mode. Writing is a hobby for me and it’s
counterproductive to have a hobby you don’t enjoy.

Also, the idea that using humor means you don’t take a topic seriously
is only pushed by people who often find themselves the target of such
humor and it should be disregarded. I see my writing as being a
fireplace poker; not for some belabored  ‘stoking the flames’ analogy,
but because it can be wielded as a bludgeon against the haughty.

I actually do own a couple fireplace pokers for just that purpose.

4) How does your writing process work?

I won’t begin to discuss the idea-generating process because so much
of that part seems to result from idly overthinking my own
experiences/interests and trying to derive some practical levity from
them. I also think epiphanies are a totally valid way for ideas to
emerge. But regardless of origin, once the idea does exist, there are
technical processes you need to subject it to before it’s worthwhile
to somebody who isn’t you.

My process for writing the book kind of resembles backstitching. For
example I’d write all of chapter 1, give it a look over to tighten up
basic things, then write chapter 2, give that a look over, then go
through chapters 1 and 2 together for more thorough editing — seeing
any character traits I used in one that should continue across other
chapters, noting any points I could bring up again later or should
have foreshadowed earlier, things like that which you need a longer
period to notice and develop. When I finish chapter 3 I’d give it a
look over, then go through chapters 2 and 3 in that fashion, and so
on. It gives me steady breaks between writing and editing so that just
doing one for too long doesn’t seem overwhelming.

I work from a brief chapter-by-chapter outline so that I have an idea
of how things should be progressing as I write and don’t get caught up
in tangents too often.