“The Birds In Your House” was published in Stanford Magazine.
So, let’s take inventory for this night’s adventure. You do have a change of clothes and a toothbrush, etc., and a book about futuristic sensitive vampires. Your mom has the same, except hers is a book about a woman who hiked the coast of Italy with a blind dog. The dog’s name was Paco. “C’mon Paco!” says the woman, a lot, in the book that your mom has brought. Your new house has a yard out back, so there is the possibility of a dog in your future, though you’d prefer a llama.
Great news! Thieves I’ve Known was selected as one of NPR’s 2013 Best Reads. They featured it under “Eye-Opening Reads” and “Seriously Great Writing.” Thanks so much to the editors at NPR. “Storytelling carves a way out of a dead end in the opening story in this award-winning first collection, as a 15-year-old girl and her brother, 16, alternate ever more absurd storylines while walking home after a part-time job bagging groceries. Another pair of siblings communicate in sign language as they scavenge among the treasures in a wealthy family’s house. A young girl in charge of a circus’s rare albino camel; two runaway boys; a broken-down pitcher; and a woman whose finger is pierced by a sewing machine needle converge in the kaleidoscopic “Circus Night.” Tom Kealey honors these marginal and troubled young Americans with fierce honesty. — recommended by Jane Ciabattari, book critic and author of Stealing the Fire
My story “Nobody” was featured in a terrific radio show from the Stanford Storytelling Project.
Here is the summary of the show:
“We can’t live without stories, so today on State of the Human, we’re investigating what storiesdo to us and for us. When are we in control of our story? When does our story control us? We explore these questions with four stories. First, a woman is asked to come up with a story that will create life. Then, Buffalo Bill creates another kind of story: the American cowboy. Next, a cancer patient finds a new story. After this, children go beyond telling stories, and become them. Finally, two children look into strangers’ houses and see stories.”
Creativity and The Daily Writing Habit
A Conversation with Chris Baty and Tom Kealey
Part of the Creative Artists Series
Monday October 28th, at 7:15pm, in Meyer Library, Room 220, Stanford University
Join us for a discussion about National Novel Writing Month, the daily writing habit, and bringing creativity into our daily lives. Chris and Tom will also be discussing “Arrowhead,” a collaborative story they are writing through Ensemble.
Chris Baty is the founder of founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and has helped hundreds of thousands of writers set aside their fears and fall in love with writing. Chris is the author of No Plot? No Problem! and the co-author of the Ready, Set, Novel workbook. Chris is also a freelance journalist; his writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Afar magazine, the Believer, and Lonely Planet guidebooks.
Tom Kealey is the author of Thieves I’ve Known, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award, as well as the Creative Writing MFA Handbook. Tom’s work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Glimmer Train, The Rumpus, and many other places. Tom teaches Fiction writing, Fiction Into Film, and Creative Expressions at Stanford University.
Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, and I are are writing a collaborative story called “Arrowhead.” It’s available on the collaboration-minded website Ensemble. You can not only read the story, but you can respond to prompts with suggestions and choices for the story. Here’s a sample:
There once was a boy who was plagued by fears. The fears began upon waking in the morning, often a dull, steady beat, like that of his heart, and centered not too far away, somewhere in the center of his chest. The fears crept outward from there: to his shoulders, his throat, his abdomen. They — he thought of them as a ‘they,’ not as an ‘it’ — felt and tasted to him like something sour and vile, like a spoiled cream soup, and they were his constant companion throughout his days. By mid-mornings, they had spread to every extremity, even his littlest toes and certainly well into his brain, and they whispered words to him — not that he actually heard voices, but if he had they would have said — Don’t leave the house; don’t stay in this room; no, not in this other room either; that person doesn’t like you; this thing is going to hurt you; you’ll never get any better; it’s always going to feel like this; you are going to continue to be a screw-up; why bother starting anything, you loser.
Scott Hutchins and I had a terrific conversation about writing, adolescence, Thieves I’ve Known, and whether I have wings or not. On The Rumpus Now.
“I eventually began to see Thieves as a whole. I originally had about fifteen stories for the collection, and they covered a wider range. But after a while, I liked this focus on this particular age group, adolescents, so I trimmed the collection down to those stories.
“As far as organizing them went, I tried to place myself in the shoes of the reader. Some stories are dark, some lighter, some funny. I tried to get a good rhythm going, almost like a consistent longer work, like a novel or film. There are also some characters who reappear, such as Omar, but particularly Merrill and her brother, Nate. They appear in three stories. The collection starts and finishes with those two characters.”
The Nervous Breakdown is a truly unique website, focused on readers and writers, and featuring podcasts, book excerpts, online book clubs, and their famous Self-Interviews. They’ve published an excerpt from my story “The Boots,” and they include an interview where I try to answer the question ‘What does a writer do all day?’
“I suppose on a basic level a writer wants a lively setting, with perhaps lots of interesting things to look at and describe, with objects for the characters to interact with, and with a lot of potential for conflict. A circus is perfect for that. On the other hand, having some kind of enclosed space, where the characters can’t get away from each other, and where there is an element of danger, that works too. That’s why stories on boats and spaceships seem to work well. I have stories on boats, but not on spaceships, though hopefully that will change.”
Julie Joyce of Avant Greensboro offered so many great questions for an interview about Thieves I’ve Known, humor writing, banning books, teaching, reading stories aloud, and encouraging young writers and readers. Thanks Julie! An excerpt…
“It’s a difficult line to walk: Humor and Struggle. The characters in Thieves I’ve Known are mostly teenagers living on the edges of society. They are very much struggling. But I think when you look at children, no matter their circumstances, there is still an element of play. In fact, this is true to a lesser, yet still important extent, in adults too. We don’t necessarily laugh at our larger tragedies, but we find humor in our day to day problems… As a writer, humor is essential — I think anyways – to helping the reader connect to the character. It’s not that I’m leaning specifically toward comedy, it’s more a lean towards a drama that has humor to it.”
What a lovely surprise! Zilia Korpas — who is the photographer for the Thieves I’ve Known cover — wrote me from Australia, and we had a very nice conversation about the photograph — “Midnight Circus” — and the book. I just wanted to share her experience (below) with taking the photograph.
Thanks Zilia. And… readers can check out more of Zilia’s photographs on Flickr!
“The photograph was taken when a circus came into town…Being a photographer i have a lot of ‘bucket list’ type of photo scenarios, images, stories that i would like to tell one day through my photos and being backstage at a circus has always been one of those stories.
It was summer and i had to drive past this tent at different times of the day, and the sunset light, and the darkness at night it slipped into just lit up my imagination. There were no people around, just the tent, slipping backstage wasn’t an option so i had to make do with just the structure itself sitting alone in a paddock lit on each arch. I just found it a little sinister but at the same time visually lovely.
That pitch black darkness slipping all around a supposedly happy place, with its red stripes and white fabric deserted with no one around, I just thought it was a great juxtaposition, for want of a better word.
I just love my job and very seldom get to take photos for myself (its always dictated by clients) so sometimes its nice to see something that grabs my imagination and just shoot for me….for no other reason than it just grabbed me. 🙂“
“Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow.”
― Margaret Atwood