News

How to Write Suspense (subhed: Wait, I Write Suspense?)

Delighted to have a short craft essay, “How to Write Suspense,” up over at Publisher’s Weekly Tip Sheet related to Sycamore. Thanks much to PW for having me.

Back when PW asked if I could write it, my first response was to laugh. How to write suspense? I have no idea. Is that what I just did?

I mean, I  didn’t set out to write a mystery. I mainly thought I was telling the story of people’s lives in a small town, though yes, of course I knew I had a plot with unanswered questions to resolve. When I see the word “thriller” attached to Sycamore, I’m like, wait, what? Not that I’m not happy. Honestly, the fact that I apparently managed to pull it off both delights and baffles me. Then again, the process of writing always baffles me a little.

Anyhow, hope my own wrangling with suspense is of some use to others.

SYCAMORE pub day!

Hard for me to believe it, but Sycamore, my debut novel, lands in the world officially today.

Read an excerpt on LitHub
Listen to a sample of the Audiobook

You can borrow it at your favorite library (I heart librarians, as I wrote here).

Of course, you can buy it. I encourage you to shop your local indie (I’m thrilled that Sycamore will be on the Indie Next List for June!). Here in Charlotte, I recommend Park Road Books (I’m reading there tomorrow!) and Main Street Bookstore up in Davidson, which threw me a lovely event last week. Some other faves: Changing Hands Bookstore, Parnassus Books, The Tattered Cover, Powell’s, and Eclipse Coffee and Books. Yes, you also can get it at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, whose wonderful staffs include book lovers just like you.

The thanks? Oh, good lord, the thanks. The acknowledgements page is miles long and there are many more than I can include; I am moved every day by how much love and support flows my way.

Well, so far, I’ve cried twice, and I’ve only been up an hour. You can find me posting awkwardly on social media but mostly puttering out in the yard, trimming azaleas, trying to drum up some more stories in ye ol’ noodle. I may try to turn a cartwheel or two, so look out, neighbors.

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Novel!

I generally don’t like to announce news here in the blog, which I prefer to keep about the writing process and other (neurotic) writing-life ramblings. But I also do want a note of record and to take a moment to express thanks.

Here it is: My first novel, Sycamore, will be published by Harper (HarperCollins)!

Since I got the news, I’ve basically been running around half with my hair on fire, half sobbing in gratitude, half hiding in the corner (half still unable to do math). Thus far, my favorite part of the story is this: Instead of going out for a celebratory dinner on the night of the news (champagne! confetti!), all I could manage was to stop in a gas-station Subway for a footlong veggie. Untoasted. TW and I shared it over the table at home, blinking at each other through tears and laughs (and let’s face it, more than a little panic and fear–this is me, after all.)

Amid all the fizziness, I’ve felt an abiding sense of thanks. The kind of thanks I’m not even sure how to get my head around. Over the years, how many people have supported me, loved me, propped me up, offered me refuge, told me to keep going, brought me coffee? Family, friends, mentors, students, colleagues, strangers–it’s one big-ass village, that’s for sure. Yes, I sat down to the page alone, but I didn’t do this alone. Acknowledgements Page, get ready. It’s going to be a humdinger.

Yesterday, though, I got back to work. Such news is heady, for sure, intoxicating but dizzying, too. Floating is one step away from untethered. The only thing I can control is the work, and so: I’m getting back to it. Delving deeper into a character, pushing and pulling at sentences. The book definitely has changed from its first raw draft (I posted about writing the draft at Jentel). It’s basically Draft 7 at this point, and it will go through even more editing, for which I’m excited and grateful. Soon, it will make it into readers’ hands; until then, I will do my best. And eat some more sandwiches.

ps Here’s the Harper  logo. I am in love.

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When Are You Coming Home? out today!

My story collection, When Are You Coming Home?, officially lands in the world today!

When Are You Coming Home? Stories

When Are You Coming Home? Stories

Thanks to everyone at University of Nebraska Press and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize who made this happen (here’s a post from when I first found out). Thanks, too, to current and future readers; it’s a true honor.

BC

Radio interview, more Jentel pics

I recently spoke with the wonderful Anne Kimzey, Literary Arts Program Manager at the Alabama State Council on the Arts, and the radio interview has been posted. I was super fortunate to receive an ASCA fellowship for 2015, which has been such a boon. A million thanks again to ASCA and to Anne for taking the time to talk with me–and for all that she and ASCA do on behalf of the literary arts statewide.

You can hear me talk about the fellowship, read a little, and ramble on about who knows what else here.

ps I’m still at the Jentel Artist Residency. Working at a fast and furious pace here in my final week. Have written 100 new pages (!!!) so far, trying to get the rest down. The pages are MESSY, but they’re there. The bones of a draft.

For now, here are a few more pictures from Jentel. No way I can describe the view and do it justice.

 

Writing studio

Writing studio

Studio and story board (with extremely comfy recliner).

Studio and story board (with extremely comfy recliner).

Jentel mailbox and entrance.

Jentel mailbox and entrance.

A querulous-looking-but-actually-happy me out on a walk. We have to wear orange vests to be visible on the road. Quite the fashion accessory.

A querulous-looking-but-actually happy me out on a walk. We have to wear orange vests to be visible on the road. Quite the fashion accessory.

The cows are very curious and skeptical of pedestrians. And vocal!

The cows are very curious and skeptical of pedestrians.

Sunset while walking in "The 1,000," ie the 1,000 acres behind the residence.

Sunset while walking in “The 1,000,” i.e. the 1,000 acres behind the residence.

Moon over The 1,000.

Moon over The 1,000.

The cusp, or, I am not a tree

I’ve had the word “cusp” — “a point of transition between two different states,” according to my handy-dandy New Oxford American — floating around my brain for weeks now. I say it under my breath, savoring its punch, its shift from hard to hissing to plush. This is partly to blame on my morning habit of writing about what’s outside my office window. In the past few weeks, all I could see was a world on the cusp as bare branches grew knobby with buds, as early bloomers (a term I never understood until I moved here) poked their heads out of the earth, shivering in the still-cold dawns. This short, taut moment between winter and spring is one of my favorite things about the South. As I watch those ripening buds, the hints of yellow-green shoots and blooms, I swear I can almost hear a thrum in the air as dormant life stirs, ready to awaken.

The cusp also is a state in which I find myself living these days. Long story short, I recently accepted a new creative-writing teaching position at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and so TW and I will be moving to Charlotte this summer. We are selling our sweet little house and leaving our little town, our friends and colleagues from the past six years, my teaching position at the University of Montevallo. This offer and decision has been full of stunning loveliness and gratitude and humility and excitement and tender sadness all at once.

Oh, and don’t forget the anxiousness and fear.

Now that I think about it, perhaps “cusp” isn’t the right word for my state. Maybe I’m just after “uncertain” or “upheaval” or “night terrors.” I’m stressed in small, practical ways and large, existential ways, which means that I’m eating my way through carbohydrates like bleach through cotton. (Oh, and I’m turning 44 in a couple of weeks. Something about being divisible by 11 is freaking me out.)

Ultimately I am not a tree (as far as I know), and here’s thing about trees: they are not terrified about their transition (as far as I know! Maybe they’re like, holy shit, the buds again!). By the end of the change, they’re still trees. As for me, by the end of it all, I will still be human (sadly not a tree), and so I have a few teeny, tiny, cusp-y human questions: What kind of human? Who will I be there? The same as I am here, or was before? And who the heck am I, anyway, here at 44, divisible by 11? How did we all get here? What does it all mean?

Perhaps the word I want is “midlife.”

Okay, okay. Then I remember to breathe for a minute. Oxygen, carbon dioxide. Tree-like but in reverse. I get out the notebook, write it down. I scratch off a few tasks on the to-do list.

What I need to learn to do is trust the cusp. In writing, this is essential: learning to wait, learning to see and listen to what the story wants to be, not what I want it to be. The tree will be a tree.

I look out my window at a natural world no longer in transition. It’s fully spring now out there now, fully awake, bursting with bright, brassy newness. Soon I will have to say goodbye to this view that I have grown to love, that has become part of who I am in ways that I don’t even understand yet. But I know, I know, I know that soon, I’ll find a new view. A new season. And who knows what I’ll see.

Interview with Prairie Schooner

I spoke with the good, good folks over at Prairie Schooner about the Book Prize for my collection, When Are You Coming Home?, which will be released this fall. Among other things, I talk about a visit to the optometrist. Because, sure.

Here is the interview if you’re so inclined. And submit to the prize by March 15! Because boy howdy, you never know.

And here is a link to the giddy ol’ blog post after I first found out about the prize.

First book!

About two weeks ago, I got some news that I was asked to keep quiet until it could be announced officially, but it’s officially official now: My story collection, WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME?, won the 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize and will be published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Um, that prize. The Prairie Schooner. The University of Nebraska Press.

Me.

I am still stunned and elated and teary and grateful and holy smokes and pinching self and pinching others and oh-where-did-I-put-my-keys? and and and —

I’m a little bit of a mess, actually. More so than usual, I mean.

I found out while I was on the mountain in Sewanee, TN, teaching for the first time at the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference (a wonderful time all on its own merit!). After a dropped call and frenetic redialing, I sat under a tree outside the dining hall and listened to Kwame Dawes (yes, that Kwame Dawes) tell me the news. In the first few days, I seriously had to keep checking my recent calls to make sure I hadn’t concocted the whole thing while on a high from excessive consumption of dining-hall soft serve cones.

Gradually, it is sinking in: My first book is going to be published. Those little nine stories, the first of which I published way back in 2002. Written in the wee hours when I still chain-smoked, then in the early afternoons when I chewed lots of gum; written in Arizona, and Tennessee, and Alabama; written across more than a decade, from my late twenties to my early forties, with new wrinkles and grays and weird new veins; written when I was single, then desperately in love, and now married (and still desperately in love) to the loveliest person to whom I get to come home every day. I still cannot describe the sensation of this. The best I can do is say that it feels like a buoyant white glow, which starts in the toes and rises, expanding. Or riding the crest of a wave in the Pacific. Or leaping from a high dive, limbs askew. I think there may be balloons and monkeys and a whole orchestra.

Okay, okay. Rather than try to describe, let me begin by saying Thank You. These thank-yous will become much more elaborately specific — I can’t wait to write that 12-page acknowledgments section– but for now, thank you to Kwame Dawes and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize board and the University of Nebraska Press; I am honored beyond belief to have been chosen from what I know is a big pool of extremely talented writers. Thank you to those writers, for inspiring me in ways you don’t even know. Thank you to my writing teachers over the years, to my writer friends who are also the best readers in the world, and to my work colleagues for their support. Thank you most to my family and dearest friends, without whom I would be lost, and especially to Tim, forever and ever and ever.

With gratitude, love, elation, and wonder,

BC

A bit of good news

I got some happy writing news a few days back that was announced officially yesterday: I was selected as the winner in fiction for the 2014 Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award: http://www.pw.org/about-us/maureen_egen_writers_exchange_award

I still hardly know what to say. When the call came in, I was sitting at my desk at school, prepping for class. Miraculously, the ringer was on. The caller ID said, “NY,” and I thought, Huh, a telemarketer from New York.

Nope. It was the wonderful Bonnie Marcus, director of P&W’s Writers Exchange Award, to which I had applied back in December but then promptly put out of my mind because it was such a long shot. (Me, one out of all of the talented fiction writers in the whole state of Alabama? Puh-leese!) When the official letter arrived a couple of days later, I carried it around in my bag and would pull it out at random moments to make sure that the whole thing wasn’t some grading-induced, end-of-the-semester fever dream.

For now, I would like simply to float a little raft of thank-yous out onto my sea of gratitude. To Bonnie and all of the folks at Poets & Writers, to the final judge Victor LaValle, and to Maureen Egen: thank you for this wild opportunity, this unexpected fluttering in my sails. To all of the colleagues, teachers, mentors who have pushed and encouraged me: I am forever indebted and grateful. To my dear, lovely, funny friends and family who buoy me at every turn, keep my little dinghy pointed in the right direction: thank you for believing in me, even when (especially when) I don’t.

 

Hoorah for Alice Munro!

This news makes me unbearably happy:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/11/books/alice-munro-wins-nobel-prize-in-literature.html?hp&_r=0

And here’s to the short story!

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/books/review/Millhauser-t.html