Mary Gaitskill’s BAD BEHAVIOR: Story 1

This collection, it shocks me to realize, was published 1988. That’s almost 30 years ago! Thirty years! All the drug stuff is very prominent. Heavy drug use, self is not talking just weed. By office workers. Clearly, self was oblivious. Where was her head at in that decade? She has no idea.

Story # 1 is a bit Joyce Carol Oates-ian, in that it starts with a nice girl. “Nice” means pathetic, in an Oates and a Gaitskill universe. You get nowhere for being nice.

The girl’s name is Daisy: “She was obviously so confused. She looked everywhere for answers, for someone to tell her what to think.”

If this were an Oates story, the girl would float into disaster without blinking an eye (The women in an Oates story are very strong. They can endure any degradation. Ugh. Not in the mood right now. It’s almost Christmas! Why couldn’t she have stretched out her reading of Middlemarch for another year???)

But this is not a Joyce Carol Oates story.

It turns out there’s a disconnect between the girl’s nice persona and the rest of her.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


From George Eliot to Mary Gaitskill

Self is in the closing pages of Middlemarch. Self’s admiration for Dorothea Brooke knows no bounds.

Next on her reading list, Mary Gaitskill’s story collection, Bad Behavior, in which (according to the book’s dust jacket), we enter a world “populated with working-class drug addicts, educated hookers, twisted secretaries, and emotionally stunted professionals.”

Oh, what fun. Self is really looking forward to.

After Gaitskill, self is thinking she might give Philipp Meyer’s debut novel, American Rust, a go. She’s taken a peek and it reminds her a little of Denis Johnson. Uber-Hemingwayesque? There are worse things in life than sounding like Denis Johnson. If American Rust doesn’t work out, she’ll head to the next on her list, a horror book, The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. All this, hopefully, before the New Year. What’s so hard? She used to be able to read four or five books a month. This year was pathetic — it took her six months to get through Howard Jacobson’s The Act of Love — but she feels like she might just be regaining her reading mojo.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Irish Women Playwrights/ American Film Actors

In late September, self was in Cork, Ireland. The Cork International Short Story Festival was happening. One of the featured readers was American writer Kelly Link.

Self attended Link’s reading, held in the Triskel Art Centre, a converted church.

There were many, many wonderful things that happened that night, not the least of which was meeting Kelly Link and getting a signed copy of her new collection of stories, Get In Trouble.

Self struck up a conversation with another woman who happened to be seated directly in front of her. Turned out the woman was a Dublin playwright who had come to Cork simply to attend the short story festival.

The woman and self exchanged e-mails. She made self promise never to blog/tweet about her, or reveal her name. Self gave her solemn promise.

And then she roamed the internet, looking for the woman’s plays.

She found an article by Eileen Kearney, in Colby Quarterly, Vol. 27, Issue 4. It spans the Twentieth Century up to 1991. Many new Irish women playwrights have emerged since 1991, of course, but here was a start.

And, just to show you how playwriting is very deep in Ireland’s bones, a national women’s playwright competition sponsored by The Irish Times drew 188 plays in the first year alone.

Here are the playwrights mentioned in the article (Self will never reveal which of these belongs to the woman she met in Cork last month):

Geraldine Aron * Mary Elizabeth Burke-Kennedy * Marina Carr * Anne Devlin * Mary Halpin * Anne Le Marquand Hartigan * Jennifer Johnston * Marie Jones * Harriet O’Carroll * Christina Reid * Carolyn Swift * Dolores Walshe

Dear blog readers know very well how much self loves plays. She went to Galway simply to catch Star of the Sea there. In April, she went to Minneapolis for the AWP Conference and caught a performance of Joe Dowling’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Just last week, self caught Cal Shakes’ King Lear, with Anthony Heald.

When she was a college student, at the Ateneo de Manila, she wrote plays, and acted in them, too.

Her love of movies is deeply connected to her love of plays, her love of theatre.

Perhaps, if self finds time, she will post about the three movies she has seen this month: The Martian, Pawn Sacrifice, and The Walk. Each of those movies features these American actors at the very top of their game: Matt Damon, Tobey Maguire, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Usually, come the end of the year, the Oscar contenders get trotted out by the movie studios. And usually, a number of Oscar contenders will feature British actors like Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. Or Australian actors like Russell Crowe.

Self thinks it is wonderful that the American actors are so dominant in this fall’s movies.

But, she digresses. She has to get going. Perhaps more, later?

Stay tuned.

Kelly Link: “Summer People”

Context: The story is about the budding friendship between two high school girls, Fran and Ophelia. Ophelia drives a Lexus, is very tender-hearted, and has been tending Fran through a bad case of the flu, since Fran’s Dad took off for a couple of weeks to attend a religious revival meeting he learned about on the internet. Before Ophelia came along, Fran was self-medicating with Nyquil liqui-gel, four a night.

“The door you slipped my envelope under,” she said, finally, “you oughtn’t ever go in there.”

Ophelia looked interested. “Like Bluebeard,” she said.

Fran said, “It’s how they come and go. Even they don’t open that door very often, I guess.” She’d peeped through the keyhole once and seen a bloody river. She bet if you passed through that door, you weren’t likely to return.

“Can I ask you another stupid question?” Ophelia said. “Where are they right now?”

“They’re here,” Fran said.

Fran suddenly tells Ophelia she has to go (Oh NOOOOOOO!!!!!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Quote of The Day: Kelly Link’s Story “The Summer People” (Which Link Read at the Cork International Short Story Festival)

Self’s idol! Ever since self read her story “Stone Animals” in Best American Short Stories (2005?)

When self found out that Kelly Link was reading at the Cork International Short Story Festival, she became immensely excited and determined. So off she went to the Triskel Art Centre, and did she ever make the right choice or what? Never mind that it was cold, that she’d just had a humongous dinner, and she just wanted to veg out in her room. No, self! Get your shit together!

Even though self swore, swore she would not buy a single book (Her arms are so sore from lifting: she’s taken at least 4 trains in eight days), she did buy Kelly’s just-published Get In Trouble: Stories (blurbed by none other than Sarah Waters, who calls it, quote unquote, A brilliant, giddying read.). Kelly wrote this on self’s copy:

For Marianne: Here are some terrible ideas. Love, K D Link.


When, after the reading, self went up with the book of Kelly’s short stories encased within her trembling hands (The use of hyperbole would not be completely unwarranted in this situation), Kelly was speaking to a very enthusiastic Irish lad. Self waited patiently.

Then, before signing self’s book, Kelly asked for self’s name.

Self demurred, saying, Oh you’ve never heard of me.


Finally, Kelly managed to worm it out of self. Whereupon Kelly said, with great sincerity, “I think I’ve heard of you.”

In response to which self said, “No you’ve never heard of me. I’m so small press, I’m not even.”


Anyhoo, here’s an excerpt from “The Summer People,” the first story in Kelly Link’s collection:

  • Fran had the flu, except it was more like the flu had Fran. In consequence of this, she’d laid out of school for three days in a row. The previous night, she’d taken four NyQuil caplets and gone to sleep on the couch while a man on the TV threw knives.

Unf. Self just loves the unexpectedness of the last sentence.

Plan for tonight: meeting up with playwright Barbara Guilfoyle. Going to hear Jaime Nanci Barron sing.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Bane Chronicles: “Vampires, Scones and Edmund Herondale”

Self is so very into The Infernal Devices (as dear blog readers well know, from all her posts through the summer, leading up to her trip to London).

There are three books in The Infernal Devices trilogy, and self tore through all three while she was in Banff (Thanks much, Niece Karina!).

When she was in Banff, she saw stacks of the just publishedy The Bane Chronicles in the bookstores. The book is a collection of short stories about some of the characters in this universe, and there are three authors. Which means, not every story is by Cassandra Clare (Jury’s still out on this; Clare is a really good writer. But the stories she’s read are somewhat uneven)

Nevertheless, self read two of the stories in between trips, when she dropped by Kepler’s in Menlo Park. In Dublin, she hung out in a bookstore for a few hours and read more of the stories (She was trying hard not to add to her luggage, which is so ridiculously crammed with books, all the time)

But now, the friend she is staying with has a teen-ager who happens to own a copy of The Bane Chronicles. And now she can quote because she has the actual book in front of her!

Self must confess, she never bothered to read all the stories in the collection, just the ones that concern her favorite Shadowhunter family: the Herondales!

Which brings us to the first paragraph of the story “Vampires, Scones and Edmund Herondale,” which is co-authored by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan. And here’s the opening:

London, 1857

Ever since the unfortunate events of the French Revolution, Magnus had nursed a slight prejudice against vampires. The undead were always killing one’s servants and endangering one pet’s monkey. The vampire clan in Paris was still sending Magnus rude messages about their small misunderstanding. Vampires bore a grudge longer than any technically living creatures, and whenever they were in a bad temper, they expressed themselves through murder. Magnus generally washed his companions to be somewhat less — no pun intended — bloodthirsty.


Edmund is the father of her all-time favorite character in The Infernal Devices: of course, that’s Will Herondale. Do you even need to ask.

Self was in London in June when Cassandra Clare announced that it was the anniversary of Will Herondale’s passing and it was almost too much, the torrent of feelz she unleashed with that announcement. (Self wanted to ask Ms. Clare why it is necessary to remind readers that Will Herondale is dead, dead, deader than a doorpost. Aaaargh!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Announcing: The First Annual Margarita Donnelly Prize for Prose Writing (Deadline for Entries: Sept. 30, 2015)

Margarita Donnelly's Last AWP, Seattle 2014. Pictured: Margarita and Brenna Crotty, Calyx Senior Editor

Margarita Donnelly’s Last AWP, Seattle 2014. Pictured: Margarita and Brenna Crotty, Calyx Senior Editor

She was indomitable, that is all.

Met her first at: Bookstore in the Mission

Self read her story “Ginseng.”

Margarita went up to self afterwards and asked, “You got more like those?”

(Yes, sitting in a file cabinet; Four years past the Stanford University Creative Writing Program, and self was such a coward that she never sent the manuscript out:  WHEEE!)

What better way to honor her legacy than a prose contest? Calyx, the press Margarita co-founded, launched the Prize on July 1. Here’s the link to their website. The contest is open to both fiction and nonfiction.

  • Deadline for Entries: Sept. 30, 2015
  • Reading Fee:  $20 (check payable to Calyx)
  • Maximum Length of piece:  10,000 words

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Vivid 3: A Day’s Peregrinations, Which Include Reading a Short Story in THE BANE CHRONICLES

Today, self re-visited some of her favorite haunts, the locus for some of her most vivid memories.

One was a small shopping center at the intersection of Marsh and Bay Road.

Here they have a great potsticker place and also a very nice breakfast place called Squeezed In which, for some reason, has adopted the motif of aliens. Green aliens. There was this at the entrance, and more hanging inside, on the restaurant walls:

The Aliens Have Landed! On Bay Road!

The Aliens Have Landed! On Bay Road!

Self was so impressed that Sandy has this little thing, made by one of her sons when they were in grade school (St. Raymond’s, where self’s Andrew also went to school. In fact, that’s how Sandy and self met, many many years ago. Now, Sandy’s older boy works in Palo Alto, and her younger boy is in the Navy, stationed in Oahu):

Hanging Above Sandy's desk in her home office!

Hanging Above Sandy’s desk in her home office!

Self’s last stop was Kepler’s Books. Self has read in Kepler’s a couple of times, most memorably when her first book, Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila, was published by Calyx. Today, self stopped by in the hottest part of the afternoon, and wanted to just curl up in a corner and read.


She began reading The Bane Chronicles (so tempted to buy a copy, but it’s hardcover and quite hefty), the fourth story, called “The Midnight Heir,” which she knows from Goodreads is the story about the Herondales.

Magnus Bane, Warlock, returns to London for the first time in 25 years, and at a party he meets a beautiful 17-year-old boy who reminds him so much of his old friend, Will Herondale. He almost thinks it is Will himself in the flesh, but the boy does not have Will’s blue eyes. When Magnus approaches the boy, he is surprised when the boy addresses him thus:

“You are Magnus Bane.”

Magnus hesitated, then inclined his head. “And you are?”

“I,” the boy announced, “am James Herondale.”

At this point, self wanted to charge the check-out desk, whip out her credit card and exclaim, Put it there! I’m good!

But no, she restrained herself and continued to read:

James: I would not set any great store in it. My father trusts a great many people.

Magnus:  I see that a flair for the dramatic runs in the blood.

So, since young Herondale is so visibly drunk, Magnus undertakes to bring him home and restore him to the loving arms of his parents, who are none other than — Will Herondale and Tessa Gray! Who Magnus has not seen in 25 years! Holy Heavens to Mergatroid!

James Herondale has passed out, and Magnus has to carry him in his arms (the better to scrutinize that darling Will-like face, of course), and the anxious parents come to receive their son, whereby Magnus recounts the events of the evening, which included James riding a bicycle (without using his hands) to Trafalgar Square, climbing to the top of the Nelson Monument and attempting to do battle with Lord Nelson, then trying to drown himself in the Serpentine.

Magnus:  Then he abruptly collapsed, naturally in the path of an oncoming train from Dover, and I decided it was well past time to take him home and place him in the bosom of his family. If you had rather I put him in an orphanage, I fully understand.

Strangely, Tessa has not aged at all in 25 years, but Will has. Yet, to Magnus he is still handsome.

And then Brother Zachariah (Damn him! Self is all WESSA) makes an appearance. And the love between Jem/ aka Brother Zachariah and Will is even more palpable than the love between Jem and Tessa. Holy Mackerel! No wonder 95.6% of all fan fiction about The Infernal Devices is M/M.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Books for Ireland

Mary Gaitskill: BAD BEHAVIOR

Mary Gaitskill: BAD BEHAVIOR



Poetry, but of course

Poetry, but of course: Dionne Brand and Tomas Transtromer

Suzanne Collins: MOCKINGJAY (Self has read this book at least half a dozen times)

Suzanne Collins: MOCKINGJAY (Self has read this book at least half a dozen times)



and, last but not least:

George Eliot’s Middlemarch

Self is bringing along the following literary magazines as well:

  • Crab Orchard Review’s West Coast and Beyond Issue
  • Witness Magazine’s Spring 2015 issue
  • Bluestem Magazine’s Spring 2015 issue

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

2nd Quote of the Day: From Self’s Short Story, “Lizard” Included in the Collection, GINSENG AND OTHER TALES FROM MANILA (Published in the U.S. by Calyx Press)

They must have been sitting there a long time. Her grandmother was leaning forward, saying something in a low, insistent voice, while Wito’s mother listened with bent head. Wito saw how intently her grandmother gazed at her mother, how there seemed to be something about her mother that kept drawing the older woman forward, so that it seemed she might reach out any moment and touch or, perhaps, hit her. Wito saw how her mother hung her head, and knew that she was crying. The back of her neck, covered with fine, black hair, looked narrow and exposed. Wito thought she caught the words shameful and waste, but then her grandmother saw her and broke off aprubtly.

When Wito went up to greet her grandmother, the old woman’s cheek felt dry, like parchment, whereas her mother’s cheek was soft and moist, and when Wito turned to leave, her mother softly said “no” and pulled her close. Her mother’s arms encircled her, forcing her to face her grandmother.

—  Marianne Villanueva, “Lizard,” included in The 100 Best Philippine Short Stories in English, Manila: Tahanan Books, edited by Isagani Cruz

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