What I like about you


In no particular order:

1. The rosy hills and red-brick cityscape that were my view each time (so many times) my train approached South Station. 2. Brigham’s Peppermint Stick Ice Cream. 3. Neighborhoods I called home in college and my early twenties: 02138, 02115, 02121. 4. The fact that any story set there is a story I will read start to finish, and probably love. (This somehow isn’t true of any other place, not even my hometown.) It doesn’t matter how mundane the details are—the Citgo sign, “draining and filling with color,” in Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Nobody’s Business”; Allegra Goodman’s swan boats in “La Vita Nuova”—what matters is they bring me back to you.

5. Thrifting up and down Centre Street in JP. 6. The kind Dorchester firefighters whose ladder got me home through a fourth-floor window, on a night I’d locked myself out and none of my nine roommates were home. 7. Edith “The Bard of Brookline” Pearlman, who writes about you quite a bit and calls herself a “New Englander by birth and by preference.” 8. That T conductor on the Riverside branch of the Green Line, who used to sing Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” to passengers getting off his train, then say “Phew, I thought they’d never leave” to those who’d stayed. (I wonder if he’s still there.)

9. Andre “Townie” Dubus III, who spoke at the Hynes Convention Center this past March about the difference between writers “making shit up” and actually imagining. 10. The ridiculous and awkward dance we all outgrew—of saying we went to college in the city, then “just outside of” the city, then “actually in Cambridge,” etc., before we learned that OH MY GOD JUST SAY IT NO ONE CARES. 11. Frappes and fries at Mr. Bartley’s. 12. All the poets you produced.

13. That hair salon called Girlfriend Hooked Me Up!, around the block from where I used to live, namechecked in Dennis Lehane’s heartrending story “Until Gwen.” 14. My friend L, born and raised in Quincy, who taught me the proper pronun-zee-ation of my college house name. 15. Working behind the counter at the “special exhibitions” shop of the Museum of Fine Arts (what “the MFA” stood for before I ever thought of grad school), selling Starry Night umbrellas and silk Gauguinish flowers to tourists and elderly women wearing strong perfume. 16. Beers and belly dancers in Central Square.

17. The Book Annex (RIP) on Beacon Street and its peaceful, well-fed cats. 18. That first post-college apartment on Hemenway Street, shared with S who worked at Simmons and some bare-bones furniture; the closet-size kitchen, barely big enough to cook in but not too small for mice; the vague but constant smell of leaking gas that gave me headaches; the cheaply-framed print of “Isadora Duncan, in Green, Dancing” on the wall, purchased from the MFA on my employee discount. 19. The girls of Mother Caroline Academy (the ones I knew are women now), who’d tell each other “Next stop Ashmont” when their knees and elbows needed lotion. 20. Watching movies on Brattle Street, in Kendall Square, at Coolidge Corner.

21. Biking with friends to Darwin’s on Mount Auburn Street to pick up sandwiches and eat them on the grass by the Charles. 22. The way a pair of heavy platform boots—late ’90s; you remember—would sound (like clopping hooves) against your red brick sidewalks. 23. Moonlighting as a telemarketer for the A.R.T., where one woman could not donate because she’d just written her son’s tuition check to Andover, and another hung up on me because “your Cabinet deeply offended me.” 24. Steak tips from Charlie’s Kitchen in the years I’d fallen off the vegetarian wagon. 25. The mind-bending Escher-esque sign on Blue Hill Avenue that said “Welcome to Roxbury” on both sides. (I wonder if it still does.)

26. Getting turned away by the bouncer at Bukowski’s with J, M and D because our IDs, all real, came too suspiciously from four different states. 27. Trimming Christmas trees with K and family in her hometown. 28. Snow days with my MCA co-teachers at Doyle’s and the Dogwood.

29. That first date with G, my freshman year (nobody ever said “first” year like we were supposed to), which started in Porter Square and ended, poorly, on the steps of Weld. 30. The second date, a summer and a half-semester later, when we passed the window of WordsWorth Books (RIP) and saw Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters to Plath had just come out. 31. Seeing G again over a decade later, falling in love a few years after that and reminiscing from our current city about you, the city we’ll remember now and always as the city where we met.

32. Morning walks through the Back Bay Fens. 33. Twilight runs in Franklin Park. 34. Weekend jogs along the Esplanade. 35. Those legendary 26.2 miles almost every runner—young or old, male or female, seasoned pro to newest newbie—dreams of (or at least fantasizes about) one day finishing.

There’s more that I’m forgetting. But I’ll never forget you, dear City on a (Heartbreak) Hill. Sending so much love to Boylston Street and beyond.

Party people

I’ve been FiveChaptersized! My story “Shadow Families” will be serialized by FiveChapters, the wonderful online literary journal, this week. Read Part One here and tune in Tuesday through Friday for the rest.

FiveChapters publishes one short story every week. Stories start on Monday and unfold over five installments, ending on Friday. It’s digital and sort of a throwback at the same time…I love that.

One of the first online literary journals ever, FC’s been doing it for years. Check out all the great stories in their archive, as well as the growing list of story collections published by FiveChapters Books. You can also read more about FC Editor David Daley herehere and here.

None the less a world

“It was a tight, blockaded and desperate world but none the less a world—with some goodness and some badness and plenty of heroism which, however, happened most times far, far below the eye-level of the people in this story—in the out-of-the-way refugee camps, in the damp tatters, in the hungry and bare-handed courage of the first line of fire.” —from “Girls at War

RIP, Chinua Achebe.

Office hours

Starting this fall, I’ll be a Writer-in-Residence at Workspace, a program of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Twenty-six of us writers and artists will be working in our studios downtown through July 2013.

LMCC’s Workspace is a nine-month residency that (temporarily) turns donated office space in Lower Manhattan into studios for visual artists and writers. The program started in 1997 at the World Trade Center and has moved throughout Lower Manhattan in its 15-year history. This year’s studios are located at 1 Liberty Plaza.

Read bios of all current Workspace Artists- and Writers-in-Residence here.

L-R: My subway stop, One Liberty Pl., studio corner and views.

The artisan


“To my knowledge, she never scrapped any of her poetic efforts. With one or two exceptions, she brought every piece she worked on to some final form acceptable to her, rejecting at most the odd verse, or a false head or a false tail. Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity.”

—Ted Hughes on Sylvia Plath, who would have been eighty years old today.

Mama drama in Manila

165-coverToday I’m happier than a kid in a candy shop that my story, “The Kontrabida,” has just come out as the 165th issue of One Story magazine. Before I was a One Story author, I was a One Story reader, so I feel extra psyched to land in such great company. “The Kontrabida” follows Esteban “Steve” Sandoval, Jr. from New York City, where he lives, to Manila, Philippines, where his father is dying of cancer. Back in his childhood home, Steve uncovers new information about his parents, calling into question their lifelong roles as the family bida (hero) and kontrabida (villain), along with Steve’s own ideas about himself.

“The Kontrabida” was VERY lucky to find itself in the capable hands of One Story co-founder, Editor-in-Chief and author extraordinaire Hannah Tinti. It’s a cliché to compare editing to surgery, but that’s exactly the kind of precise, expert, down-and-dirty work that Hannah did on this story. She truly is as great an editor as she is a writer, which—as anyone who’s read her bewitchingly wise and funny story collection, Animal Crackers, or her luminous, heartbreaking novel, The Good Thief, knows—is saying a whole lot.

You can get a copy of “The Kontrabida” here, or read a Q&A about the process of writing it here.

While you’re at it, subscribe to One Story and get a single short story delivered to your mailbox, Kindle or iPhone every three weeks!

Pop fiction

“He hovered over us as we poured ketchup saying: good enough good enough good enough. Birthday parties consisted of cupcakes, no ice cream. The first time I brought a date over she said: what’s with your dad and that pole? and I sat there blinking.”

–George Saunders, “Sticks” (one of my favorite short-short stories about a dad)

“I don’t like to be clapped at,” the waiter said.

“I should have brought my whistle,” my father said. “I have a whistle that is audible only to the ears of old waiters.”

–John Cheever, “Reunion” (my other favorite short-short about a dad)

Listen to Richard Ford read and discuss this story  on The New Yorker‘s fiction podcast with editor Deborah Treisman. (Cheever inspired Ford to write his own “Reunion” story, set in Grand Central Station, here. And I love Nathan Englander’s quiet, melancholy riff on the father story, also called “Reunion,”  here.)

Happy Father’s Day.

“Miracle” in Mizzou

My story “The Miracle Worker” appears in the new Winter issue of The Missouri Review. It’s the tale of Sally, a Filipina teacher who takes on a disabled student, Aroush, in Bahrain in the 1980s. I’m thrilled that it found a home in Mizzou.

TMR has been around for thirty-four years–publishing the work of so many authors I idolize, as well as putting great new voices in print for the first time. A personal favorite: Cheryl Strayed’s (later Best American) essay on Alice Munro. As a reader, I especially love finding longer stories (rare among literary journals) and global settings (an eternal obsession) in its pages.

Associate Editor Evelyn Somers Rogers worked on the story with me. She is a writer’s dream: smart, kind, supportive and über-professional.

This issue’s theme (and The Missouri Review has had some good ones–“Pick Your Poison” and “Messy Art” among them) is “Weird.” Or, as Editor-in-Chief Speer Morgan puts it, the ways life reminds us that “[t]he strange is just an instant or a membrane away.” Clearly, TMR gets me.