I can feel the excitement begin to build! Another  reading is coming up at the Cornelia Street Café, and I can hardly wait. I’ll be reading on Wednesday, January 25th (less than two weeks away!) with Laura Spence-Ash, and if you’re free that evening for an hour  or so, come on by to this all-fiction post-inauguration-weekend respite. You will need a respite, won’t you? And bring some friends, if you’d like. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it!

I first became acquainted with Laura through her very fine work in One Story magazine a couple of years ago. Then, after meeting her at a gathering, I learned that she had also been to Sirenland, that magical writing workshop in Positano, Italy that I attended in 2011. She is indeed a talent, and I am happy to be sharing the stage with her very soon.

I’ll be reading short pieces from three works, first from Problems of Translation, the novel I published in April of 2015, which is becoming a hit in certain circles. (Among the 100 notable books of that year by one measure, its full title is Problems of Translation, or Charlie’s Comic, Terrifying, Romantic, Loopy Round-the-World Journey in Search of Linguistic Happiness.) Plus, there’ll be a piece from the not-yet-published novel I just completed, called The Condor’s Shadow. But wait, there’s more! As a bonus treat, there’ll be the first couple of pages of a short story I began only very recently–yielding a shocking glimpse, perhaps, into one writer’s mind, and how it (sometimes) works!

Some of my excitement stems from what Laura will be reading, which will be a surprise to me, and I’m eager to hear it. In addition to the wonderful short story mentioned above, Laura is currently working on a novel (unnamed as yet) and a collection of linked stories (ditto; she keeps her cards close to her vest). Besides that, she writes for the very well-known and respected journal Ploughshares a blog called “Fiction Responding to Fiction,” where she reveals insights into important writers’ literary relationships, two at a time. Amy Hempel and Grace Paley, for example. Or John Cheever and Raymond Carver. Or Flannery O’Conner and Alice Munro. Exciting stuff, so Laura Spence-Ash is herself a writer to watch.

So please come if you can to the Cornelia Street Café on Wednesday, January 25, from 6-7:30 pm to enjoy our program of good reading and listening. It’s at 29 Cornelia Street in the Village (between Bleecker & West 4th), and the Café’s cover is only $10 (cheap enough when you consider you get a free drink along with the reading)! Further details are available at Dress warm, but with any luck, you won’t even need snowshoes!

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THANK YOU! THANK YOU! to all those who downloaded the kindle version of my novel, Problems of Translation over the 24-hour giveaway period yesterday. Six hundred eleven people took advantage of this zero dollars sale, from all over the world! Folks from the US, Canada, UK, Japan, India, Australia, Brazil and elsewhere were all savvy enough to take advantage of this opportunity and I’m very grateful that they did.

How do I make any money from making my book available for free? Well, I don’t. But what I want is readers and, hopefully, a good percentage of those who downloaded the book for free will actually read it and enjoy it, which is what I’m interested in. And, of course, there’s the multiplier effect; if some of those who read it and enjoy it also write reviews so that others become interested . . . well, so much the better! So whether you, dear readers, write a review on Amazon or in a local newspaper (in Yokahama, perhaps or Sao Paulo or Dubuque), or in a blog, on Facebook, or wherever, you are helping to spread the word.  And that makes my redoubtable hero, Charlie (Charles Abel Baker, formally) feel that it wasn’t for nothing that he traveled the world getting his short story translated into ten different languages then back into English. He is grateful, first of all,  that he lived to tell the tale (he had some hairy escapes!), but he’s even more pleased when people read about his “comic, terrifying, romantic, loopy round-the-world-journey in search of linguistic happiness.”

So thanks again, folks, and enjoy! Maybe we’ll run another such sale one of these fine days, but, meanwhile, if you can’t wait, it’s still only $5.99!

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Free Today Only – My Novel, Problems of Translation (ebook edition)

FREE. FREE, FREE! Today only! The ebook of my novel Problems of Translation is free today, December 23, for one day only.

Adventure, travel, a love story, and a wild ride — it’s a great holiday read and gift! “One part midlife crisis, one part old-timey spy film, and one part romance” (Portland Review, 4 stars), “An insanely amusing adventure” (Gary Shteyngart), a Shelf Unbound Notable Book, and 4 1/2 stars on Amazon.

What’s it about? Well, Charles Abel Baker, its hero, sets off around the world on a quest to see Problems of Translation - Front Coverone of his stories translated into ten different languages and back again into English. Who knew what literary translation could lead to? The hint is in the book’s full title:
Problems of Translation, or Charlie’s Comic, Terrifying, Romantic, Loopy Round-the-World Journey in Search of Linguistic Happiness.

Find out more and download it at Amazon — and please share this with your friends!
(Returns to $5.99 on Dec. 24th.)

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Hey! This morning I put the finishing touches on my next novel! How great is that!

So what do I do next? Well, a few minutes later, going out to celebrate with a coffee, I sit down in an Upper West Side coffee bar (Birch, at 96th & Columbus) to discover right next to me a Korean-English translator. That, of course, quite naturally segues into a discussion of my earlier novel, Problems of Translation (which is still out there and going strong). To my delight, my coffee bar neighbor suggests she might be willing to translate Problems of Translation into Korean. This is an exciting enough result to come from a random encounter, but more than that, she and her two companions all become intensely interested in Problems. (They are even saying to their wide-eyed children, “Look, kids. We’re in the presence of a genuine author!” And how great was that!)

Well, I can’t predict which of the genuinely exemplary human beings that I met this morning at Birch will get their hands on a copy first, but consider yourself reminded that Problems is still out there, eager to tease and please! So all of you who’ve already read it and draped it in great reviews should immediately stock up on copies to send to your relatives and amigos as holiday gifts! (Come on! Doesn’t your Aunt Couraghessina deserve her own copy? And how about Cousin Hopalong?)

However, I began this blog post reveling in the excitement of finishing my new novel, The Condor’s Shadow, and so I shall continue. I’ve been working on Condor for a while now, since it has its origins in a short story I published some years ago (The Same, Volume 8, No. 2). There must have been a slow-acting yeast in that story, because in a dark corner of my mind the dough kept rising. Once the writing of Problems of Translation was completed, I resolved that I couldn’t leave my main character of that longago story twisting in the wind. So I wrote another story about him, and then another, and finally decided to fold all these separate stories into the same loaf pan and bake them into a novel.

Condor is a smaller book than Problems, but I’ve a hunch it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s completely within the realist tradition, though a colleague who’d read an earlier version was once heard to remark, referring to an incident midway through the book, “That’s preposterous! No cat would ever die by doing what you’ve described there!” Well. This cat does.

But, don’t you worry. That unfortunate feline’s fate is only a tiny crumb from the loaf I have baked. Trust me. It’s not all about cats. The story starts out this way: A teenager, living on an abandoned gypsum mine in the California foothills with an abusive father, shoots and kills an intruder and then flees up into the mountains, following the path of a bird he’s become obsessed with. Thus begins twenty years of life on the road for my hero, moving from state to state, town to town, changing his name often, until he gets brought up short–by love. So The Condor’s Shadow is a love story, as well as a story of survival and a struggle for redemption.

It’s not been published yet, obviously (since I just finished it!), but it shouldn’t be long. Just keep attending to those enticing aromas from the kitchen. I think you’ll want to gobble this loaf down in one sitting.

Problems of Translation - Front CoverMeanwhile, there’s Problems of Translation! Buy a copy for all your friends and relatives this season (it’s available on Amazon), and listen to them chuckle at what Gary Shteyngart called “An insanely funny adventure with a deep love of language at its belly-shaking core.”  And if you’ve read my Shelf Unbound Notable Book and liked it, please do leave a reader’s review on Amazon.  This “genuine author” will be very grateful!

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Back in the summer of ’89 I earned a month-long stint at the Edward Albee Center at Montauk Point. It was an exhilarating and productive time, with a lot of highlights, including being feted at my birthday dinner by Edward himself, along with other attendees of the retreat, and a conversation with The Man in which, after I proudly told him how much I had written during the time I’d spent there, he replied, “Ah, but how much will you keep?” By which, of course, he meant use. I must confess that the answer to that question, so far at least, is zip. The novel I was writing then, a bildungsroman about my boyhood called, “The Ranch,” much of which was penned that summer, has sheltered in my drawer all these years.

But why I’m remembering this at the moment is a period piece I dug out of my writing files while trying to accomplish some housecleaning. I thought it might be interesting enough to share. Dated 7-31-89, here it is:

“There is a lot of privilege out here in this town at the end of a long island. Every other car one sees is either a Mercedes Benz or a Volvo. In fact I suspect everyone who owns a Mercedes Benz also owns a Volvo. And the others! Jaunty little runabouts one sees at the beach: Lamborghinis, 5-liter Porsches, 2 (count them) Shelby Cobras, Saabs, Jaguars, nothing surprises. I myself was picked up hitching back from a dip in the ocean by a sweet red Alfa Romeo. Cadillacs, in this environment, look positively tacky; one wants to sneer. I haven’t spotted a Testa Rossa or an Aston Martin yet, but I’ll be here a few more hours.

“And what about all these Colombians in their pickups, or on foot, who are apparently the gardeners, and change the linen in the motels? Did they arrive at the the bottom of a cocaine shipment, like the prize at the bottom of the crackerjack box?

“Finally, here is me, tooling along on my beat-up, circa-1960 girl’s bike that the chain keeps slipping off of (the only one the Albee Foundation owns that works at all). Ah, now I see: Lamborghini and bicicleta, the relation between Society and Art in a nutshell.”

Twenty-five plus years later, what has changed? Only that the Lamborghini crowd perhaps rules  more directly now, rather than simply from the wings. But with The Donald at the helm, wouldn’t that be much too obvious?

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Jim Story & Celeste Baker: May 11th, 6-7:30, Cornelia St. Café

JimStoryAndCelesteBakerCome join Celeste Rita Baker and me at the Cornelia St. Café for a delightful early-evening reading of new fiction!
I’ll be reading from my soon-to-be-completed next novel, The Condor’s Shadow, and from Problems of Translation, my recently published novel, called “An insanely amusing adventure that has a deep love of language at its belly-shaking core” (Gary Shteyngart), “a merry yearlong chase around the globe” (Kirkus Reviews), and “a zany and surprisingly philosophical adventure” (Portland Review, four stars). Also a Shelf Unbound 2015 Notable Book, by the way.

Celeste will read from Belly, Back, and Side, her recently published story collection that “balance(s) heartache and hilarity with poetic, uncompromising prose” (Daniel José Older), providing “tales of wisdom, wonderment, and new world lore” (Sheree Renée Thomas), and her novel-in-progress about a saint who reluctantly finds herself in the body of a Black woman in the New York of 50 years hence.

Celeste and I will be signing copies of our respective books after the reading. A few books will be available for purchase, or bring your copy with you, if you like, and its author will sign it for you right there. Author-signed thank-you cards will be there for those of you who’ve purchased an ebook. (Absolutely no pressure to buy a book, though.)

Come if you can! It will be a great evening, and you’re pretty sure to enjoy it.

The date is May 11, a Wednesday; the time is from 6-7:30 pm; it’s at 29 Cornelia Street, and a $9 cover will include a free glass of wine.

See and for more.

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Now along comes Lucia Berlin. Or here she always was, I guess, only I didn’t know it. Poor lady only had a couple of thousand readers, by one estimate. Deserved, deserves many more.

Wrote in short, snappy sentences. Black or bleak, take your pic. Zig zag. Bippity bump. Next sentence might be in the middle of next week or a few years gone by. But it all tallies up and makes you think: how much is needed?

Sad, funny. Funny-sad. These are not Park Avenue matrons who are getting their lives catalogued, or Hollywood stars or deep-dish lovers of sparkly ingénues. Rather they’re cleaning women, old Indians at laundromats, convent girls who are Protestant and yearn to become nuns but can’t catch a break—for what? Self-styled dentists in El Paso waiting impatiently for granddaughters to yank their teeth out, while blood runs down the chinny-chin-chin.

Prejudice, pathos, humor. El Paso, Mexico, New Mexico, Berkeley.

Fine, fine stuff. From a woman born in 1936 who died in 2004. But check out those pics of her as a young woman: Elizabeth Taylor, eat your heart out!

All this from reading Lucia Berlin’s recently published gathering of short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women, a labor of love assembled from several prior collections.
But don’t take my word for it. Check it out. And be prepared to envy.

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Each of the nine stories in Mia Alvar’s absorbing first collection grabs you from the start and lingers long after you’ve finished. Scrutinize as you will with your Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass, it’s hard to find a bad line or a word choice you might quibble with.

Ms. Alvar was born in the Philippines, spent time with her family in Saudi Arabia, and now resides in the United States. Fortunately for us, she uses her experience in each of these locales to give us tales which no one else could have written. It’s a cultural trifecta, and uniquely hers.

Her simple, straightforward prose style, reminiscent of Jhumpa Lahiri, dazzles with its choice of detail. You’ll find a cornucopia of brilliant characterizations, woven into stories that are compelling and moving, most often with a deftly orchestrated surprise lurking ‘round the bend. The assortment of “narrative strategies” is astonishing, from first-person narrators, to second-person singular, and even first-person plural! As a writer, I admire her technical versatility.

And consider the range of main characters—all but one are Filipinos—that populate these stories. Here are slum-dwellers and people who live in palatial homes. Here are trained health-care specialists (“The Miracle Worker”), Senators (“Old Girl”), models (“Legends of the White Lady”), poor students yearning to be writers (“A Contract Overseas”), dangerously proactive journalists (“In the Country”), pharmacists (“Kontrabida”), upper-middle-class families living in Bahrain (“Shadow Families”), youngsters born with stumps for legs (“The Virgin of Monte Ramon”), and mothers everywhere. Mothers, wives, nurses, whores, children, families.

My favorite among these treasures is “The Virgin of Monte Ramon.” A wheelchair-bound youngster deformed at birth lives in a mansion with a mother who holds self-invented delusions about her history and how she survives. The boy forms a striking alliance with Annelise, a brilliant and stubborn young woman from the lowliest of slums (“the ravine”). He shares his mother’s folkloric delusions until a moment of explosive revelation, provided by the town doctor, changes everything: “His words and his departure sent me reeling, as if I’d been pushed downhill to the ravine at high speed, losing all control, nothing below to catch or save me. The idea I’d been polishing like a precious stone slipped from my hands. And with it, all ideas that had carried and sustained me through the years seemed to be crumbling too. If I’d been wrong about Dr. Delacruz and my grandfather, it seemed possible I might be wrong about my mother. It seemed possible for the first time that the defects of our bodies—mine, Annnelise’s, anyone’s—were errors of nature, caused and cured by science, nothing more.”

Word is that, for her next book, Ms. Alvar is seeking to expand the included novella, “In the Country,” into a full-fledged novel. Given the narrative sweep of that story and the way it’s myriad details and characters are marshaled to a stunning conclusion, it’s hard to see how expanding it can make it any better. But given the remarkable talent that’s revealed in this book, it would be foolhardy to bet against her.

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A belated thanks to everyone who came out for my reading a month ago (October 6th) at Jim readingthe Cornelia Street Café. For those who weren’t able to come, videos of that performance are now available not only on my website but on YouTube as well.

I read three selections that evening, and they’re all there. The first piece, from my recently published novel, Problems of Translation, introduces the novel’s romantic element and might be called “Enter Svetlana.” The second, also from Problems, could be called “What To Do When You’re Aloft in a Private Jet and its Pilot Dies.” The third piece, which I could have labeled, “Fury and Rain,” is from a novel I’m currently working on.

Problems of Translation - Front CoverIn case you’re among the scandalously uninformed, Problems of Translation is available on Amazon (paperback and ebook editions) and Barnes & Noble online (paperback), in some bookstores, and may soon be available from selected libraries. (It is actually in at least one library, but alas, not in New York.)

It was also truly enjoyable to have read on that evening with Robin McLean, who trekked down from New England to read for the Big City folks from her splendid, trenchant, chilling collection of short stories, Reptile House.

Please note, YouTube users, feel free to “like” the video if that mirrors your reaction; in fact, you can do that if you access it from my website as well.

AND BY THE WAY, those of you who did attend the reading, are also cordially invited to see the videos! Lots of fun the second time around!

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JimStoryAndRobinMcLeanAtCorneliaStreetMark your calendars! October 6 is the date of my next reading at the Cornelia Street Cafe, and I’m inviting everyone within earshot to come. It’s a Tuesday, and it will be held from 6-7:30 in their wonderful downstairs reading space. Angelo Verga, Cornelia’s redoubtable ringmaster, will be there to do the introductions of both me and Robin McLean (about whom more later) and I can hardly wait!

I’ll be reading of course from my recently published novel, Problems of Translation, or Charlie’s Comic, Terrifying, Romantic, Loopy Round-the-World Journey in Search of Linguistic Happiness (whew! Even I have to look at the cover sometimes to remember that mouthful), as well as a tidbit or two from work-in-progress. And, needless to say, I’ll be happy to sign books for anyone interested in purchasing a copy–or bring your copy, if you already have one.

I’m especially excited to be reading on this occasion with Robin McLean, who recently returned from a cross-country, summer-long jaunt reading and signing copies of her debut collection of short stories called Reptile House in every place under the sun, from New England to Texas to California to Oregon to the Midwest to Alaska, and on and on, a trip she refers to as her “sidewinder trail.”

I’m thrilled by the great reviews my novel is gathering everywhere it gets read! You may remember that Gary Shteyngart called it “an insanely amusing adventure that has a deep love of language at its belly-shaking core.” Kirkus Reviews called it “a sure-handed narrative led by a hapless but resilient adventurer” and called me “impressively inventive, and . . .  adept at the quick surprise and the odd plot twist.” Memorable phrases from comments by readers on Amazon include “unputdownable,” “Walter Mitty meets A Beautiful Mind,” “a wild, fun, improbable journey,” “so well written and the characters are so likable,” “Alice in Wonderland for adults,” and “this delightful and suspense-filled story written by a man whose very name reveals his talent.”

And Robin’s book has been getting similar praise! Jim Shepard wrote: “Robin McLean’s fiction is harrowing and wry and compassionate, and always both fiercely rooted in the world and fearlessly willing to take chances.” Publisher’s Weekly called her book “a taut volume that explores the fate of the dashed dreamer, offering charming insights into the untidy worlds of people who are not where they thought they’d be.”  And in this blog, I said of her book,Once you’ve read these nine stories, forgetting them is as unlikely as discovering the end-point of pi. Kissing cousins to George Saunders, Donald Barthelme, and perhaps even Don DeLillo, they are nonetheless powered by a distinctive new voice.”

It should be a fun evening! I hope to see everyone there who reads this post.

The skinny:
Tuesday, October 6th, 6-7:30pm, Cornelia Street Cafe (29 Cornelia St., Manhattan).
An $8 cover includes a free glass of wine.

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