“Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Every writer knows the quote. Every writer knows failure. If you are a writer and you disagree, good for you. I have known failure.
I did an MFA. My final project was a collection of short stories, now called Grow Me Up and Other Oaths. Two years after I graduated from the MFA program, I was awarded a contract to publish Grow Me Up with a small publisher from the South. It made sense. Most of the stories took place in the South and took influence from my experience living in the Deep South from age five until almost eighteen, seminal years during which I read Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty in my English classes. The publisher sent a contract. I signed it. And we were on our way. At the end of the summer of 2012, I decided that I could put aside that project, since it would be published, and begin a new one. This new project was inspired by my visit to my partner’s birthplace: Odessa, Ukraine.
I wrote a post on Facebook much less detailed than this one, received several likes, and felt very validated. The publisher was small, but I felt like I was “making it.” When I asked about a publication date, I was dismayed to hear that it would be a couple of years before the book was published. I mentioned the long wait to Tobias Wolff, and he told me to look for another publisher.
In 2014, two years after I signed the contract, a month before the birth of my first daughter, I received an email from the publisher announcing that they were closing and that upcoming publications, including my own, were canceled. Having a baby on the way, I didn’t take the time one should to grieve the death of that project. Meanwhile, I was still working on this monster of a novel that I had begun when I had thought that I was “making it.”
So that’s what I mean when I say failure. Maybe I could rethink, rewrite the narrative to mean something else. I could resent the publisher for closing. I could blame a number of people and other factors for what happened. I continued along my path.
Since I was awarded that contract in 2012, I have become the father of two women. I have been first-hand witness to more than one person’s death. I have learned of horrible things that have happened in the past to those closest to me. These secrets cause me suffering. There has been joy. There has been pain. There has been a pandemic. I have failed and failed and failed. I can think that the failure has become better.
The project I began in 2012, a novel about Odessa, Ukraine, a woman from there, an Odessitka, and an American who learns Russian and travels there, this project is older than my oldest child. Are our works our children? They certainly demand and receive a lot of our attention.
The project, titled Two Big Differences, will be published by MGraphics in Fall 2021. It is slightly older than nine years, almost a quarter of my life.
At this point, I don’t believe in perfection. I also still have trouble believing it’s going to happen this time. I keep waiting for that email…I like to think that, if I’m still failing, at least I’m failing better, that right now what’s happening is the best of my failure, that I’ll keep trying. If you would like to read my novel, please reach out. It should be available this coming season.
“First Love and Other Shorts (Beckett, Samuel)” by Samuel Beckett – “It was in this byre, littered with dry and hollow cowclaps subsiding with a sigh at the poke of my finger, that for the first time in my life, and I would not hesitate to say the last if I had not to husband my cyanide, I had to contend with a feeling which gradually assumed, to my dismay, the dread name of love.”
Middlesex / Jeffrey Eugenides
“Февраль” Захара Прилепина
Герой нашего времени Михаила Лермонтова
Waiting for Godot / Samuel Beckett
“Октябрь” Эдуарда Лимонова
“Marlinspike” / Tom Paine
The Theater of the Absurd / Martin Esslin
“Astonish Me” / Maggie Shipstead
Tenth of December: Stories / George Saunders
Long Day’s Journey Into Night / Eugene O’Neill
“She Lived Hard and Fast and Could Never Love Me” / Robert James Russell
Blood Will Out / Walter Kirn
Long Day’s Journey Into Night: Native Eloquence / Michael Hinden
The Birthday Party / Harold Pinter
“Call Sign Scorpion” / Antonio Genovese
A Confederacy of Dunces / John Kennedy Toole
Pinter: The Playwright / Martin Esslin
Benito Cereno / Hermann Melville
“Scars and Dirt: Why I Teach the Modular Story” / Christopher Lowe (Fiction Writers Review)
“Numbers Up” / Matt Walker (The Brooklyner)
“Little Saint At Home” / Marvin Shackleford (The Brooklyner)
“Since Like Forever” / Z.Z. Boone (The Brooklyner)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead / Tom Stoppard
A Confederacy of Dunces / John Kennedy Toole
“The Sugar Bowl” / Memory Blake Peebles (Ploughshares)
Das bedingte Selbst: Familie, Identität und Geschichte im zeitgenössischen Generationenroman / Markus Neuschäfer
Journey to the End of the Night / Louis Ferdinand Celine
Подросток Савенко Эдуарда Лимонова
“The Signature of All Things” / Elizabeth Gilbert (One Story)
“Everything is Breaking News: An Interview with A.M. Homes” / Rebecca Scherm (Fiction Writers Review)
“Against Meaning: On Outpunting One’s Coverage and Achieving Greatness Anyway” / Michael Byers (Fiction Writers Review)
Words Will Break Cement: the Passion of Pussy Riot / Masha Gessen
“Language” / Martin Heidegger
“Die Sprache” / Martin Heidegger
“The Challenge” / Gabriel García Márquez (New Yorker)
“ReMem” / Amy Brill (One Story)
Language Behind Bars / Paul Celan, trans. by David Young
I picked this up to read with some tea. It reminded me of how rusty my German has become. Young’s introduction demonstrates the obsessive nature of a translator. Reading Celan has never been an easy task for me, not the thing you do when you sit down with some tea on a hiatus from tidying the apartment.
Flamethrowers / Rachel Kushner
This has been burning a hole in my reading list since I saw Kushner read at AWP 2014. It’s been sitting on the edge of the shelf with that 70s porno-esque cover. I started it last night before sleep, unable to help myself any longer. The first battle scene has already flipped me over and made me tremble.
Now it’s intimidating me. Sentence fragments work well here, not as gimmicky as they sound elsewhere. Her metaphors all draw one into the Americana atmosphere. There’s a sense this is a spooky dream on the brink. A nightmare comes in the end of the second chapter, but it still feels as necessary as if I had not expected it. What strikes me are the insights of the characters, who are not at all sentimental but also not too dark for school.
Other obligations are keeping me from reading this, and it hurts. I gave my copy away and bought another. It doesn’t matter, electronic or not.
Предподаватель симметрии Андрея Битова
The Betrayers / David Bezmozgis
Here’s my review.