May 2008

Monthly Wrap: Faking Confidence

by Susan Henderson on May 9, 2008

Just want to mention quickly that today is Mr. Henderson’s and my 16th anniversary. Twenty-one and a half years if you count the high-drama dating.

He’s so skinny here. I think the stress of wedding planning far outweighed any stress that came after it. (And if he disagrees with me, our Thai dinner is off.)


I liked reading your answers to this month’s question and having a look inside a single drawer or pocket of yours. The tiniest corner of your home can say so much about you, and it was fascinating to see you through the lens of what you hold on to. I think this is why, when I visit someone, the first thing I do is poke around – I see what’s on the wall, in the candy dish, on the bookshelf. It’s like cutting right to the heart of someone, where all the interesting stuff lies.


I was tempted to come here today and talk about the process of editing this book. I could show you the piles of things left undone – letters I have yet to respond to, phone calls I meant to return, blood tests I didn’t follow up on, prescriptions I never filled. The piles around the house show the practically insane focus I’ve kept on my book.

I started typing a little something about what my edits were like, but it was hard to know where to begin. This latest round of edits only scratches the surface of what I’ve done to this book and what this book has done to me. And as I typed, I could feel my throat seize up and my rib cage squeeze tight – because, right now, even remembering hurts.

Instead, I’m going to show you a corner of the bulletin board in my office.

For me, confidence is a slippery thing. I can’t hold onto it for long.

But it’s key because my writing is no good when I’m hesitant or criticizing myself as I go.

So how do you sustain a belief in yourself and in your work when it’s not your nature? When you’ve collected more rejection slips than acceptances? When, despite working day after day, you just can’t get it right? How do you not get eaten up by self-loathing?

This was at the root of my struggle throughout. And to finish this book, I had to find my will to fight, to believe I had something to say and that I was the one who needed to say it.

Back to the bulletin board. Every day before I went to work on my book, I pinned something up that would keep me going. Some days it was a fortune from a cookie, some days it was a horoscope that said everything I’d been working so hard to achieve would soon materialize. Some days, I pinned up nice things that big-shots said about my writing.

An important book. ~ Sessalee Hensley

A literary masterpiece with commercial appeal. ~ Kirkus

Some days, I simply put up notes like, You’re closer than you think.

I suppose it would be better if my confidence came from within. But for now, it’s mostly external. Mostly fictional, too. I made up every quote that kept me going. But whatever gets you through – right?


Thanks so much for everyone who played here this week, for a great literary discussion between Lance Reynald and Anthony Tognazzini, and for all of you who linked to LitPark: Koreanish, Lynn Alexander, Making It Up, Lance Reynald, Five Star Literary Stories, Wish It Were Fiction, Anthony Tognazzini. I appreciate those links!

See you first Monday of next month. Write your heart out until then.


Reynald’s Rap: Lance chats with Anthony Tognazzini

by Susan Henderson on May 7, 2008

Some of you may remember that several months ago I took off chasing some dreams. I packed two suitcases and left everything behind. I was determined to get out into a world of my choosing and finally make it as a writer no matter what the costs. It’s been one hell of a trip.

Ask a handful of friends and I’m certain they’ll tell you, I’m pretty handy with postcards. Perhaps it’s the gene deep in there that makes me a writer. A desire to share even the tiniest piece of the world and adventures in it with a few quick words. It’s funny that I’m such a fan of these snippets or word trinkets yet I’ve never really taken much a look at short stories.

I have to admit, I’ve been so deep in edits for the past few months that I could barely pick up anything to read for fun. Then I came across I Carry a Hammer in My Pocket for Occasions Such As These.


Although I was never an early riser, my father always counseled me to rise with the sun.

“Early bird gets the worm!” he told me.

“Sure,” I said, “but the worm who sleeps late, lives.”

I actually sat and enjoyed reading each and every bit of it. Pure pleasure and fun in reading. Much like postcards from a friend they made me smirk and imagine the wild ride Anthony Tognazzini is on. With his first book he lets you ride shotgun on the best journey through what it is to be fully awake in this crazy modern world of ours.

Let’s chat him up and you’ll see what I mean.

Welcome to Litpark, Anthony Tognazzini!


LR: Your work gave me the impression of a mix of postcards from far flung destinations, eavesdropped conversations, modern proverbs along with some downright spiritual observations. Where do you draw inspiration for such a diverse range of characters?

AT: I’m a note-taking kind of guy. I always have a pen and paper on hand, or a notebook. In addition to writing down lines or ideas that occur to me, conversation – participated in or eavesdropped on – is one of the best sources of inspiration. Recently a friend told me about visiting the set of Sesame Street and meeting all the muppets. I wrote that down. In a bar I overheard someone say, “I love you, but I’m not calling an ambulance.” I wrote that down. I also jot down lines from travel brochures, nature documentaries, whatever. I have stacks of these notes around my apartment, notebooks filled with them. I sort through these, and see what I can build. I might start with “My dog ate my tabla,” or something about the crunch of watermelon or “You were the road I was supposed to keep my eyes on,” or “I went to the store and bought a totally bitchin’ potato masher.” Sometimes one of these will spark a story on its own, other times I’ll assemble a few with wire and string to see if I can make something unusual. Oftentimes they amount to nothing, but occasionally magic happens. It doesn’t seem like the most efficient way to work, but it’s what comes naturally to me – working with these fragments. Barthelme said “Fragments are the only forms I trust,” and I think he had something there.

LR: Ok, I can’t resist asking. But my favorite piece is the last one “Abandoned Belongings”, something in it resonated with me. How did that one come to be?

AT: I love allegories and parables, especially ones that read like riddles, or read clearly, as though designed to impart a lesson, but what’s finally revealed is ambiguous. “Abandoned Belongings” isn’t that ambiguous, because the moral is stated at the end, but the interaction with the monk is puzzling. Sometimes we look for answers and get nothing but a backpack full of tissue. I’m also interested in Zen, and Zen koans. I think I was inspired by that sort of knowing, and those sorts of forms, when I wrote that one.

LR: I’m a bit awestruck by how much story you tell with such word economy. Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of short fiction. Yet it seems that more of it is seeing the light of day now. How do you see the publishing landscape changing for writers of short works?

AT: This is probably a self-serving opinion, but I feel like it’s inevitable that we’re moving culturally toward shorter literary forms. We’re in an ADD world of quick-jump internet links, sound bites, fragments and the like, everything’s faster and more compressed – it seems only a matter of time until literature adapts to this shift in consciousness. People will always tell stories, but the telling shifts shapes. There does seem to be a growing interest in the short form, and more and more avenues for publishing this sort of work, either online, where there are scores of excellent journals, or in print with houses like BOA. Of course, there’s not much in big league publishing to indicate that this trend is catching on in a mainstream way. Novels sell bigger than ever, and it’s hard to get a book of short work published, so maybe I’m just whistling Dixie.

LR: You work has appeared extensively outside of this collection. Do you have any secrets or great tips for other writers struggling to get their work out there?

AT: Perseverance. Thick skin. Now that a lot of journals accept online submissions, it’s less of a laborious secretarial imbroglio printing copies and licking envelopes, which is nice.

LR: Who are some of your influences? (living or dead, contemporaries in the field, other forms of art altogether?)

AT: Franz Kafka, Thelonious Monk, Buster Keaton, Kenneth Koch, Lydia Davis, Tom Friedman, Donald Barthelme, David Byrne, Sarah Sze, Richard Brautigan, haiku poets, Julio Cortazar, Robert Walser, Aimee Bender, Daniil Kharms, John Ashbery, Brian Eno, Yasunari Kawabata, George Saunders, Samuel Beckett, Frank O’Hara, Leonard Michaels, Tomaz Salamun, James Tate, James Brown, Gertrude Stein, the Marx Brothers, Miranda July, Vincent Van Gough, Dean Young, Bob Dylan, Dr. Seuss.

LR: Some of the pieces have a quality like poetry or song writing. Have you tried your hand at music at all?

AT: Everything I do is guided by a love of music. I’m a music head. I listen to most everything, and make part of my living as a music journalist. Rhythm and melody is paramount for me in writing, and the way my writing sounds when read aloud is the ultimate test of its quality and durability (I’m constantly interrupting my typing to read sentences aloud). I also play guitar, sing, and write songs. I’m currently in the process of putting my band back together (the last incarnation split up last summer). When I got my Mac I started tinkering around on Garageband and recorded some rough demos of my songs (without an interface or mics or anything), which are up at I also sing and play in a band that covers the music of the Louvin Brothers, a bluegrass harmony duo from the 1950s.

LR: What would you like readers to leave with as the theme of this collection? Is there a unifying thread that guided the work?

AT: Because the pieces are short, and formally varied, and were written over a long period of time in a variety of places and contexts, there’s not really a unifying thread in terms of formal composition. It’s more that the work is unified by sensibility. Because my approach is more like a poet’s than a novelist’s, my paramount concerns aren’t plot, character, and narrative trajectory, but energy, surprise, compression, and the creation of an experience that’s immediate, honest, and, I hope, emotionally true. Most of the stories are written in the 1st person, and it’s possible, even very likely, that this character can be read as the same anxious, giddy, alert but slightly dense person who is full of yearning and pain and a great capacity for love. I’m not much for autobiographical writing, but there certainly a lot of me in that character, even though it’s refracted through a fictional lens. But the difference between fiction and memoir is that memoir represents the author’s personal experience while fiction (hopefully) creates a direct, personal experience for the reader. So, ultimately, I hope this is what readers will take away from the collection – a personal experience that connects them to the themselves, the world, and the sense of possibility flowering in each.



Anthony Tognazzini’s first book, I Carry a Hammer in My Pocket for Occasions Such as These, is a collection of 57 short fictions. It was published by BOA Editions in 2007. His work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Sentence, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Hat, Quarterly West, Ducky, Mississippi Review, and Quick Fiction, among other journals. He’s received three Pushcart Prize nominations, awards from AWP and the Academy of American Poets, and fellowships to the Prague Summer Writer’s Workshop and Ledig House Writer’s Colony. He lives and works in New York City.

Lance Reynald is the author of Pop Salvation (Harper Perennial, release date forthcoming), the sexy, heartbreaking tale of outcasts in search of love and acceptance. In addition to The Reynald’s Rap you can read him over at He currently resides in Portland, Oregon where he is developing a serious Bacon Maple Bar addiction and can usually be found lost in the stacks at Powell’s still in awe of it all or passing the hours in one comic book shop or another. You can friend him at Myspace. You can also friend Pop Salvation at Myspace.


Question of the Month: A Peek into Your World

by Susan Henderson on May 5, 2008

Tell me something about you by describing the contents of a single drawer or shelf or pocket.


Wednesday, Lance Reynald will chat with Anthony Tognazzini, author of I Carry a Hammer in My Pocket for Occasions Such as These, a collection of flash fiction blurbed by such literary heavyweights as Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, and Stuart Dybek.

See you then! And I will be back for good on Friday. Thanks again for all the support while I finished my book!


Winners of Charles Shaughnessy's Morning Song Contest

by Susan Henderson on May 2, 2008

Thought I’d stop in after a long break and let you know that LitPark will have a new Question of the Month on Monday.

I finished my book edits and fully anticipate one more round, but feel pretty good [this used to say “great;” by tomorrow it will say “just awful”] about what I turned in. Have to say thank you to my agent, Dan Conaway, who is one spectacular human being, and made this whole process nearly a joyful one.

litpark agent dan conaway writers house
This is Dan. This is also why I’m not an artist.

What have I done since turning in my manuscript? I’ve looked to my greyhound, Steve, as my role model:

I’ve spent this downtime gardening, walking with my kids, playing soccer, lazing around with my dogs, going to readings (more on that near the end of this post), and slowly catching up on everything that landed in a to-do pile over the past few months. Thanks again for all the support and for giving me the space to get my work done. Hopefully, I’m through the hardest part.


Okay, so the reason I am posting something today is to direct you to the results of the Morning Song contest. Those of you who are regulars here know that Charles Shaughnessy ran a contest inspired by “Morning Song,” a song written by Robin Lerner and sung by David Habbin, both of whom were interviewed at LitPark.

I’m only going to post one of the winning entries to give you a taste because I want you to visit Charlie’s site. What he has to say about the entries is really lovely and begins with this: “What touched me the most was how so many of you did find a new appreciation for Life in the wake of loss, which is what I wanted this writing competition to be about.”

Here is Robin Grantham‘s winning entry. I chose to showcase hers because she has been a part of the LitPark community since the very first day, and it’s time you all knew her writing:

In my memory, I had his hand before he slipped away beneath the water. In my memory, I tried to hang on.

I don’t think it really happened that way. In truth, I think he just disappeared. We were kids at the lake, playing in shallow water, the Texas sun white and hot above us. When I saw he was gone I ran for help. Not fast enough, I kept thinking. Why can’t you be faster? My five-year-old brother, shorter and younger than most of his counterparts, always carried himself tall and proud, shoulders pushed back, chest stuck out. How tiny he looked on the side of the boat with that essence of him washed away, his chest only able to rise with the help of panicked breaths from my father.

They served hot chocolate at his funeral. I remember feeling dark and horrible that I wanted some. I was six. The day after his funeral, the neighbor boy came to the door. Toy rifle propped on one shoulder, Troy wanted to know if Ronnie could play. My father stepped outside to talk to him. He shut the door behind them so we couldn’t hear. I wondered why my father didn’t talk to me like that. I guess he couldn’t. Still, it’s my brother I’ve turned to over the years. He’s always there. He’s here now. In my mind, he defends me. In my mind, he’s the sort of brother who thinks no other woman can ever quite live up to his big sister. In my mind he’s grown into someone I can respect and admire; someone who would have done great things, someone I could only hope to live up to. In my mind, his chest is still out, his shoulders squared; bigger than life. In my mind, I have his hand and I never let go.


Quick note now on getting my head out of the sand. Was a real pleasure to see my friend, Robin Slick, read at The Boxcar Lounge the other night – a funny but heartbreaking story about all of the bad luck and near-misses you can have in this business. We met up with Kimberly Wetherell and didn’t have nearly enough time to hang out.

And then, you know, a few days later, you’re horsing around on the internet and reading blogs, and do you ever find that people have both taken your picture and posted it on the internet without you knowing about it?

Don’t you love that?

When I was in eighth grade, I remember getting back (for the second year in a row) a school picture with my eyes halfway closed. I was never one of the cool kids who listened to Molly Hatchet and had high-heeled clogs and a boyfriend, but I wanted to be one of those kids. And kind of your only shot was on the day everyone traded school photos and maybe you could get your picture into one of their wallets. But my photo was the kind you just didn’t trade. If I weren’t so lazy, I’d scan it in to remind some of you of those detachable lace collars you could snap over a sweater.

Anyway, here the three of us are that night. And I’m just saying, if you take a picture of someone with red glowing eyes, trying discreetly to grow out her bangs, and if she looks mean or stoned (even though she’s neither), you know, you might be reminding her of her loser junior high school days. But there you go. Lacey collar some other day.


Thank you to those who linked to LitPark this month: She Wrote, He Wrote, Falling up the Stairs, Shoddy First Draft, Vonnegut’s Asshole, Social Books, Countdown to Twenty-Four, Rioter’s Roost, pullquote, GreenCineDaily, Robin Slick’s In Her Own Write, and Curious Distractions. I appreciate those links!

Don’t forget to hop over to Charlie’s place to see the contest results, if you haven’t already. See you Monday!