Sarah Braunstein’s New Novel

Tonight I went to a reading at my local independent bookstore, RiverRun Books. It’s a wonderful store. They host several hundred events a year. This evening, it was author Sarah Braunstein. She read from her first novel (released just days ago) The Sweet Relief of Missing Children. Mrs. Braunstein gave our small but enthusiastic audience a fabulous reading from the beginnings of the first two sections of the book. It is, as the title implies, a book about children gone missing. It’s a subject I’ve approached many times in my own fiction so I greatly look forward to seeing how she explores this world. Although I’ve not yet read the book, the sections she read were lovely, lyrical and rhythmic, concrete and sensory. She was a selection of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35: young writers to look out for. Here’s to hoping that this first novel is the start of a long and productive career. I’m sure all of us at the reading tonight will look back and say, “You know, I saw her read once, right before she got so famous! Now you can hardly get a seat at her readings!” I recommend that people find her book at your local book store (personal preference) or at one of the many larger bookstores. You can find out more about her at her website:

A Recap, for those who joined the show already in progress…

So, I’ve been practicing my craft solidly for about fourteen years now. At age 29, I turned away from my theater life and went back to school to study fiction writing. Between the ages of thirty and forty-four I’ve:

  • written nearly fifty short stories
  • completed three novel manuscripts
  • earned an M.A. in fiction writing from the University of New Hampshire
  • earned an M.F.A in writing and literature from Bennington College
  • bought two houses, one of which needed extensive restoration that took nearly four years to complete
  • witnessed the birth of my daughter (winner Most Profound Moment of My Life Award) and watched her grow into a beautiful twelve year old
  • got me a beagle
  • lost two cats, gained one (for a current grand total of two)
  • helped my mother move to New Hampshire
  • wished I lived closer to my sister
  • met my birth-mother and my extended Kansas City clan of family, brother and sisters, nieces and nephews
  • traveled to KC, WA, DC, NYC, CO, VA
  • Seen some whales

What’s the point, Clark? I know that’s what you’re asking. It’s about writing, is it not? Yes, for the most part. I guess my point is that I’ve been working at writing for a while now as I lived the other non-writing parts of my life. I’ve compartmentalized these things to a great degree. Now, although it’s not a do-or-die situation, I feel like I’m at a writing crossroads. And not the good kind where I get to shake hands with the devil and come back to down with killer writing chops that no one ever expected. It’s just a regular crossroads. Even culturally, we’ve come to a crossroads. Reading and writing and publishing just aren’t the same any more. Plenty of people love books, but it’s harder and harder to get them published. Or maybe it’s just tough for a few people. I’d be one of those people. What does it mean? I run around two thoughts in my head:

1). I simply haven’t written the sorts of things that people want to read. I’ve sold a good amount of short stories, but I’m not weird enough for the new guard and not tame enough for the old guard, so it’s been tough to interest anyone in manuscripts. Perhaps, ultimately, my writing is not the sort of writing that will even get published. Many people, recently, have suggested self-publishing, and while that is a fine option for those who choose it, I am not that man. I’ve always believed in the gatekeeper. He may not always be a good gatekeeper, but if I’m ever going to have books out in the world, I’m going to have to figure out his passwords so I can get into the castle. I have to accept this option. When I say this, people often tell me to cheer up, or to believe in myself, as if acceptance is somehow a bad thing. It’s not. And it doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing. It simply means I can stop the silly devotion to attempting to find a home for stories and novels that few people want to read. This attitude, I’m convinced, is freeing.

or 2). I’m simply a misunderstood genius like Kafka. My time will come.

Which seem more plausible?

Perhaps I’m just not willing to live in that delusion any longer. Plenty of great writers say things like: “Good work always finds a home.” Maybe my home is not in books. Maybe in literary magazines, maybe not. It’s just hard to see myself applying the same sorts of energies to the search for publication as I grow closer to forty five. Creatively, it’s a shitty use of time. I’d rather be at the desk trying to find my way into the creative state.

This week, I’m going to start writing a bit about the novel manuscripts I’ve written. I like the work–especially the second and third manuscripts. In fact, my failure to interest anyone in the third manuscript, The Aurora Project, which I think is a fine piece of writing, is what sparked this new attitude toward publication. I’ve put nearly two years into attempting to interest folks in the novel. I knew it’d be a hard book to sell, but I sort of trusted that a strange well written book might find a home somewhere. But now I’ve exhausted the “agent” route and the “large publishing house” route and the “independent publishing house” route and must move on.

So if you are interested in seeing my chronicle of novel manuscripts, just check back this week for writings about Body of Water, Ghost Light, and The Aurora Project. At the very least, I hope to shed some light on the process by which I came to write each book and perhaps show the steps I’ve taken to get to this spot, right here, now.

Each Other’s Business Part Two

Here’s the second part to my short story Each Other’s Business. If you like what you hear, please pass along think, tweet it, post it on facebook, or otherwise share it with other like-minded folks who might appreciate fiction out loud. Plus, in the navigation bar of this blog, check out Stories Out Loud, where I’ve posted each story separately. Hope you enjoy.