What I Read and Wrote and Did in 2020

What did I do in 2020? Who the hell knows! I spent a couple months of it flat on my back with a slipped disc, and then a couple more months of it doing physical therapy every day (I’m fine now, thanks). Beyond that, I mostly watched a lot of movies. At some point (& for some reason) I decided to see every horror movie that came out in 2020, and I don’t know if I actually accomplished that, but I definitely watched at least 100 of them. My favorite by far was Relic, which was perfect, one of the best haunted house movies I’ve ever seen. I also enjoyed Sputnik, Swallow, After Midnight, VFW, Sea Fever, Gretel & Hansel, The Deeper You Dig, The Assistant, Platform, The Dark and the Wicked, and the documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. I didn’t like The Hunt but I thought Betty Gilpin was incredible in it, and I thought Freaky and Spontaneous were both really charming. My least favorite horror movie I watched was the remake of the The Invisible Man, which I found to be idiotic and infuriating garbage. So there you go! That was pretty much my year. I also loved the entire 7 UP documentary series (RIP Michael Apted), but that’s not exactly horror, unless you deem life itself to be horror, which is certainly your prerogative IN THESE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES.

Reading-wise, I had an off-year. I couldn’t concentrate, mostly I guess because of the overwhelming fear of death. (Hence the horror movies.) But I did read, I think, around 75 books? It got a little harder to calculate than usual because I also gave myself permission to stop reading books I didn’t like… which lead to me abandoning more novels than I actually finished. Which felt great! Why did I wait so long? And why do people write so many novels?? (Anyway I didn’t count the ones I didn’t finish.)

Some of my favorite books I read this year were: All the Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer, The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott, Aventine by Lee Killough, The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, Cult of Loretta by Kevin Maloney, The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorized Biography by Charles White, Sleepovers by Ashley Bryant Phillips, Serotonin by Michel Houllebecq, Heavy by Kiese Laymon, The Night Visitor and Other Stories by B. Traven, Foe by Iain Reid, The Throat by Peter Straub, Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories by Sholem Aleichem, Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern by Francine Prose, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami, The Ice at the Bottom of the World by Mark Richard, The Nix by Nathan Hill, Gilded Needles by Michael McDowell, How Far She Went: Stories by Mary Hood, When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes by Lawrence Block, and the new translation of Beowulf by Maria Dahvana Headley.

I also had the pleasure of blurbing six books I really loved this year: Babel by Gabriel Blackwell, Cuyahoga by Pete Beatty, Death, Desire, and Other Destinations by Tara Isabel Zambrano, Road Seven by Keith Rosson, There is a Man by Pete Hsu (one of my old students!), and Zero Zone by Scott O’Connor. Check ’em out! You won’t be disappointed.

Storywise, my favorite discoveries of the year were: “Her Favorite Story” by Mark Richard (one of the greatest stories I’ve ever read), “The Seventh Man” by Haruki Murakami, “Flying to Byzantium” by Lisa Tuttle, “A Friend of Kafka” by Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Firelight” by Tobias Wolff, “Broken Stairways, Walls of Time” by Lee Killough, “The Pink Cloud” by Alireza Mahmoudi Iranmehr, “Who Invented the Jump Shot” by John Edgar Wideman, “Previous Condition” by James Baldwin, “Lonesome Road Blues” by Mary Hood, “Desertion” by Clifford Simak, “The Strange High House in the Mist” by H.P. Lovecraft, “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen, “Honeymoon” by Leonard Michaels, and “When the Priest is Not at Home” by B. Traven.

Writing-wise, what can I say? I wrote a lot but didn’t publish much. I had a new story called “God” in Bomb Magazine (which has since been nominated for The Best Small Fictions!), and one called “Pictures of Heaven” in the Tiny Nightmares anthology. My story “Death and the Lady” (from Tales of Falling and Flying) was reprinted in an anthology called Devil’s Ways, and “The Man, the Restaurant, and the Eiffel Tower” (also from Tales of Falling and Flying) appeared on the Selected Shorts podcast again (as read by actress Stana Katic). I had three stories (“God,” “Mystery (The Third Man),” and “The Friend with the Knife in His Back”) translated into Chinese and published in the journal 外国文艺 (Foreign Literature and Art), which was an incredible honor. I was interviewed by Tommy Dean for his blog about flash fiction. I read a story every day on Instagram Live through the first three months of the pandemic, mentored two high school writers as part of the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, taught my usual Short Story I & II classes at UCLA Extension, ran some private workshops, taught a class called “Writing Modern Fables & Fairytales” at The Los Angeles Writer’s Grotto, and did a bunch of readings and appearances, including (live) at The Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore’s Grand Re-Opening Celebration in San Diego, and (via Zoom) at College Place High School in Washington State, Orani National High School in The Philippines, Alice Cai’s Student Novel Writing Class at Buzz Online, and at the Adroit Journal 10th Anniversary Party. I also appeared (voice only!) on the OtherPpl Podcast‘s Holiday Spectacular (Episode #686).

As a teacher, I had past or current students accepted into writing programs at NYU, Rutgers, the American Film Institute, and Clarion, and another who was awarded a Fullbright Scholarship to Brazil (!). Others published stories in The Los Angeles Review, Atticus Review, The Paris Review, BULL: Men’s Fiction, New England Review, Speculative City, Southwest Review, and Craft Literary, among others, and were nominated for Pushcart Prizes and inclusion in The Best Small Fictions. (For some reason their accomplishments make me prouder than my own, even though I didn’t do anything? Kind of a neat trick…)

Anyway, here’s hoping 2021 will be a better year… for everybody… in every way. (Except those who are impeached and/or sent to prison for treason & sedition & suchlike.)

Oh! One last thing! My favorite albums of the year were Gillian Welch’s sublime Boots No.2: Volumes One, Two, and Three, and the gloriously infectious Lapse of Luxury by Brian Wright & the SneakUps. (As well, of course, as the usual Danzig II: Lucifuge (the gift that keeps on giving.))

Chinese Translations & Other News

For the first time, I’ve had some stories translated into Chinese! You can find them in the Sept/Oct issue of the journal 外国文艺 (Foreign Literature and Art), as translated by Breanna Chia, if you happen to live in China. The stories are “God,” “Mystery (The Third Man),” and “The Friend with the Knife in His Back,” if you’d like to read the original English-language versions. Many thanks to Breanna for making this happen!

In other news, I have a story called “Pictures of Heaven” in the just-released anthology Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Tales of Horror, alongside work by J.S. Breukelaar, Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, and Pedro Iniguez, among others. Meanwhile, my story “Death and the Lady” (from Tales of Falling and Flying) was reprinted in the anthology Devil’s Ways, alongside stories by Michael Swanwick, Avram Davidson, Nancy Kress, and Andy Duncan. (Andy Duncan is the best reader in the world, by the way, and if you ever get a chance to hear him, don’t mess it up.)

That’s all the news for now! More coming soon…

Story Hour on Instagram

For about a month now I’ve been doing a Story Hour every day on Instagram Live, and will continue to do so for… well, the foreseeable future, anyway. I’m reading my own stories and other people’s stories and even some poetry from time to time. It’s every day at 5:00 Pacific / 8:00 Eastern, though the readings are also available to watch afterward on IGTV. If you have any story requests, feel free to DM me—or just show up and start shouting about whatever it is you want to hear.

IG Live reading pic.png

Also: If you enjoy the Story Hour readings and would like to leave me some kind of tip, please don’t! Go and give that money to some people who are making masks and face shields and other equipment for nurses and doctors and other front line workers. On the other hand, if you’d like to leave a short review of my latest book somewhere (on Amazon or Goodreads or Barnes & Noble, for instance), I would be much obliged!

February News

I did a mini-interview with Tommy Dean about writing flash fiction (stories under 1,000 words), and you can read that here if you’re interested.

Also, Editors Lincoln Michel & Nadxieli Nieto revealed the cover of their upcoming anthology, Tiny Nightmares, which will be out on Oct. 13 from Black Balloon Publishing. It features a new story of mine called “Pictures of Heaven,” alongside work by Brian Evenson, Amber Sparks, Rion Amilcar Scott, and Stephen Graham Jones, among others. You can pre-order it here if you like.

Tiny Nightmares

And finally, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be working with the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program this year. If you’re in high school and a writer (or interested in becoming a writer), check it out! Applications are due on March 15, and the program itself begins at the end of June.

ajsmp2020

“God” in BOMB Magazine

I have a story called “God” up in BOMB Magazine today! I’ve been working on it for a long, long time (even though it’s only 997 words), and am so glad to see it finally out there in the world. Many thanks to BOMB editor Raluca Albu and director Libby Flores for making it happen, and to Victor Boyda for the wonderful art!

God (art by Victor Boyda)

This story has also been adapted to chamber ensemble and voice by composer Nathan Hudson (who previously adapted my story “The Duck”). We’re hoping to schedule some performances of that piece around the country this year.

What I Read and Wrote and Did in 2019

So what happened this year? Well, let’s see. I published 5 new stories: “The Trespassing Forest” and “The Statue in the Park” in Cherry Tree, “It is Illegal to Enter the Graveyard” in Post Road, “Joan of Arc” in The Adroit Journal, and “The Magic Mountain” in A Public Space.

“The Trespassing Forest” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Cherry Tree Pushcart Nominations

I had two previously published stories anthologized: “Carla” in Writers of Mystery and Imagination, and “James K. Polk” in Making History: Classic Alternate History Stories.

Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 5, which included my story “The Rock Eater” (from Tales of Falling and Flying), won the 2019 British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology! It was a thrill to be included, and wonderful to see editors Robert Shearman & Michael Kelly honored for their work.

My story “The Duck” (from Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day) was on the Valentine’s Day episode of This American Life again (which makes four times—here’s hoping for more!). My stories “The Cape” and “The Monster” (from Tales of Falling and Flying) popped up on the Selected Shorts podcast, read by Tony Yazbeck and John Cameron Mitchell, respectively. (You can also watch the dance adaptation of “The Cape” which Selected Shorts commissioned from Pigeonwing Dance here.)

Speaking of adaptations, composer Nathan Hudson, who a few years ago adapted my story “The Duck” for chamber ensemble and voice as his Master’s thesis at Stony Brook University, has done it again! This time we collaborated on a new piece, based on an as-yet-unpublished story of mine called “God.” Hopefully there will be some performances of the piece around the country in 2020, so be on the lookout for those!

I also love this poster art by the immensely talented Victor Boyda:

God • Victor Boyda art

What else? A long string of nightmarish “headline” tweets I wrote during the early days of the Trump administration were collected by Julia Ingalls and included in this volume, alongside work by Brendan Constantine, Henry Hoke, Anne-Marie Kinney, J. Ryan Stradal, and other LA literary luminaries.

And finally, it looks like both Tales of Falling and Flying and Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day are being translated into Turkish! This all just happened at the end of the year, so I’m still waiting on the details—but it looks fantastic and I am thrilled by the news.

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What else? I went to New Orleans and did a reading at the Disorder Salon along with Kristen Iskandrian, author of Motherest (and owner of the just-opened Thank You Books—if you’re ever in Birmingham, Alabama, stop by and say hi!). I read some stories in concert with the Sharp & Fine Dance Just Ahead is Darkness show at Soundwave 9 in San Francisco (and was also somehow talked into dancing live onstage). I did readings at LitCrawl LA, the Idyllwild Arts Writers Week, the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program Annual Publication Party, the Difficult to Name Reading Series, the Ghosts of You launch party, and with friends Bud Smith and J.S. Breukelaar, among others.

Ben Loory at Stories

I continued to teach short story writing at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and at the Idyllwild Arts Summer Session. I had students accepted into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the MFA Program at UC Riverside, and the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Others had stories published here, here, and here; one put out the second book in her current YA trilogy; and another has her first novel on the way from FSG. The kids make me proud! Amazing stuff.

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On a sad note, my mentor Dennis Etchison died this year. He was brilliant, hilarious, and despairing, and his favorite book was Kenneth Patchen’s The Journal of Albion Moonlight. I’d never written a story in my life when I signed up to take Dennis’s writing class at the Mystery & Imagination Bookstore 15 years ago, and I owe him absolutely everything. If you’ve never read anything by Dennis, may I recommend the incredible career retrospective It Only Comes Out at Night. I recommend you don’t read it after dark.

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with Dennis Etchison

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Reading-wise, 2019 was good to me! I read about 153 books, if my records are accurate (my records are always accurate). Here are some of my favorites:

I wrote a thread about my top 25 or so on Twitter, you can read that over there if you like.

My favorite stories that I read this year were “The Return” by Roberto Bolaño, “Nocturne” by Thomas Tessier, “Remedies” by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, “Wild Milk” by Sabrina Orah Mark, “Cecil Taylor” by Cesar Aira, “The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky” by John Hornor Jacobs (technically a novella I guess), “The Debutante” by Leonora Carrington, “Kino” by Haruki Murakami, “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders, “The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud, “Levitation” by Joseph Payne Brennan, “The Last Cheng Beng Gift” by Jaymee Goh, and “Sisters” by Brian Evenson, which had my favorite story opening of the year: “We had just moved in, hadn’t even done anything to our neighbors yet.”

And as always, you can follow all my reading on Goodreads; I’m not as active as I used to be, but who is….