From Kirkus Reviews:

Bleak but sometimes funny tales show Lychack’s (The Wasp Eater, 2004) knack for ellipses,pushing readers to fill in deliberate narrative and stylistic omissions. The book opens with “Stolpestad,” perhaps the most brutal story in a collection that doesn’t shy away from desolation. Other pieces cover an impressive range of emotional and imaginative territory: A woman buys chicks in the hope of raising chickens and getting fresh eggs only to find herself engaged in a perverse struggle with a mostly male brood and her skeptical husband; a couple’s quest for help butchering the deer they strike with their car reveals their own emotional wounds. Narratives combine to illuminate a rural, small-town world where women phone the American Legion or Elks halls to call drunk husbands home, and where damaged characters gaze on one another with wantonness, judgment and need. The moods are many and varied: There’s the sad reverie of an old woman visiting family following the death of her husband; the melancholy prophecy of a plant hybridizer’s wife anticipating his death; and a fabulist triptych, about a beloved teacher who comes from the sea, that touches on themes of loss, transformation and transcendence. The disciplined storytelling and barbed wit strike a fine balance.

From Library Journal:

Lychack, William. The Architect of Flowers. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2011. c.192p. ISBN 9780618302437. pap. $14. F
Lychack (The Wasp Eater) offers a rich and involving collection of stories set in a shadowy world of vague location where characters seem to float along on memories and images. The title story features a man called “the hybridizer” who works with plants. Time moves slowly, and though the setting seems to be somewhere in the modern world, strange things keep happening. The hybridizer may be dying, or possibly the wife, who seems to live in a dream, just made up his condition as an excuse to get their son to come visit. In “The Old Woman and Her Thief,” a woman on her deathbed confesses something about the crow that she and her husband had rescued; as she recovers, her husband’s health begins to fail, as both recall their life together in a kind of fairy-tale world. Another story concerns a beautiful young woman who teaches school in a town near the sea, into which she mysteriously vanishes. VERDICT Skillfully written and absorbing, these stories frequently defy description and rarely proceed smoothly from point A to point B. The author is interested in creating a mood rather than in painting an objective portrait, and his oblique, whimsical approach is generally quite successful. Recommended for larger collections.—Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta

From Resident Media:

The Architect of Flowers by William Lychack is a collection of stories that are stark, naked and downright chilling. The disc opens with a yarn about a small town policeman who grapples with the decision to shoot a family’s injure dog. Further along, there’s a geriatric woman who teaches a crow to steal for her and in one of the book’s most poignant pieces, a hybridizer’s wife, who discovers the perfect lie to bring her family back together again. Ostensibly a collection of stories centered around grief and the unending search for solace, it’s a rare and inimitable work and easily Lychack’s best prose to date. Greg Robson, residentmediapundit.com

this is from dave cullen, author of columbine… god bless dave cullen for his generosity here and for writing his chilling and affecting and impossible-to-put-down-or-look-away book…

Five Great Books I’m Sure You Haven’t Read

A wonderful site called The Hipster Book Club asked me to take part in their annual Five Bests lists for 2010. The Tucson tragedy and a few other events in my life delayed me posting this, but it was a lot of fun.They said I could pick five of anything, so I decided to go with Five Gems You Haven’t Read.

Here’s the opening of my entry:

I was unaware that writing a book would produce more of them—in my mailbox. It’s pretty cool, getting galleys. If only they came with the time to read them. Mostly, I don’t make it ten pages, but man, when one connects . . .

These first three are minor masterpieces. I’m about halfway through each of one. I’m slow. And I’m savoring.  Look for them in early 2011. You will be richer for it.

1. The Architect of Flowers by William Lychack (out March)

This one made me a little sad. My dream is to write like Nabokov, and this guy is too damn far ahead. I kept questioning whether I could get there. Now it’s revving me up to try.

Architect is the first book to remind me of my mentor, Lucia Berlin. They both tell deceptively simple stories about “ordinary” working class characters. William brings them to life with tiny insights and dazzling images he seems to exhale into every line.

I was hooked by the title story, but still went, Ugh. I don’t want to read about flowers. But three pages later, I was wishing it would roll on and on.

Read my four other picks here. (Scroll down toward the bottom, by my pic.)

And check out the other great entries, too. They include Jillian Lauren, Benjamin Percy, David Bezmozgis, and Jill Alexander Essbaum.

one should be able to say shit if they have a mouth full of it, yes? well, once upon a time, i was in the company of a celebrated and eminent poet for a day–this esteemed poet was visiting my classroom and giving a campus reading to the school where i taught. this eminence was so awful and cold and belittling and dismissive to the students and to me and my colleagues, i felt, that it honestly took me an entire weekend to recover or recreate any sense of hope or love for writing at all. this person had a way of demoralizing everyone, which surprised and, well, demoralized me. what resuscitated me was this song and this concert, and how comforting it became to talk about the reading and master class with my students the following week, having regained my equilibrium and my sense of purpose… from a great height… from a great height…

kinda cool, kinda smart…

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from the “official” tom waits website…

her name is Marguerite Brennan and she is the featured artist at Wallflowers Gallery in Bernardsville New Jersey. to see more images just click here.

okay… this is an unalloyed bit good news/good luck about the forthcoming collection: The Architect of Flowers was selected by Barnes and Noble for its Discover Great New Writers Series for the summer!

if you’re interested, this is a description of the program:

“Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the The Discover Great New Writers™ program is proud to have introduced the following writers to an eager reading public (just a small number of the nearly 2,000 writers we’ve discovered): T. C. Boyle, Patricia Cornwell, Junot Diaz, Jasper Fforde, Elizabeth Gilbert, Robert Goolrick, Barbara Kingsolver, Janice Y. K. Lee, Jonah Lehrer, Colum McCann, Cormac McCarthy, Audrey Niffenegger, Michael Pollan, Alice Sebold, Rebecca Skloot, Kathryn Stockett, and David Wroblewski.

“A small group of Barnes & Noble bookseller volunteers convenes year-round to review submissions to the program, selecting works for our promotion, currently featured at 700+ Barnes & Noble, Bookstop, and Bookstar stores, 30 prominent Barnes & Noble College Bookstores, and on http://www.bn.com.

“Annually, we recognize two of our exceptional writers with the Discover Great New Writers Award (one each for Fiction and Non-Fiction). In addition to a $10,000 prize, we promote the winning titles extensively in our stores and online.

“The 2009 Discover Award winners were announced on March 3. This year’s Discover Award winners included Victor Lodato’s debut novel of a precocious young girl grieving the loss of her sister, titled Mathilda Savitch, and Dave Cullen’s spellbinding non-fiction book, Columbine, a work of investigative journalism that was 10 years in the making, and yields surprising truths about that fateful day in Littleton, Colorado, the killers, their plan, and their victims. For more information, view the press release.

“Previous recipients of the Discover Award include Monica Ali, Eric Blehm, Tracy Chevalier, Joshua Ferris, Ben Fountain, Chang-rae Lee, Elizabeth McCracken, David Sheff, and Hampton Sides, among others.”

another snow day….

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another snow day here… these snow days are murder on the writing life… but kind of great for almost everything else… especially battleship… i’ve resorted to psychological warfare to defeat my wily opponent frederick… this tactic, i assure him, is part of the game’s subtle rules… this is a major source of conflict, disagreement, and unrest in our living room… so-called neutral states, like burgess, are fickle and easily bribed with ice cream… he (or she) who controls the ice cream (or even the promise of ice cream) controls the framing of the question, which controls the outcome of the jury… popular opinion is important in marshalling the proper spirit of war, as i learned in “history”. (i mean, as i learned in “current events”.) meanwhile, one can sometimes get his opponent to divulge how close that last missile landed to his submarine… i tell frederick how this brings back many wonderful memories… how my father and i used to play just like this all the time… and will, the younger brother, will chime in and say, ‘you didn’t have a dad, dad.’ cue the vaudeville slap of hand to forehead: ‘why that explains everything!’

I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? …I am constantly surprised at how I keep taking the gifts God has given me—my health, my intellectual and emotional gifts—and keep using them to impress people, receive affirmation and praise, and compete for rewards, instead of developing them for the glory of God. Yes, I often carry these gifts off to a “distant country” and put them in the service of an exploiting world that does not know their true value. It’s almost as if I want to prove to myself and to my world that I do not need God’s love, that I can make a life on my own, that I want to be fully independent.

The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen

this is a very recent interview with james robison, a truly generous writer and reader. his stories were among the most important to me when i was just learning to write, and i would read and reread his collection, rumor, finding new grace notes and moments of perfection every time through. more than 25 years ago, jim was one of my first writing champions and teachers, and it was great to see this lively interview with him (and find him kind enough to recommend the architect of flowers).


James Robison has published many stories in The New Yorker, won a Whiting Grant for his short fiction and a Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his first novel, The Illustrator, brought out by Bloomsbury in the U.K. His work has appeared in Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and Grand Street. The Mississippi Review devoted an entire issue to seven of his short stories. He co-wrote the 2008 film, New Orleans Mon Amour, and has poetry and prose forthcoming or appearing now in The Manchester Review, Story Quarterly, and Smokelong Quarterly, elimae,The Blue Fifth Review, Wigleaf, Commonline, Blast Furnace,The Houston Literary Review, Scythe, Metazen, The Raleigh Review, Corium Magazine and elsewhere. He taught for eight years at the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program, was Visiting Writer at Loyola College of Maryland, was Fiction Editor of The North Dakota Quarterly.

How does your physical, geographical environment affect your writing, if it does?

The qualities associated with place are tools available for a story. I choose a voice because of other variables, then think where to locate the story in the world. “This sounds like a Pennsylvania story, winter, industrial.” Great advantage of having lived all over hell.

Do you listen to music when you write? What allows you to settle in and write optimally?

Music is out! If it’s The Crystals or Surf guitar, my characters start acting up, driving too fast, lipping off, being vain and dressing in aggressive clothes. If it’s Mozart or Bach, I’m intimidated by the design and organization of the music and stop composing myself. Opera sweeps me up so I forget to write. Greek Orthodox Byzantine chants are the closest to okay.
Anyway.

Early Morning, dead quiet, in the first rush of strong coffee is best.

How does teaching effect your own work (if it does)?

Teaching answers needs to communicate complex ideas, get laughs, hold court, right wrongs, control 90 minutes of narrative and therefore, after a happy teaching day, it’s impossible to write. One is sated.

What is your favorite books/or collections of recent times?

Stuff from former students. Bill Lychack, from a class at Connecticut College, has a new one, The Architect of Flowers, and I got a glimpse of part of that book and it’s great. Bruce Marchart, from a Houston class, has a new novel, The Wake of Forgiveness, causing large buzzings and hot feedback in New York. I recommend Marti Leimbach’s The Man from Saigon. Lots more.


What did you want to be when you grew up?

I haven’t grown up enough to say. Nothing’s been ruled out.

What do you think of practicing multiple disciplines as a writer/ not limiting oneself to writing as a form of expression?

I draw and used to draw for a living but I could not be a fine artist, visual variety, and a good writer. I think the degree of concentration required for one discipline, (in my case at least), is so mind-eating that there isn’t enough self left to give to another discipline.

How do you come up with ideas for stories?

A story must have three ingredients, like, oral surgery, Puccini’s Turandot, and divorce.

Or.

Hurricane science, a niece, and physics.

If I have three large thoughts, intuitions or detections about three varied things, I’ll launch a story.

How is book culture changing? What do you notice in this regard?

I know only that people are reading, reading as much as ever, writing and reading and engaged by the processes. That’s what matters. As to the means of conveyance-I don’t know or care much.

How does the truth make us odd? The Flannery O’Conner quote is: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”

O’Connor said she pitied anyone trying to write about Simone Weil, and in the same sense, I know it’s a mistake to try to decode O’Connor. But, her statement means to me. Before you can be a writer you must make it new and the only way to do that is to run a harrowing, fearless, ruthless self audit. A psychological, emotional, moral inventory. You must know who you are, without delusions or self-deception, and what you find is apt to scare the spit out of you. But that is the truth you must accept and the truth from which you will construct every sentence. To that degree, writers are odd, I suppose. I don’t think we are set free by our truths, but then no one is. We are set free to make an alternative word world — an odd but imperative impulse, don’t you think?

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.

this was sent to me by a good friend of mine, andrew pohly… it might be, he wrote, “a good time waster for you.” more than that, it’s just awesome in every single way… as andrew wrote, this is from “a sick documentary on Dick Proenneke who built a home in the Alaska wilderness with his bare hands and handmade tools (he would bring only the blades and would carve handles onsite).  He filmed himself building the home and kept a detailed journal that the film makers used to put the documentary together.  He lived alone in the cabin until he was 82, here is his wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Proenneke.”
Part 1: Part 2: Part 3: 
Part 4: Part 5:  Part 6:

page of appreciations…

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you know, i may not be the most chatty person, so i’m not entirely sure a blog is all that good a fit for me… that said, however, i thought i would just start posting stuff that catches my attention… bill’s appreciation page, so to speak… when my wife and i went to see a couples’ counselor a few years back, the therapist had us write a note of appreciation to each other every day… in some ways, perhaps that will be the way i find my feet here… to be honest, it’s so difficult for me to write sometimes that i can’t actually imagine devoting great swaths of time or energy to these entries… but i can take some time to share things that i admire or strike me in some particular way… in that spirit, i’m going to try to post something every day until my book comes out in march… then i will reassess or abandon or redouble my effort here… so, for what it’s worth, this is like a little private cabinet of wonder, maybe… things that make you (me) want to believe…