Friday, April 8, 2016

“A Little Bit of Everything” in Glimmer Train Stories

I have a new short story appearing in the latest issue of Glimmer Train Stories (Spring/Summer 2016).

Yes, you can file that last statement under “Dream Come True.” I’ve long harbored hope, a small flickering flame, that one day I’d have a short story in its pages. I did have an interview with novelist Allen Morris Jones (Last Year’s River) way back in Issue #46, but this marks the first time my fiction has landed at Glimmer Train. “A Little Bit of Everything” is an 850-word catalogue of circumstances which lead to one woman’s death, based on a line I read from an obituary in The Montana Standard which said an older woman had died from “a little bit of everything.” Here are a couple of lines from the story:
It was the two husbands, one of whom gave her true love while the other gave her a child. It was the divorce of the right husband and the heart-attack death of the wrong husband. It was the hard work of single-parenthood, putting everything into her child, only to find, when he was a teenager, it had been like pouring water through a sieve.

Getting to this publication day comes after about 25 years of submissions—not every year, of course, but enough to make me feel like Charlie unwrapping the Golden Ticket when I opened the email from editor Linda Swanson-Davies which said they were interested in my story. So, I guess if there’s a takeaway lesson for other writers out there, it’s this: keep stoking that flame of hope with kindling because your Golden-Ticket day will eventually come. (And, it goes without saying, keep reading Glimmer Train to get a feel for the kind of stories they publish.)

Part of what makes Glimmer Train Stories so appealing to its subscribers is the fact that you can see the fingerprints of Linda and her sister Susan Burmeister-Brown on every page. They read every story that comes their way (“We have no assistants”) and they make sure their authors aren’t just a name and a short biographical note. Apart from the quality of its fiction and interviews, the thing I’ve always loved most about Glimmer Train are the two pages—one accompanying the story, and one at the back of the issue—where authors share childhood photos of themselves or their families and give some backstory to their piece of fiction. When it came time for me to submit supplemental material, this is what I chose to include for the “story behind the story” portion of “A Little Bit of Everything.”

     This is the earliest known photograph of me. A little bit of everything lies in wait for me over the course of the next fifty-plus years. But for now, peaceful slumber and memories of the recently-evacuated womb.

     I wrote a complete draft of “A Little Bit of Everything” on the day I read an obituary in my local newspaper, The Montana Standard. I was struck by the wording of the death notice (which I’ve used verbatim, changing only the woman’s initials and the date, out of respect for the deceased). We all basically die of the same thing—“stoppage of breath”—but this woman died of an accumulation of “things.” Because I am a writer, I started imagining bits and pieces of her cluttered life. The Hostess Sno Balls and the ozone layer were obvious suspects, but the daughter-in-law pouting in the parking lot was a surprise.
     Made-for-fiction moments like this are why I read the obituaries in The Montana Standard every day. The writer in me sits up alert when I read someone died of “a little bit of everything” and I immediately want to fill in the blanks. Other priceless obituaries include the one for the “party-hearty” dude who asked to be buried with a six-pack of Budweiser in his casket…or the man who was born on a Wyoming ranch in 1937, weighing just three pounds: “He was a tough little scrapper from the start. He was put in a shoebox, surrounded by heated bricks as a makeshift incubator and was given the name ‘Humbug.’”

I haven’t had a chance to read all of Issue 96, but what I have read, has been tremendous. Adam Soto’s “The Box” follows the titular container as it passes from owner to owner across an epidemic landscape in Africa. Its first line is “A box is crafted with no consideration to its contents.” The same could not be said about Soto’s story; there is excellent craft on display in every paragraph. Aurora Brackett’s “Beginnings” also takes some daring narrative loop-de-loops as it follows two “hippies from a commune” and their daughter across the decades. It is inventive and surprising as it gets to the heart of why and how we love the way we do. Family ties are also at the core of Lillian Li’s “Parts of Summer.“ Here, narrator Benji travels back to his Chinese homeland with his mother and his sister. To say he and his sibling are having a Cold War is an understatement. I really do love the first sentence of the story: “The summer they find my grandmother’s stomach cancer, all the feral cats in her courtyard are gassed to death and I turn twenty-one.“

Other highlights (and their sample lines) I’m looking forward to in this issue: “Waterside“ by Marni Berger (“My body keeps on without me. I see it, running alone through the dark and white world: the navy blue night and the sparkling snow.“), “My Brother is Back“ by Rowena MacDonald (“Fran is being her usual self. Completely furious with me. All the time, I’d forgotten how constant she is with her fury.“), “The King of India“ by Eric Thompson (“This was the beginning of an endless series of rash decisions about what their unborn child would and definitely would not be.“), and—most especially—the interview with Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, husband and wife co-authors of The Tilted World (“Tommy and I have always brainstormed ideas to solve plot problems and marked up each other’s pages so extensively that they have more pen ink than printer ink.“).

If you’re not already onboard Glimmer Train, you should be. Click here to subscribe, and enjoy the literary ride.


  1. I appreciate the way you provided a mini-review of the Glimmertrain Issue and made me want to subscribe again. Congratulations on your publication in their journal!

  2. Oooh, I might have to subscribe for your story and the interview with Franklin and Fennelly. They're both highly respected in Oxford (have met them, briefly, and thought they were lovely).