How I Got That Story: Michael Czyzniejewski, literary fiction.

Debut short story collection
  • Pronounced  something like “Chews-news-ki”;
  • Former Editor in Chief, current Fiction Editor at Mid-American Review;
  • Recently published his debut collection of short fiction, Elephants in Our Bedroom.

I met Mike when he spoke at The Richard Hugo House InPrint Series. A generous spirit with a slicing intellect, Mike answered the question so many of us have: what do editors want?

“Something I haven’t read before.”

I read some of his short fiction and knew precisely which of mine to send. I would love to say the piece was accepted. However, he turned it around quickly and sent a note alongside. Nice guy. Do your best to meet him (He’s at AWP regularly). In addition to the above, MC’s work appears in StoryQuarterly, Quarterly West, Another Chicago Magazine, American Short Fiction, Other Voices, and Quick Fiction.

What did you learn most, in the process of building toward the publication your first book?

I’ve learned that you’re never finished. I revised my book seven times in the year leading up to its release—that means seven times all the way through, every story, every page. Now that I have a copy, I keep seeing things I would add, edit, take away. But at some point, you just have to move forward, tell yourself you’ll make the next book better. Otherwise, you’d never finish anything. You’ll go crazy.

Given your current success, what would you say was your tipping point?

There was a point, a year or two after I finished my MFA, that I realized my writing wasn’t emulating my personality, and it wasn’t employing my strengths. I tried to write serious, “important” stories for years, but I was like 22, 23, and I was not at all serious and the furthest thing from important. One day, after reading Aimee Bender’s “Girl in the Flammable Skirt” for the umpteenth time, I decided I would write a different type of story and so I did. I tossed everything out, started writing things I thought were fun, stories I thought reflected who I was. The first story from this new approach was published, my first publication, and I went from there. That story is in my book. It’s nice to see it come full circle.

How many pieces do you have out for consideration at any given time?

Before the Table of Contents was settled for the book, I was writing new stories, even when I had a contract. At some point in 08, I was still circulating around ten stories, many for the book, some that had been cut, and then some new work that will (hopefully)  be in my second collection. Now, it’s down to two, as the book is out and I had to give up on some pieces getting in journals. Plus, I’ve had a few more acceptances, recently. In short, I need to write more stories. Get back on the horse.

When you started writing, what were your top three DREAM PUBLICATIONS?

I wanted to be in Story more than any other journal. I read every issue cover to cover, and as everyone who sent to them knows, they gave a personal little note on each and every rejection slip, so they just felt warm and fuzzy. I wish they stuck around, at least long enough for me to get better at this. I really wonder if my current work would have gotten in. I’ll never know.

List your current DREAM PUBS.

I don’t ever think of the slicks, but I’ll say my #1 is Harper’s because I subscribed and read most of every issue. I haven’t sent in years, though, which makes it less likely I’ll get it in. And that’s a lesson to us all.

Then there’s probably a dozen or so lit journals I want to be in and will keep trying. McSweeney’s is probably at the top, as they print a lot of writers I like and it seems like we might be a match. I really want to be in Kenyon Review because of their prestige, and because they also publish great work. Ploughshares is up there, too, for similar reasons, and because it’s very hard to have something taken off their pile, harder than anywhere else, or so I’m told. But just as easily, I’d stick mags like Virginia Quarterly Review, Missouri Review, and Tin House at the peak of my list. So many. So, so many.

Next on How I Got That Story: Kij Johnson, queen of the below swear-word-swear-word.


Author: allehall

I am a writer. I write to explore childhood: literary essays and short fiction, journalism, and three haiku. My published work expresses my belief that everything which did or did not happen to me as a child is manifesting in everything that is or is not happening to me today. More importantly, it is also manifesting for my children. I believe funny is the new navel-gazing, and that the best funny keeps a penny's worth of serious in an accessible pocket. Little-known fact: I have a completed novel decorating the inside of a desk drawer. Perhaps it is not funny enough.

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