Nathan Oates, “How to Walk a Dog in the Rain in the City”

Before the leash even comes out of the closet, distract him. Resort to the baby talk you used when he was a puppy, or from the years before you had children. Give him a cookie. Pat his head, tell him what a good little doggy he is, yes he is, yes he is. Who wants to go out? Come on, let’s go out, come on. Hurry down the stairs. It’s key to have him forget it’s raining from the time he’s lying on the living room rug to the time you reach the lobby and he’s faced with the sopping streets. Be ready with your umbrella so you can walk out and open it and head down the stoop as if it’s no big deal that it’s raining, see, dog? No big deal. Now just go to the bathroom. Disregard all the rules you usually try to follow such as: no peeing on trees, or trashcans, or fences, or the steps of people’s houses. During the dry days you’ve trained him to pee in the street, but now, in the rain, as he hunches in upon himself and looks up at you as if each raindrop was spit from your mouth, you let him go wherever he wants. Ignore him, look around, as if you don’t even notice the rain soaking through your shoes and dampening your pants to the knee. Don’t get angry, even when he stops, half-lifts a leg, then pauses, glances up at the rain, back at you, and lowers his leg without peeing. Don’t start to scold him and say things like, “Do you think I care if you have to hold your pee for twelve hours?” Because he knows you care. And by now he’s terribly wounded, wet through, miserable, completely unable to pee. Eventually, you’ll have to give up. There’s no hope of the dog actually peeing. But you might feel better because you tried, you did your part, and, really, it’s his fault now. Back upstairs, give him a cookie after you rub him down, tell him he’s a good dog. Because there’s always the next time, the next rain. Maybe then he’ll learn.

Nathan Oates’s debut collection of stories, The Empty House, won the 2012 Spokane Prize and is now available. His stories have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Missouri Review, Witness, the Alaska Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. His stories have been anthologized twice in The Best American Mystery Stories (2008 & 2012) as well as in Forty Stories (Harper Perennial). He teaches creative writing at Seton Hall University, where he also directs the Poetry-in-the-Round reading series. 
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Nathan Oates’s new book:

The Empty House

The Empty HouseFrom the northern wilderness of Alaska to the mountains of Guatemala, from rural Ireland to war-torn Haiti, from the small towns of Montana to the crowded suburbs of New Jersey, the characters in these award-winning stories travel with dreams of escape, but find themselves ensnared by cultural misunderstandings, political strife, and the weight of family. The characters walk the fine line between safety and danger, between good and evil, between life and death, and on their way find their truest selves revealed.

Where to find it: Willow Springs Editions

 

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Michael Piafsky, “How to Assemble Prefab Furniture Without Getting a Divorce”

  1. Never double-check the contents of the box. Only then can you can blame missing parts on the packers. Marriage is about finding common ground—like a patsy on whom you can redirect all of your vitriol and blame, until you are calm enough to find that washer where it was all along, stuck to your left sock.
  2. Always wear shoes.
  3. Tape a piece of paper over the nearest floor vent, even if that vent is thirty feet away and in another room. All screws fall into floor vents. It is a law of the universe.
  4. Sometimes there are extra parts. Sometimes there aren’t. But extra pieces erode confidence. If you think you might be heading into a future with spare parts, throw them into the fish tank before your spouse notices.  If you later need them, then you become the hero who thought to check Sanjay Guppyta’s tank. Win/Win.
  5. Unauthorized power-tool usage, like cocaine, feels immediately wonderful but ends in destruction.
  6. Drink heavily before, during, and after.
  7. Enjoy your furniture. One day it will make excellent kindling.

Michael Piafsky is the director of creative writing and an associate professor of English at Spring Hill College, in Mobile, Alabama. His recent fiction and nonfiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, Jabberwock Review, Bluestem, Ocho, Meridian, Bar Stories and elsewhere. Earlier this year he was a finalist in the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers and was a finalist in the 2012 Tuscany Prize for Fiction.

Michael Piafsky’s new book:
All the Happiness You Deserve

HappinessCoverSmall-250x346An Everyman searches for truth and meaning in a life fraught with unsettling challenges, joyful milestones, and the unconscious awareness of the passage of time. The seventy-eight evocative cards of the Tarot deck frame the narrator’s story as he journeys through the phases of his life from childhood to old age.

Where to find it: Prospect Park Books

 

Phong Nguyen, “How to Lose 102 Pounds in 102 Words”

Find an obsessive friend who talks about health and fitness all the time—a man who isn’t self-conscious about being fixated on diet and exercise. Model yourself after him for a while. Pretend you are a member of a shamanic religion, and you must embody his archetype the way you embody the archetype of a Hunter-God or Healer-God. His iPhone fitness Apps become your sacred bundle; his cardio and strength-training regimen become your ritual worship; his hand-written notes on loose-leaf paper about macro-nutrients become your holy text. Whenever you fail in these daily devotionals, don’t punish yourself. Just reembody your obsessive friend.

Phong Nguyen is co-editor of Pleiades and author of Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History (2014) and Memory Sickness and Other Stories (2011). He co-directs the Unsung Masters Series, for which he edited the volume, Nancy Hale: On the Life and Work of a Lost American Master (2012). Nguyen teaches fiction and American literature at the University of Central Missouri, where he lives with his wife, the artist Sarah Nguyen, and their three children. From August 2012 to June 2013, he lost 102 pounds in the manner described above.

Phong Nguyen’s new book:
Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History

Pages from the Textbook of Alternate HistoryAt critical moments in world history, every political, spiritual, and cultural leader foresaw a different destiny. Columbus planned a Western sea route to Asia; Hitler applied to art school twice; Joan of Arc prophesied that she would become a mother. It is out of their failures that history itself is made. But what if the history-makers succeeded in the fulfillment of their best-laid plans? In Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History, Phong Nguyen explores a myriad of pasts in which these icons of history made a different choice, and got what they wished for.

Where to find it: Queens Ferry Press

 

Jacob M. Appel, “The 250-Word Guide to Speech Writing on Subjects You Know Little About”

I give hundreds of speeches and lectures each year on subjects as varied as “Civil Liberties in Wartime” to “Strategies for Winning Fiction Contests” to “The History of the Medicinal Beer Movement.” Sometimes, I know a lot about the subjects on which I speak; on other occasions, I have mastered the material only hours before the presentation. The cardinal rule of public speaking is to remember that your audience assumes you know more about the subject of your speech than they do. I have also found the following three rules have helped me to avoid my share of rancid vegetables:

1.  Always begin with a joke. Tell your audience that it’s a joke. This cues them to laugh, even if you’re not funny.

2. Always conclude with a piece of practical advice. People only remember the last five minutes of your presentation; if you end with a tidbit of concrete wisdom, they’ll feel they got their money’s worth.

3.  End early.  If you’re assigned an hour, and you give a brilliant speech that runs 1:01, all people will remember is that you ran over. If you give a dreadful speech that runs thirty minutes, people will say, “He wasn’t half bad and he got us out on time.”

And above all, don’t picture your audience naked. This advice works in the movies, but only because the actors receiving the advice are speaking to other movie stars. Instead, I recommend picturing your audience with as little exposed flesh as possible.

Jacob M. Appel is the author of the novels The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up (2012), which won the Dundee International Book Award, and The Biology of Luck (2013).  His short fiction has appeared in more than two hundred literary journals including Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review.  Jacob holds an MFA in fiction from New York University and an MFA in playwriting from Queen College-CUNY. He practices medicine in New York City.

Jacob M. Appel’s new book:
The Biology of Luck

 The Biology of LuckOdd-job queen Starshine Hart is about to go on somebody else’s perfect date. At 29, the usually carefree Starshine has realized that it is easier to start sleeping with a man than to stop. Her lovers include one of the last underground members of the Weathermen and the dilettante heir to a lawn chair magnate. Both men have staked their romantic future on her. Her only respite is her impending dinner with the nonthreatening but unattractive tour guide Larry Bloom. But Larry, too, has a stake in her future. He has written a book about their impending dinner in which he fantasizes about Starshine’s life on the day he wins her heart.

Where to find it: Elephant Rock Books