Sunday, January 31, 2016


Callan Wink

Callan Wink checks all the boxes:  catchy but rather strange name (Is he Irish or Chinese or both?), handsome young male (high cheekbones, quirky mouth),  MFA, lives in Livingston, MT (home of the REAL Montana writers, though he’s not really from there, but few of the others are either), fly fisherman, barefoot runner, admirer of violence.  In a world where what one writes doesn’t matter, because everyone just wants to know about the writer — they don’t have enough time for reading books. They read the reviews, in the same way that I read about the calls for papers issued by specialized elite groups since I can’t travel to the constant conferences where they are presented and even if they issue transcripts, they are often very expensive. 

So here’s a review of Wink’s novella in the New Yorker, which is the first of a projected series of intermittent and unscheduled on-line-only novellas.  The New Yorker is not the first to experiment with this, but the others have all withered away, so far as I can tell. 

Red Longhorn

Interestingly enough, Wink’s story is not about the seductive figure that HE is, but about an observed neighbor, an old woman (sixties) who had a lot of animals, keyed in his story by red longhorn cattle.  In reality his neighbor had llamas.  Llamas are not uncommon in Montana since they are used for packing while hiking.  In fact, one lives in Valier though it’s not used for anything, not even it’s fur, which is a fine version of wool.

The story is in a form I call “one thing after another,” incident following incident in the prescribed MFA way until it comes to a turning point and resolves.  The accumulation of problems reveals that the key to this woman is taking care of others who are needy, whether animal or human.  This is the way women in the West are socialized and often it pulls them into romantic or marital difficulties.  I say that on the authority of the old woman who lives in my mirror.  

Cover for "Dog Run Moon"

Wink's first book, "Dog Run Moon", is published by Granta Books in the UK.  It draws more directly on himself.  It’s a weird truth that the USA publishers are so degenerate that they turn away from anything that isn’t based on sex, bling or violence.  Their template has become procrustean and eliminates anything but what they’ve already done.  This is partly because of a cloud of stinging lawyers, vectors for micro-brain.

Deluxe hunting blind.

A relevant short story, “Exotics”, is also in Granta, the Magazine of New Writing.   (I think this magazine IS -- and has been for a long time -- what the newish social writing website, Medium, aspires to be but never quite achieves.  That is, global and unpredictable.)  “Exotics” also answers to Wink’s demographics — it’s about a young man who is presumably having a hard time finding his proper habitat — and the story is told in the same one-thing-after-another strategy, though it’s also a faint version of a road trip.  In this one the young man is a one-room specialty schoolhouse version of a recurring Ivan Doig character, but from the years when Doig wrote semi-poetry, not the last years of quips.  

Granta magazine

Tim will hate that I’m putting labels on this writing, but it’s necessary because the stories have the disconcerting problem of being familiar enough to group with other writing, all the while trying to be unique and surprising enough for Granta, the Magazine of New Writing.  One would think that to highly educated editors in London, anything about the American West would be surprising.  But maybe these stories feed into exactly what such editors think is “true” about a place so unlike wet green thickly-populated urban islands.  My life might surprise them.  

Still, the writing is clever and appealing.  And it’s published, which is usually the goal — necessary for the reader.  But there are a lot of writers who really don’t give a damn about being published -- like me.  Blogging is as close as I want to come and I’ll just give away the results.  I’m not writing all fiction and I’m not writing to explain much about me — more about explicit issues like the management of water or the vast new understanding of the evolution of hominins before they could even speak.  

I do spin off a short story now and then and I’m slowly accumulating them (mostly by moving them from at a different provider to see what it’s like.  I’d like a secret blog, only available to chosen people, so I could get truly shocking and wild.  One of my problems is writing too close to people who could be affected.  I tried self-publishing through and it was nice to have actual books, but they were immediately pirated as soon as a PDF hit the Internet when transmitting to Lulu.

Callan Wink at work

Callan Wink is past all that.  His problem now will be having to promote his work, which will be a lot easier because he is young, handsome, and exactly whom everyone expects and would love to host.  If he doesn’t travel, speak, keep a steady stream of work coming, possibly hire a publicist — all the things publishers used to do — publishing will fade.  The “new writer” gloss that gets fellowships and prizes ages out just like everything else.

Even if it doesn’t he can’t expect to make a living so he should not give up fly-fishing and maybe should not catch-and-release so much that he has nothing to eat.  But on the other hand, some guys do well at the “hook and bullet” men’s markets.  They aren’t as glamorous or prestigious.

There is another problem.  He is competing for space with major writers at Granta — old dead folks with big names.  (Saul Bellow, for instance.)  So he is wise to broaden out to New Yorker.  Maybe he has an agent who lunches and makes connections.  His sort of writing has academic roots, so maybe the MFA track will help.

Jim Harrison

His admiration and friendship for Jim Harrison can’t hurt.  Here’s a local interview with Harrison, more helpful than most of the near hagiographies.  If Harrison says he admires one’s writing, one is IN.  Of course, he uses Wink's guiding services.

Russell Chatham

Living in Livingston is also helpful, though Russell Chatham (born the same day I was) whose atmospheric tonalist covers got me started on Harrison, has gone back to California to get warm.  Maybe Wink is starting a new generation, but mostly they come and they go.  I shake my head over all the “Montana” writers who have now become “Portland” writers.  Of course, it’s easier to make a living where the population density is thicker.  Young women can find low-pay service occupations easily.  But too much writing about writing is really about the author, a fantasy of relationship.

But there are some who go to the actual writing.  This surprising website is far more astute than that.   Kenneth Nichols is younger, but I couldn’t find a photo of him, so I can’t tell whether he’s as cute.  He is certainly acute, which is also important for a writer.  He teaches writing.  I've marked both Wink and Nichols.  They're worth watching for and reading.


James Wink said...

Enjoyed your blog segment on Callan Wink! Callan is my son so I like to check the internet now and then to see what is happening in his writing career. Our Wink family is from Scotland, where there have been Winks for at least 800 years.

Callan's short story collection comes out in the US on Feb. 9 and from Granta Press in the UK on Mar. 3. He currently is on a Stegner Fellowship which will cut into his guiding time this year and next, but I really don't expect him to stop guiding, even after his book is out because he values the perspective it gives him on life and he also meets some real characters!

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

This is a first! I can't think of anyone's parent ever sending a comment or taking such a close interest in their offspring's writing! This is very intriguing and I'll be paying attention!