Thursday, October 23, 2014

Paths to Publishing Workshop

I'm leading a publishing workshop in NW Portland next month, as part of Word Harvest, a rich 6-workshop lineup spanning the weekend of November 22-23. Other workshops offered focus on poetic form, generating ideas, travel writing, and short story writing. More info HERE.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Download Stories and Essays by M. Allen Cunningham

I'm continually adding stories and essays to my e-book catalog on Smashwords. Each can be downloaded in multiple formats for the price of a coffee -- or less! The current offerings (with more appearing frequently) include:
P.S. Books are still better! (But, for reasons much too complicated for a single blog post,  some of these works you can't get in printed form.)

Monday, June 02, 2014

A Quick Q&A about My Third Novel (with micro-excerpts!)

Many thanks to Erin Lindsay McCabe, author of the spellbinding new novel I Shall Be Near to You, for “tagging” me with the following questions about my third novel. 

Before you read mine, take a look at McCabe’s own Q&A about her lively and heroic protagonist Rosetta Wakefield, who dons the Union blue to fight alongside her husband at Antietam and who, once she’s whispered in your readerly ear, you will not soon forget.

After my Q&A below, I will in turn tag three gifted writers — Harriet Scott Chessman, Kate Gray, and Laura Stanfill — who will answer the same seven questions on June 9th.


1. What is your character’s name? Is s/he fictional or a historic person?

The novel concerns five generations in an American family, so there are really several main characters. Then too, a few change so significantly over time that their younger and older selves could be considered separate people. But I suppose you could narrow it down to two people with whom the reader becomes most intimate: Benjamin Lorn, born in the 1860s in a tiny Iowa town and the son of an embittered, crippled Civil War veteran, and Benjamin’s daughter Avis, who we meet in World War Two era San Francisco.

Fictional or historic, you ask. Ah, well, the personalities and experiences of both Benjamin and Avis are, like most people in serious works of fiction, confabulated from a great deal of true historical and familial anecdote and wide-ranging observation. Neither wholly invented nor wholly historical, they tread the luminous, super-enriched middle ground of imagination — more real, in some ways, than real folk.    

2. What should we know about him/her?

Benjamin: He’s a latter-day Hamlet of kinds — he and much of his situation hearken back to Shakespeare’s ageless play. He becomes the unwitting keeper of dark family secrets and must choose between vengeance and forgiveness. He’s a sensitive, reticent soul who often feels helpless to control his circumstances, brooding upon “how it smarts, in one who wishes to author himself, to feel himself authored by others.” For reasons revealed through the book’s central mystery, he ends up a hard, icy old man.

Avis: She cuts silhouettes in San Francisco’s glamorous City of Paris department store (a Selfridge’s of the 1940s West). She’s alienated from her irascible father and, as it turns out, from her own teenage son (having inherited more of her father’s sternness than she’d care to admit). Her mother’s death thrusts a new intimacy upon her and old Benjamin.

3. When and where is the story set? 

Iowa in the 1870s and 80s
San Francisco in 1944
Civil War era Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas (a confederate prison camp)

Benjamin, in his Westward travels, roams Washington, Oregon, and California in the 1880s.

4. What are the characters’ personal goals? 

Benjamin: He becomes adept in telegraphy at an early age, and nurtures an increasingly mystical/delusional view of the new technology. Ultimately, “he wants to be the humming wire, outside time. To let nothing cling to him” — an impossibility, of course.

Benjamin falls in love with a girl from a neighboring town, and, when he abruptly leaves Iowa for the West, they undertake a passionate courtship by mail. Though he often believes himself unworthy, he comes to see his long travels as a form of purifying exile that may ultimately render him deserving of her love: “If I’m ever to return to you it must be as a man improved, man who’s pried the lead from his spirit and buckshot from his heart.”

Avis: More than anything, she wants her seventeen-year-old son Benny to come home. When we first meet her, Benny’s been missing for weeks, a runaway. Avis fears he’s enlisted.

5. What is the main conflict? What messes up the characters’ lives?

A few things consistently account for the conflicts that spur the characters through the plot:

1.  War (familial, national, and international)
Young men, baited by glory or righteousness, unknowingly harbored longings for their own destruction — primed for the orders of generals who sat at polished desks, tea and biscuits at hand, plotting devastation.

2.  Secrets kept, discovered, and told
Avis: We are each and every one born alone amid strangers. It begins this way, how could it not? And hasn’t she, haven’t they all — Benny, Benjamin — kind of stumbled around in each other’s lives, lost?

3.  The persistent American myth of Manifest Destiny (in its various forms)
Benjamin: To live without a history looked desirable to the lot of us. You want to shake history right off your shoulder and brook no ghost or shadow — and yet man needs community after all, and what is community but a kind of history?

4.  Time itself
Though morning brought new light, now it was just that: new. Not the same light and could never be.

6. What is this novel’s title, and can we read more about it?

The Silent Generations. See an excerpt (one of Benjamin Lorn’s letters) HERE. And view some of the pre-publication praise, as well a low-fi trailer I made for a pre-contractual galley of the book HERE.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Started back in 2007, finished back in 2010, this unduly delayed novel will see the light of day by the end of 2015 — of that I’m now certain. It’s been too long.
Next Up in this “Blog Hop” are…

Harriet Scott Chessman. Author of the #1 IndieNext Pick Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, the Good Morning America Book Club Selection Someone Not Really Her Mother, the acclaimed Ohio Angels, and The Beauty of Ordinary Things (released last Fall by my own Atelier26 Books and praised by Ron Hansen as “soulful, tender, affecting…wonderful”), Chessman has taught literature and writing at Yale, Bread Loaf School of English, and Stanford’s Continuing Studies program. Her fiction has been translated into ten languages. See Chessman’s Q&A at RedRoom on June 9th.

Kate Gray. Author of three award-winning collections of poetry, Another Sunset We Survive, Bone Knowing, and Where She Goes, Gray’s debut novel Carry the Sky — a brilliantly poetic page-turner set in 1983 at an elite Delaware boarding school — appears from Forest Avenue Press this September. Her fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in literary magazines, and she has been awarded residencies at Hedgebrook, Norcroft, and Soapstone. She teaches creative writing at a community college in Oregon. See Gray’s Q&A at her author blog on June 9th.

Laura Stanfill. Novelist, editor, journalist, and founder of Forest Avenue Press (recipient of a 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowship), Stanfill has earned numerous awards for writing and editorial work. Forest Avenue’s first title, Brave on the Page: Oregon Writers on Craft and the Creative Life, spent four months on the Powell’s Books Small Press Bestseller List and was named the Best Book of 2012 by the Powell’s On Oregon Blog. The author of two novels, Stanfill will discuss The Serinette, her latest, a nineteenth-century epic romp set partly in France and partly in New York City. See Stanfill’s Q&A at her author blog on June 9th.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's National Short Story Month! Get Cunningham's Date of Disappearance for More Than 40% Off -- and a Bonus Book!

An offer from Atelier26 Books:

May is National Short Story Month, and Atelier26 is celebrating by offering M. Allen Cunningham's illustrated, limited-edition story collection Date of Disappearance for just $10.00 a copy through the Atelier26 Store. That's more than 40% off the cover price! (This offer lasts until May 31st.)

Date of Disappearance, which the Oregonian has called "superb, well-balanced, and deeply seductive," features ten resonant stories, each with an accompanying illustration by artist Nathan Shields. Signed and numbered by the author, and presented in a fine paperback with beautiful design features (French flaps, colored end-pages, and glossy stock for each illustration), Date of Disappearance is, we like to think, a pretty special package. Take a peek in this video:

What's more, great fans of short fiction that we are, we'd like to sweeten the deal by offering up a few of our favorite short story collections alongside Cunningham's. Thus, the first five readers to order a copy of Date of Disappearance will be invited to select a bonus book from the following excellent list. We're offering one copy of each of these -- first come first served. If you're one of the first five, you'll receive an e-mail from us shortly after you place your order.

Happy Reading, and long live the short story!

The Beauty of Ordinary Things by Harriet Scott Chessman (Atelier26 Books)
OK, not a story collection, but many have called it a novella, and goodness, we love this book!

Disorder by Dan DeWeese (Propeller Books)
A compulsively readable volume of subtle, unconventional, often curiously moving tales reminiscent of the work of Kazuo Ishiguro, W.G. Sebald, and even, sometimes, Henry James.

Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor (Sarabande Books)
Minor breaks a great many "rules" in this astonishing collection book (including instructing the reader from the outset not to think of Praying Drunk as a mere collection, and not to skip around), and instructs us all, on every page, in how to write one's heart out.
P.S. Listen to an inspiring conversation with Minor HERE.
The Afterlife by John Updike (Knopf)
Updike, OK?

Fast Lanes by Jayne Anne Phillips (Knopf)
Breathtaking, fearless, riveting -- classic Jayne Anne.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

On the Double!

And now for a brief, non-literary commentary: I really like our governor. This isn't a competition, but upon how many citizen strangers did Schwarzenegger perform successful emergency aid while in office? Like I say, not a competition, but ... take that, California!

Story courtesy of The Oregonian:

Gov. John Kitzhaber performs CPR on woman lying unconscious on Portland street

The governor was driving to dinner shortly after 5 p.m. near Southwest Main and 13th Avenue when he saw “someone along the edge of the street who seemed to be attempting to resuscitate a woman” lying on the ground, Nkenge Harmon Johnson said in an email to The Oregonian.
The governor ordered his driver to stop, Harmon Johnson said, then “jumped out of the vehicle” and ran to the woman’s aid to begin giving CPR. He directed one of his state police security guards to call paramedics, who took over from Kitzhaber when they arrived.
The incident, first reported by KGW-TV, is one of several in which Kitzhaber -- a former emergency room doctor -- has administered emergency first aid.
(more HERE)

Sunday, May 04, 2014

New M. Allen Cunningham Website!

Redesigned for the first time in seven years, the new M. Allen Cunningham site is now live at, and I happen to think it sparkles nicely. Please take a moment to explore its offerings, which include audio selections, glimpses of forthcoming novels, links to my shorter writing, and more.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Skulls" by M. Allen Cunningham

A reading of "Skulls," which is part of something longer. Accompanying artwork by Nathan Shields.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

M. Allen Cunningham's Partisans Shortlisted

Aqueous Books announced today the shortlist for the 2014 Flann O'Brien Award for Innovative Fiction, and among the six titles is M. Allen Cunningham's Partisans.

How to describe Partisans? Maybe like so:
A lost work by the mysterious writer G.P. Leed, Partisans is a book in two alternating parts, one part being the story of a sole surviving resistance fighter (from an unspecified war in an unspecified time) as he wanders war-torn landscapes in search of a new life. The other part of Partisans derives from Leed’s own private notebooks. M. Allen Cunningham has painstakingly edited the manuscript according to Leed’s designs as indicated in papers discovered after his disappearance, and the whole work creates a unique dialectic that is hard to convey in a mere synopsis. But this miraculously surviving work is long overdue for publication. 
It's an honor to be included in the O'Brien Award shortlist.

On the basis of an excerpt from Partisans, Cunningham was recently awarded a 2014 residency at Yaddo.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9893023-2-6
Retail Price: $12.00 on sale now for $10.00
116 pages 
6"x6" trade paperback 
Learn more HERE

Thursday, March 20, 2014

APPEARING APRIL 2014 in trade paperback:
 Vol.2 in the Atelier26 Samizdat Series

The Flickering Page: The Reading Experience in Digital Times
Three Guided Chapters (and a Preface) by M. Allen Cunningham
with 24 illustrations by Nathan Shields

the jacket copy:

Are physical books merely old media in need of an update?

What characterizes the electronic reading experience versus the reading of print? How significant are the differences?

As our reading media change, how will our reading and writing methods change? What effects might this have on our literature and our interactions with information overall?

A provocative casebook for our digital times, The Flickering Page is designed to jumpstart in-depth dialogue about the historical, cultural, civic, and scientific implications of a mass shift in reading methods. Originating in M. Allen Cunningham's ongoing work with the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project, arrestingly illustrated by artist Nathan Shields, this small volume weaves together some of the most cogent thought of the past fifty years, urging readers to consider anew -- and pose for themselves -- the many questions about our technological revolution that remain far from settled. 

the contents:
-a preface: Five Characteristics of an "E-book World"

-chapter 1: The Technology of Individualism: How Print Helped Shape the Renaissance
          Guide: Marshall McLuhan, author of Understanding Media and The Gutenberg Galaxy

-chapter 2: Technology & Ideology: Why Our Tools Are Never Neutral
          Guide: Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly

-chapter 3: Neuroplasticity: What Do a Story from Ancient Greece and Decades of Brain Research Have in Common?
          Guides: Socrates; Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows

-appendix: some more key questions about e-books; more for reflection and discussion

ISBN: 978-0-9893023-2-6
Retail Price: $12.00 on sale now for $10.00
116 pages
6"x6" trade paperback 


Monday, March 10, 2014

Coming Very Soon

Volume 2 in the Atelier26 Samizdat Series.

6"x6" trade paperback,
 with 24 arresting illustrations by Nathan Shields. 

More info momentarily...

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Book Features Interview About M. Allen Cunningham's Lost Son

The new book Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Novelists, out this month from Bloomsbury, includes a lengthy interview with me about my writing process for my second novel, Lost Son, which novelizes the life of Rainer Maria Rilke. 

A snippet from my interview with the book's editor Michael Lackey can be read below. But all the conversations in this volume fascinate and inspire, and I'm pleased to join the company of numerous other novelists whose work I greatly respect: Julia Alvarez, Russell Banks, Madison Smartt Bell, Michael Cunningham, Anita Diamant, Bruce Duffy, Ron Hansen, Sherry Jones, Rebecca Kanner, Kate Moses, Joyce Carol Oates, Lance Olsen, Jay Parini, Joanna Scott, and Edmund White.

Lackey: What’s the difference between [the] especially good [Rilke] biographies and your novel?

M. Allen Cunningham: I think in part it’s this dual dimension in Lost Son, in which Rilke’s story is constantly overlaid by a more personal story of this figure in the literary future dialoguing with this ghost. Certainly, there are informational things to be found in Lost Son that can be obtained from the factual record too. Readers will come away from my novel knowing a lot about the factual circumstances of Rilke’s life. But Rilke’s story as fiction, as this relentlessly complex human narrative that is sensual in detail, poetic in perspective, intimately imagined, and aesthetically configured as a series of rhyming biographical events — that amounts to a contribution to the imaginative record concerning Rilke. I think that’s something worth making special note of in any discussion about biographical fiction. With any life-story that’s been around for some time, that’s been passed along in various forms down a few generations, we develop a historical record and, alongside that, we develop a complementary imaginative record, a body of understanding that is somewhat folkloric — disarming, alluring, complicating — in its effects. Which is not to say that this imaginative record is always necessarily unfactual. In the case of good biographical novels, it often cleaves very closely to facts while taking logical imaginative liberties. I can think of any number of serious biographical novels that contribute greatly to the imaginative record — DeLillo’s Libra, about Lee Harvey Oswald, comes immediately to mind, and so does Brian Hall’s I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company, about Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea. This imaginative record is something to value in itself, because it exemplifies mind meeting mind aesthetically across time — that is, in the most complex and characteristically human way. We should value the imaginative approach as well, however, for the reason that such an approach can actually contribute to the factual record. These things intersect and interrelate and enrich each other.  

Order Truthful Fictions HERE.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


How aptly dispiriting, while reading the praise for Jenny Offill's intriguing new novel The Dept. of Speculation as compiled by Offill's publisher, the enshrined Alfred A. Knopf, to note the following:
“If Rainer Maria Rilke had written a novel, it might look something like this . . . Lyrical . . . Philosophically rich . . . Moments of literary experimentation worthy of Virginia Woolf.” —Kirkus 
As it happens, this shriek-inducing literary blunder originates not with some meagerly paid, poorly read Kirkus reviewer, as the review quote would suggest. On the Kirkus site one may read the original sentence untrimmed: 
If Rainer Maria Rilke had written a novel about marriage, it might look something like this...
So it is the editorial and publicity staff of Alfred A. Knopf who have never heard of Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge that defining work of modernism. One may hope that they know who Rilke is, though one has cause for doubt.

Alfred A. Knopf, let us reflect, has been the publisher of John Updike, Frederick Busch, Cynthia Ozick, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Jayne Anne Phillips, and John Cheever. Would such an aliterate goof have passed muster at the Knopf of old? Times have changed, we know, and in-house standards are not so...uh, literary anymore. Bertelsmann, &etc. 

Shall we discuss what's wrong with the New York model of conglomerate publishing?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Interview with a Recluse

A new reading of my work entitled "Interview with a Recluse."

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In Lieu of a "Year-End List"

I answered a few questions for Oregon Humanities recently. While the inevitable spate of year-end "Best of" lists from the literary world get me dyspeptic, I can understand the urge to mark the calendar's closing with recommendations and anecdotes. For our purposes here, let this little Q&A stand.

What book did you read last year that you've recommended other readers read right away?

Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle — Published last year by Seattle’s incredible indie wellspring Wave Books, Madness, Rack, and Honey is by far one of the most impressive, inspiring books I’ve read this year, or perhaps ever. Collecting fourteen gloriously idiosyncratic essays by Ruefle, an accomplished poet and teacher, this book is never theoretical or academic. Ruefle’s mind is thoroughly alive to the vivid pleasures and discoveries of reading, and her means of communicating her enthusiasms are ingenious. I’d call Madness, Rack, and Honey indispensable for anyone who cares for the art and experience of literature, and anyone who wishes for a broader, more constant conversation about it.

What book or books are you looking forward to curling up with this winter?

Alain de Botton’s Art as Therapy, Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood, Sarah Hall’s The Electric Michelangelo, Dag Hammarskj√∂ld’s Markings, Nicholas Roe’s new biography John Keats, W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, John Updike’s Self-Consciousness.

Where do you write? Is it a single space? What does it look like?

For my workspace I’ve refurbished a tool shed in my backyard. It’s a kind of micro Cape Cod with rough, yellow-painted cedar sides and moss-covered, tarpaper roofing. There’s a small colony of sparrows in the eaves and, seasonally, bees in some exterior chinks — both of which lend the place a healthy atmosphere of industry. Inside, it’s all file boxes, stacks of paper, and bookshelves overstuffed with around 400 volumes, nearly half of which (to echo Thoreau) I wrote myself. There’s an L-shaped IKEA desk, a green-keyed Royal HH typewriter, circa 1960 (a boon to my process), and, on index cards tacked or taped up everywhere, hand-copied quotations meant to goad and inspire. A favorite of late comes from John Berger’s book Here Is Where We Meet:  
“You put something down and you don’t know immediately what it is. It has always been like that. ... All you have to know is whether you’re lying or whether you’re telling the truth, you can’t afford to make a mistake about that distinction any longer.”