February 13, 2011

New blog address

Determined to actually maintain a blog, I've moved the whole thing to:


Please visit and check out my incredibly witty, moving, and thought-provoking posts. Then leave. Then come back a week later for more thought-provocation...

January 23, 2010

This isn't a story

I accidentally came across this little bit in my inbox. From two years ago, when I was looking for an agent. A response to "Buying Lenin," which I'd included in my query. I'm posting it here, because someone somewhere might read it and feel better about their work. The truth is that sometimes, inevitably, you come across people whose response will hurt you. But it's important to know that (to paraphrase Carver) we ought to feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we're talking about when we talk about writing...

Dear Miroslav,

Many thanks for your query. Your personal background, a Bulgarian student in Univ. of Arkansas's MFA program, is appealing for a short story writer. But I'm sorry to say I don't think the story you sent will attract American readers--that the writer is unable to reconcile with his communist grandfather who hates capitalists doesn't have high personal stakes for the protagonist. He won't lose anything if he loses his grandfather, and in the end the grandfather says he loves him anyway. It isn't a story.

I rarely follow up on this blog (because if I have something to say I try to say it in a story), but in my next post I'll tell you about how "Buying Lenin" was translated into Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Tamil and very soon - French :-)

Have faith in your stories, my friends, and keep writing...

October 27, 2009

Kafka, Chekhov, Hemon. Chicago, Murska Sobota, Sofia.

Ms. Kathe Telingator, the long-time producer of Stories on Stage, has chosen "Buying Lenin" as part of a program for the Chicago Humanities Festival. The theme of the festival this year is "Laughter," while the program is appropriately titled "The Cultural Translation of Laughter." BL will be read by a professional actor along with stories from Kafka and Chekhov... and as if this is not enough, the story will be introduced by none other than Aleksandar Hemon - only one my favorite writers. I like his stories so much I'm even willing to overlook the fact that Mr. Hemon is a Liverpool supporter (I'd call him a scouser, but he comes from Bosnia). Anyway, the reading falls on a Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009.

I was reading Mr. Hemon's latest collection when this news arrived. There is a story in there called "Everything" in which the young narrator is sent to the town of Murska Sobota to purchase a freezer chest for his family. "There arrives a time in the life of every family," his father says at a family meeting, "when it becomes ready to acquire a large freezer chest."

I was ten when we acquired our freezer chest, I think in 1992, eight years after Mr. Hemon's story takes place (we lived, after all, in Bulgaria). For one year the freezer sat in my room, between my desk and the wardrobe, unplugged, obstructing my indoor games of basketball with a tennis ball. It was a fine freezer, my grandfather had used connections to get it, but for a year we had nothing to freeze in it.

I'm sure that now, as I type this, that same freezer is buzzing ten thousand miles away from me. I'm sure that in its bottom drawer there is a box of Darko ice cream I bought two summers ago, awfully frost-bitten now, a box my mom should have long thrown away. But she throws nothing of mine away. For a month after I leave she does not wash my blanket, my pillowcase, my sheets. She keeps my books wherever I drop them, that is, everywhere...

August 25, 2009

All Quiet on the Texan Front

Dear friends,

I can see that quite a few of you are still visiting my web-site and blog... sadly, I don't have much to share...

I'm working very hard on revising my collection of stories and will be working, so it seems, on the revisions for the months to come. When we're finally finished, the stories will be either great, awful, or just average... the scary thing is I won't be able to tell which. I've worked on them for so long now I fear I've lost my eye completely...

I promise to be much more active on the site and blog once the book nears completion...

There is some good news though -- I'm now a professor at the creative writing program at UNT...

March 15, 2009

Poor Lenin, Misunderstood

Google Alerts can sometimes lead you to unexpected sources. Like the website of a writing coach (why should he have a name) who, in his own words, helps young writers "become attuned to their creative powers of storytelling." And so Coach summarizes "Buying Lenin" briefly, but misreads the story in such dramatic fashion I had to paste his summary below:

A third short story from the 2008 collection, entitled "Buying Lenin" written by Miroslav Penkov from The Southern Review, is a love story between grandson and grandpa. The grandpa returns to his native Leningrad, after the demise of Communism in 1991. Sinko, the grandson, is a young college student in Arkansas. He writes to his grandpa about the capitalist way of life in America and his new-found freedom of expression. Life in America is good for Sinko, who is introduced to BMWs, girls, alcohol and sexual exploration. Grandpa's last wish before his death is to have a miniature statue of Lenin, which Sinko buys for $1.99 on eBay. For Sinko, buying Lenin was merely a purchase, but for Grandpa the statue means much more. During the 1991 war between Bulgaria and the Soviet Union, Grandpa discovers the remains of fifteen Bulgarian refugees in a dugout in the forest, their makeshift sanctuary and now a grave for three years. The refugees did not have the courage to walk out and starved to death. Sinko receives a letter from his grandpa written in his own hand before his death. In the letter, his grandpa gives sage advice to his grandson: "Fight only the fights that are worthy; let all others pass you. Sinko, I love you".

So if you are a student and "Buying Lenin" appears on the syllabus, and if you don't much feel like reading the actual story, this summary will do you a world of good on the quiz...

February 10, 2009

"Let Me Tell You" by Miller Williams

I haven't posted anything for quite some time and chances are - won't post anything for quite some time. It turns out I do not like blogs, reading them or writing them. And I dislike them especially much when I have to write my own stories.

But there is one thing I'd like to post here. It is a poem by Miller Williams and it goes like this:

Let Me Tell You

how to do it from the beginning.
First notice everything:
The stain on the wallpaper
of the vacant house.
the mothball smell of a
greyhound toilet.
Miss nothing. Memorize it.
You cannot twist the fact you do not know.

The blond girl you saw in the bar.
Put a scar on her breast.
Say she left home to get away from her father.
Invent whatever will support your line.
Leave out the rest.

Use metaphors. The mayor is a pig
is a metaphor
which is not to suggest
it is not a fact.
Which is irrelevant.
Nothing is less important
than a fact.

Be suspicious of any word you learned
and were proud of learning.
It will go bad.
It will fall off the page.

When your father lies
in the last light
and your mother cries for him,
listen to the sound of her crying.
When your father dies
take notes somewhere inside.

If there is a heaven
he will forgive you
if the line you found was a good line.

It does not have to be worth the dying.


May 19, 2008

Nimrod Finalist

Ms. Francine Ringold, Editor-in-Chief at Nimrod sent me an email today:

The Editors of Nimrod International Journal are pleased to inform you that your fiction entry, “Letter Ж,” has been selected as a finalist for The Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction. There were 588 fiction manuscripts submitted to the Nimrod Literary Awards competition for The Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction.

The finalists will be submitted to the fiction judge for 2008, who will select the first and second place winners; those results should be forthcoming by the middle of June at the latest and we will notify you as quickly as possible... The winners will also be brought to Tulsa for the Awards Ceremony and Writing Workshop, this year on October 17-18th.

So, keeping fingers crossed...

May 09, 2008

"Tobacco Wedding" in Blackbird

You can now read my story "Tobacco Wedding"
in the Spring issue of Blackbird.

I'm also featured in Blackbird's reading loop, which offers "a closer look at six outstanding artists in earlier stages of their careers."
Below is an excerpt from the loop:

Miroslav Penkov calls on his Bulgarian heritage to land us in a story that marries folk tale to realistic narrative and the fantastic to the detailed mundane. Grounded in the intimacy of an oral transmission around a fire, the story also traverses that shaky ground where humor and broad comedy meet affection and earned sympathy. The narrator carries us with him on a short run through picaresque by-lanes that is definitely worth the trip.

... Man, it took me twenty minutes to translate this into decent Bulgarian for my family back home...
But this is not all. The Spring issue of Blackbird also features a story by my wonderful teacher Molly Giles and a poem by the great Ash Bowen. An incredible coincidence as far as I'm concerned.
Well, I hope you like the story.

May 02, 2008

Baucum Fulkerson Award in Fiction

My story "Blood Money" recently received the Baucum Fulkerson Award in Fiction (here at the University of Arkansas).

The author’s skilled voice and observant eye create a story that is simultaneously thoughtful and filled with pathos. This voice and eye, combined with the vividly realized scene and characterizations, make for a remarkably evocative piece that is also curiously haunting.

March 15, 2008

"Boxer" Underground...

Underground Voices will publish my story "Boxer" in their May 2008 issue.

Underground Voices is a fairly... underground online journal that I like quite a bit. They publish 12 online issues per year and then a print anthology of those stories.

February 29, 2008

"Buying Lenin" in Choice Magazine Listening

Choice Magazine Listening is a free audio anthology for a special audience of blind, visually impaired, physically disabled, or dyslexic subscribers. CML selects and records memorable writing from approximately 100 leading magazines. The unabridged articles, fiction and poetry are read by professional voices and recorded on four-track cassette tapes. Both the cassettes and the four-track player are provided free of charge.

My story "Buying Lenin" was chosen for the March 2008 issue, which makes me really happy.

I only wish organizations in Bulgaria could start similar programs. Maybe now that we are part of the EU such great ideas will finally be possible?

February 21, 2008

Buying Lenin in the Best American

Salman Rushdie, this year's guest editor, and Heidi Pitlor have chosen my story, "Buying Lenin," to appear in the 2008 volume of The Best American Short Stories.

February 10, 2008

There Will Be Blood -- John 16:32

I think this is my favorite American movie now.

Here is a link to a version of the script, which Paramount Vantage has made pubic. Though the title page reads "final script" there are plenty of differences between the text and the actual footage. Makes reading the script all the more interesting...

When Daniel Plainview was sending his boy away by train, the number 1632 painted in white on one of the moving cars, caught my attention.

Here is John 16:32

Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.

January 25, 2008

The Eudora Welty Prize in Fiction

Mr. Bret Lott from The Southern Review called me on Friday to say that my story "Buying Lenin" was awarded the 2007 Eudora Welty Prize in Fiction.

The Eudora Welty Prize in Fiction is given to the best short story published in The Southern Review each volume year. Previous winners of the award are Nicholas Montemarano (2006) and Keith Lee Morris (2005).

In my third year as an undergraduate student at the U of A I took a fiction writing class with Ellen Gilchrist. It is Ellen who made me believe I can write it English.

Ellen's first writing teacher was Eudora Welty.

January 11, 2008

Tobacco Wedding in Blackbird

Happy New Year to everyone! I just received a very nice email from Blackbird, letting me know that they've liked my story "Tobacco Wedding" enough to publish it in their Spring 2008 issue.

This is good news for so many reasons, not all of which obvious. To begin with, I really like this story, but my agent made a very convincing point that the story does not fit well with the rest of the collection and so we took it out. I do think this was the right decision. So I had accepted the fact that "Tobacco Wedding" will sit in a drawer forever.

In November I received an email from Blackbird that they had received the aforementioned story (look at all the fancy words I know) and will read it in the months to follow. Honestly, I was surprised -- I checked my sent emails (thank God for gmail) and found the original submission -- early in 2007. So again I figured nothing will come out of this... luckily I was wrong.

This story is very special to me, because it is, stylistically and thematically, a tribute to one of Bulgaria's greatest writers - Nikolay Haytov. Haytov's most famous collection of stories "Wild Tales," is in my opinion the greatest literary achievement in Bulgarian fiction (poetry aside, Bulgarian poets are gods). All stories in "Wild Tales" are about the people of the Rhodopa Mountain and I really wanted to have something about these people in my collection as well. "Tobacco Wedding" plays with a very common phenomenon of the olden days -- bride stealing, but puts a slight spin as now it is the groom that is being stolen. Short sentences, strong dialects, a lot of action, passionate characters, this is Haytov at his best, impossible to translate -- I wanted with my story to come close, but in English. I am now delighted that people will read my attempt, and hopefully like it.

I'm also happy that a friend of mine, Ash Bowen, a poet in our MFA program, is publishing his own work in the same issue.

Best of luck to all of you; this post has become too long...

November 28, 2007

Buying Lenin Featured...

A friend of mine just told me that "Buying Lenin" is featured on The Southern Review's web site.

Here is the link: http://www.lsu.edu/thesouthernreview/Autumn07_Penkov.html

You know, I wrote two paragraphs explaing how happy that makes me, how honored I am. But let me try to be minimalist, instead. And so I say,

It's really something...

October 17, 2007

It's out!

And in case you need a closer look:

September 24, 2007

A small trifle...

Today I finally received my two contributor copies of "Big Muddy etc." Quite frankly, I had given up on ever receiving them, but what do you know...

The story [Makedonija] appears without editorial intervention, which I don't think is necessarily a compliment for the story, as much as it is a strike against the journal.

Anyways, all looks fine until the bio note at the end, which reads:

Miroslav Penkov is a native of Bulgaria and is currently persuing an MFA degree at the University of Arkansas. She has published...

She? Oh, come on, I know my name is weird (in America) but anyone in the world of literature ought to be able to figure out that a name like Penkov belongs to a guy... Just look at all the great Russians: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin... okay, maybe not them, but you'll find some to give you a clue, I promise...

That's a small trifle really. Or is it?

July 27, 2007

Big Muddy Makedonija

The story "Makedonija" was just published in the spring 2007 issue of Big Muddy, a journal from the Southeast Missouri State University Press.

I got no father, I got no mother,
Father to scorn me,
Mother to mourn me,
My father – the mountain.
My mother – the shotgun.
Lay me, my Voivode,
Down in the black earth.
I want, my Voivode,
To die for Freedom.
For Freedom, my Voivode,
For Makedonija.

May 05, 2007

The Walton Fellowship

This, as all other news here, is for my friends back home, who might want to know that:

I was awarded the 2007-8 Walton Fellowship in fiction at the University of Arkansas. This is, really, a big deal, mostly because there are so many other good, good writers here who could have won the award.

Well, thank you Ellen and Molly and Skip. The money ammounts to roughly one million canadian dollars, which I will be given all at once, in cash, hundred dollar bills, non sequential order...

Do I really have to quote Dave Chappelle now...?

Lily Peter for "East of the West"

Novelist Paula Morris awarded my story "East of the West" a Lily Peter award.

December 06, 2006

"Makedonija" for AWP

Today I received a very pleasing phone call from Davis McCombs, the famous poet and current director of our MFA program. Davis informed me that my story "Makedonija" was chosen to represent our program in the AWP Intro Journals competition.

The Intro Journals Project is a literary competition for the discovery and publication of the best new works by students currently enrolled in the programs of AWP. Winners will be contacted in the spring of 2007 and each will receive an award letter, publication in a participating journal, and a $100 cash honorarium. Winning works will appear in the fall or winter issues of Hayden's Ferry Review, Mid-American Review, Colorado Review, Puerto del Sol, Controlled Burn, Quarterly West, Tampa Review, Willow Springs, and Artful Dodge.

As doubtful as I am about this competition (after all, I am Bulgarian and we are not known for our optimism) I am truly honored to represent the MFA program here.

Along these lines, did you know that in the past few months over 40,000 Macedonians have applied for Bulgarian citizenship? Even Macedonia's ex-prime minister is now, officially, a Bulgarian citizen. So much for pride and nationalism. Sad to see what people will do for a European passport.

November 15, 2006

Praise for Lenin

Here is what Jim Clark at The Greensboro Review wrote about "Buying Lenin"

...Out of nearly 1,000 fiction submissions, your story "Buying Lenin" has emerged in the top 20. From these stories I'll be choosing 8 to go into our forthcoming issue of The Greensboro Review. I'm just checking to make sure the story is still available to us before we get into the next stage of editorial deliberations...

I had sent the story by accident (meaning to submit "Tobacco Wedding" instead).

Buying Lenin

"Buying Lenin" will appear in the Autumn 2007 issue of The Southern Review.

Should I even comment on that? And the wonderful letter Mr. Lott sent me? But I had faith in this story. I knew he would like it. And the reason for my confidence has nothing to do with the quality of the story. It is a personal reason. Too personal for this beta blog.

Did you know that Katherine Anne Porter published Old Mortality, Noon Wine, and Pale Horse, Pale Rider in the Southern Review? I just found out. And was blown away...

Strange... who am I addressing as "you" when clearly no one even knows about this blog?

A Lily Peter Award

"Buying Lenin" won a Lily Peter award. Here is what the judge, novelist Rilla Askew, thought of the story:

In Miroslav Penkov's story "Buying Lenin" the great divide the main character longs to cross is literal: it is an ocean wide, generations deep. A young eastern European man comes to America, leaving his grandfather in Bulgaria, though he is never able, finally, to escape the grandfather's voice, spirit, vitality, dominance--any more than the grandfather has ever been able to let the young narrator go. With deft humor and rich imagery, Penkov paints a moving portrait of a grandfather and grandson separated by old wounds and vast distance but inextricably bound by blood that is "thicker than the ocean."

A Girl to Jog With

"A Girl to Jog With" won the First Prize at the 2005 Aging Well Writing Contest.


"Devshirmeh" was published in the Summer 2005 issue of The Southern Review. Many thanks to Bret Lott for his faith in me and to Donna Perreault for her wonderful edit, which only made the story better.

A Publication in Bulgaria

"Krav Bratska" (Кръв Братска) was published in Bulgaria by "Usuri" magazine.

The White Mariana

"The White Mariana" was published by The Prairie Margins.

Icarus Reborn

"Icarus Reborn" was published in the Spring 2005 issue of The Ozark Review