Southern Gothic Fiction

wte_frontcoverMore than a year ago, I entered a short story contest called something like the Southern Gothic Fiction Revival prize. I had no real thought of winning the contest. More than anything, I entered it as a way of donating money to Twisted Road Publishing. Twisted Road puts out excellent books. The two Pat Spears novels are among my favorites. The review I wrote about one of them will pop up on this site eventually.

Anyway, Dorothy Allison was the judge of that contest. She’s an amazing writer. I thought she’d have better taste in fiction than she does. As it turns out, she picked this ridiculous story about Flannery O’Connor, a textbook salesman, and a ukulele as the winner.

As it also turns out, I wrote that story.

On top of winning the contest, my Flannery O’Connor ukulele story was included in a short story anthology that was released in the fall of 2016. Being the master of self promotion that I am, I’m just now getting around to letting the world (or at least my blog and the Facebook page attached to it) know about it.

It’s a pretty kick ass anthology, regardless what you think of my story. I highly recommend it. You can order it and learn more about it here.

Los Angeles Review of Books

Candelas Front 2

Steph Cha recently interviewed me for the Los Angeles Review of Books. It was refreshing to work with Steph. Almost everyone else wanted to talk about the ukulele aspect of my books, which makes sense. The work “ukulele” is in the title. I talk about ukuleles a lot. I even have a picture of a uke on this post. Still, the books isn’t really about ukuleles. It’s about writers. Steph picked up on that and wanted to talk about the writers and the stories behind the stories. I think it came out really well.

You can read the interview here.

While I’m at it, I’ll point out that Steph Cha is a pretty badass noir writer herself. Check out her Juniper Song series, starting with Follow Her Home.

City Lights

ferlinghetti1965_c Tomorrow will be the last stop on my book tour. I’m going to the famed City Lights Books in San Francisco. It’s kind of a big deal for me. When I was in high school, one of my teachers turned me on to the Beats, starting with Gregory Corso, but moving on to Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’m pretty excited about reading at the place where that literary movement began.

The reading is at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, June 29, 2016.

A bookseller at City Lights asked me five questions for their blog. As far as I can tell, he didn’t use my interview. Since it’s written and I still have it, I’ve pasted the interview below. I hope to see you in San Francisco.

Five Questions for Sean Carswell

If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?  If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

I’ve been to City Lights several times. I go there almost every time I go to San Francisco. My most memorable visit had to be about ten years ago.

I’d designed a book cover for Bucky Sinister’s poetry collection Whiskey & Robots. I thought of the cover as an homage to the City Lights Pocket Poets series. Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Nancy Peters saw the cover as borderline copyright infringement. They sent to nicest cease-and-desist letter to the publisher for whom I designed the cover. I talked to Nancy and we smoothed things out. A few months later, I was in City Lights and saw a half dozen copies of Whiskey & Robots in the poetry shelves, cover out.

That was such a classy move by City Lights.

If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

I actually put one together for Largehearted Boy.

What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

The first novel I really loved was Sounder by William H. Armstrong. I read it several times when I was in second grade. I remember that we couldn’t renew books at the school library, so I’d check the book out, read it, return it, and wait the allotted time until I could check it out and read it again. I read it so many times that my brother, who’d seen the Disney adaptation of the book, took to yelling, “Sounder, come here, boy” a la Paul Winfield every time he saw me. That convinced me to find a new book.

If you didn’t have your current job, what might you do?

Become a bookseller at City Lights.

Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no wifi). 

I’ll just talk about books. I’d bring Herman Melville’s Typee. That way, if there were cannibals on the island, I’d have a guidebook for how to live with them. I’d bring Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, because I’ve been meaning to read it. I’d probably have time to do so on a desert island. If I liked it enough, I’d be inspired to build a raft and float home, just so I could read the other books in the series.

In case I didn’t like it, I’d bring Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day. I’d sit on the shores of that island and keep reading that gigantic novel until it made perfect sense to me. That would keep me occupied for a decade or two.

My New Book!

Ukulele-231x346I have a weird hobby. Periodically, I’ll get obsessed with an author. I’ll read a bunch of his or her works. I’ll read stories about the author’s life. I’ll decide I want to understand how this author does certain things stylistically. To figure this out, I’ll give said author a metaphysical ukulele, then make him or her the protagonist of a short story. The story is typically rooted in fact, but the ukulele makes sure it never stays that way.

Over the past few years, I’ve written a dozen short stories about my favorite authors and their metaphysical ukuleles. These stories have been published in literary journals and anthologized in places like the California Prose Directory. Last spring, I put the stories together into a collection and sent it out to a handful of publishers I really admire. Ig Publishing was the first to get back to me. They offered to publish this book.

Now, the galleys are printed. The book is out for review (if you’re a reviewer and want an advance copy, contact robert[at] It’s available for pre-order online. It’s scheduled to be released on May 10.

I’m pretty excited about it. If you can’t wait to read it, you can listen to a teaser here. It’s me playing a little uke and reading the first story in the collection.

Pam Houston’s Ukulele

thin air 20For a few years, I’ve been writing stories about some of my favorite writers and their metaphysical ukuleles.  They’re all fiction, but based on true stories.  My most recently published one pays homage to Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted and Cowboys Are My Weakness.  It has been published in the literary journal Thin Air.  They made me the “featured writer” for the issue and posted the complete story to their web site.  You can read it here.

Also, I’d like to point out that the journal itself is very cool.  The other featured author is poet Jim Simmerman.  Jim was a hell of a poet and a guy I always liked to spend time with.  I’m honored to share this tiny little spotlight with him.  I encourage you to support Thin Air, if you can.

This is the fifth ukulele story I’ve had published in the past year and a half.  As far as I know, it’s the only one you can read online.  The other four are:

Jack Kerouac’s ukulele in The Rattling Wall.
Raymond Chandler’s ukulele in VLAK.
Flannery O’Connor’s ukulele in 14 Hills.
Herman Melville’s ukulele in Fjords Review.

Fjords lists the Melville story as an “essay.”  I assure you it’s not.  It is based on a ton of research I did on Melville, but I also made a lot of it up.  I haven’t pointed out the mistake to the folks at Fjords because I feel like I suckered someone over there, and I like that feeling.

In case you’re wondering, there are seven more ukulele stories written that I haven’t submitted for publication.  I plan to finish revising those, then send the whole thing out as a collection sometime this summer.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my little tribute to Pam Houston.

Herman Melville’s Ukulele

Back in 2009, I sat in a diner in New Mexico with nothing to do.  The kitchen wasn’t prepared to deal with the sudden flood of patrons.  The waitress told me that my food would take about an hour to get to me.  I had a solid-wood Kamaka ukulele in my truck.  It was morning, but also summertime in the desert.   I figured the uke would be fine.  The day was early.  I’d be out of the diner and my truck’s air-conditioner would cool the ukulele before the day’s heat really set in.  Still, I had the ukulele on my mind.


I also had Melville on my mind because I’d just finished classwork for my doctorate.  The last class I took was on Melville.  I love his fiction.  His biography is pretty compelling as well.

In my boredom, I took out a notepad and started writing a story about Herman Melville and his ukulele.  Of course, Melville died before the first ukuleles were brought to Hawaii.  I didn’t care.  The beauty of fiction is that it can transcend the tyranny of clock time.  Or, put another way, I love fiction because I can make up whatever I want.

Anyway, my Melville ukulele story ran in a recent issue of the literary journal Fjords.  For a short time, Fjords is making the journal free for electronic download.  If you want to check out the story and the rest of the journal, you can download it here.

Also, I’ll offer a little warning about the story.  Whoever typeset the journal made a mistake on the page break.  The title for the poem that is supposed to begin on the page after my story ends has become the last line of my story.  In my copy of the journal, I just used a little Wite Out.  I can’t do this digitally, so you’ll have to do it in your mind.  The story is supposed to end before the words, “Just to See What it Was Like.”

Oh, and finally, that above picture of Melville playing a uke is absolutely authentic.

Baseball Anthology

We’re deep into the Major League Baseball playoffs, my local team is struggling for their lives, and, sadly, I’m not that interested.  I was a huge baseball fan when I was a kid.  With every year, my interest seems to wane a little more.  The one publication that has retained my interest in the sport is ZiskZisk bills itself as the “baseball magazine for people who hate baseball magazines.”  You could end that sentence one word early and it would come closer to how I feel about the magazine.

Still, I read Zisk faithfully.  I always enjoy it.  Perhaps the most exciting news out of the Zisk world is the publication of Fan Interference, an anthology of writing from Zisk.  The anthology features some of my favorite pieces from Zisk over the years.  It also includes a story I wrote about my love/hate relationship with baseball called “The Last Days at Fulton County Stadium.”

If you’re interested in ordering the book, you can get it directly from the publisher or from Atomic Books in Baltimore.  It’s also available on Amazon.