Welcome back, Jacob Appel!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Jacob Appel, author of the short story collection Winter Honeymoon, which will be published in the summer of 2020. This will be Jacob’s sixth title with Black Lawrence Press.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

The Author

Jacob Appel

Jacob M. Appel is a physician, attorney and bioethicist based in New York City.   He is the author of more than two hundred published short stories and is a past winner of the Boston Review Short Fiction Competition, the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Award for the Short Story, the Dana Award, the Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction, the North American Review’s Kurt Vonnegut Prize, the Missouri Review’s Editor’s Prize, the Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize, the Briar Cliff Review’s Short Fiction Prize, the H. E. Francis Prize, the New Millennium Writings Fiction Award in four different years, an Elizabeth George Fellowship and a Sherwood Anderson Foundation Writers Grant.   His stories have been short-listed for the O. Henry Award, Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best American Mystery Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthology on numerous occasions.   His first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012.  Jacob holds graduate degrees from Brown University, Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Harvard Law School, New York University’s MFA program in fiction and Albany Medical College’s Alden March Institute of Bioethics.  He taught for many years at Brown University and currently teaches at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

On Writing Winter Honeymoon

I am a full-time physician, so I do much of my writing at the nurses’ stations of the hospital.  I am not alone.  When you visit a sick relative and see all of those doctors typing away at their keyboards and assume they are completing patient charts, you are missing one of the great literary endeavors of our time.  We are all working on our novels.  Okay, a few of us are working on short stories or poems.  I even know an endocrinologist who is writing a play.  But few if any of us are actually healing the sick or curing rare diseases.  Now you know our secret.  Just don’t tell the investigators from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.  This story collection is the produce of many a night shift at a New York hospital that shall not be named for legal reasons, but shares the name of a prominent Biblical mountain.  That probably explains why so many of the characters suffer sudden cardiac events at climactic moments.

Excerpt from “Winter Honeymoon”

During the final weeks of her husband’s illness, Edith befriended the demented priest in the neighboring bed. Father Petrica was a cheerful, silver-haired man in his early sixties who spoke seven different languages with a thick Romanian accent. He’d fallen from a stepstool while changing a light bulb, fracturing ribs, vertebrae, both collarbones; later his brain swelled, unmooring his memories and inhibitions. Then kidney failure, skin infections, an amputated foot. The man stumbled from one setback to another, but courageously, like an imperial army in retreat. By the time Edith started reading aloud to him from Raymond Chandler novels, while Simon was away being MRI-ed and CT-scanned and surgically explored, the priest was innocently sharing tidbits collected over three decades behind the confessional.

One afternoon, Father Petrica proposed that they elope to Puerto Vallarta. “What do you say?” he asked. “We’ll be just like Richard Burton and what’s her name…”

“Elizabeth Taylor,” said Edith.

“That’s right. Only she’ll never hold a candle to you.”

He clasped her left hand in both of his, and belted out That’s Amore, surprisingly on key, but broke down coughing halfway through the second verse. Edith poured him a cup of water from a plastic bottle.

“I’m flattered,” she said. “Really. But aren’t you forgetting that you’re a priest?”

I’m a priest?” asked the priest. He grinned impishly, as though he had been the victim of a practical joke. “You are pulling me by the tail.”

You’re a priest and I’m a married woman, as was Elizabeth Taylor when Richard Burton courted her.” Edith spoke in the same firm-but-loving tone that she used to warn her second graders against stockpiling tree branches during recess. “I’m not even Catholic.”

The priest digested this information. His large, genial features looked suddenly wistful. “So no Mexico?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Edith.

She noticed the whiteboard sign beside Petrica’s telephone: GOOD MORNING. TODAY IS TUESDAY, JANUARY 18th. It was actually Thursday, January 20th. Beyond Simon’s empty bed, Edith could see jagged patches of ice on the Hudson River and New Jersey’s snow-streaked cliffs. The priest swallowed the last of his water. He asked, “Do you regret anything?”

What a question! Who didn’t have regrets at fifty-nine? But she wondered if her companion sensed something deeper, more personal, his insights growing clearer as his body withered. More likely, he was jabbing into the darkness like a fortuneteller. Or he wanted her confession: To hear her admit that she couldn’t think of anything she didn’t regret. Anything! Because she’d known from the outset that she’d married the wrong man—and now that she loved him anyway, he was mustering up the nerve to die on her.

I have regrets,” said Father Petrica. “I should have been Pope.”