Tag Archives: fiction

Things You Will Learn From Spending A Day With Percival Everett

9 Oct

You will learn that Percival Everett’s favorite word is No. You will learn that the gizmo used to castrate a horse is called – somewhat appropriately – an emasculator. You will learn the importance of reading forklift manuals. You will learn that Percival Everett doesn’t believe in the ‘craft’ of writing. You will learn about the craft of writing.

What I think bothers Everett about the term ‘craft’ is its implication that ideal forms, structures and processes exist (and can be taught) to generate fiction. As a writer whose reputation has been built on his unwillingness to accept categorization – of either his writing, or his person – and his career-long experimentation with form (some would even say rejection), this discomfort with the idea of a ‘right way to write’ is entirely consistent with his worldview.

As a consequence, Everett focused on ends rather than means during his September visit to Virginia Tech : on what effective fiction achieves, rather than how it is made. And it became clear to this author over the course of a day’s interaction with Everett – first in his ironically titled ‘craft talk’, then at a public reading of en excerpt from his novel-in-progress, and finally at dinner in an Italian restaurant whose walls were decked with pictures of horses (thus the emasculator) – that he cares most about how fiction is experienced. For Everett, it is the reader alone who creates meaning (I am tempted to describe this approach as post-modern, but that I suspect that would annoy him).

Everett rejects the notion that fiction has an ‘asymptotic’ relationship with reality (you will also learn that Percival Everett studied math in college). In other words, he rejects the idea that fiction aspires to be ‘objectively true’ and that the greatest fiction is that which comes closest to a depiction of the real world.

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Rather, he conceives of fiction as a series of strategic convergences and divergences from reality that create an authentic experience on the page.

 diagram2

There are times when real-life is too absurd to read as authentic on the page and so, as writers, we must beware conflating truth with verisimilitude (you will learn that Percival Everett thinks that any MFA student who defends their work by protesting “but it really happened!” should be defenestrated).

diag3

Conversely, there are times when authenticity on the page, comes from the ‘hyper-real’.

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An example Everett discussed was the difference between speech in real life, which generally reads like dribble when transcribed on the page (with all its inelegant ums and ahs…and in my case, liberal cursing), and fictional dialogue, which – if we were to reproduce it in the real world – would just make us all sound like pretentious wankers.

Crafty, no?

-Beejay S.

Contributor Update: Susan Meyers

24 Jul

Susan Meyers’ “Waiting Room,” excerpted below, first appeared in issue 63/64 (Spring/Summer 2005) of the minnesota review. Since then, Meyers received her Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Composition and the Teaching of English from the University of Arizona. She also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota, and she is currently an Assistant Professor in English at Seattle University, where she teaches creative writing, literature, and composition. Meyers has also published in Calyx, Dogwood, Oregon Humanities Journal, Wilderness House Literary Review, Rosebud Literary Magazine, WomenArts Quarterly Journal, Gender and Education, and Community Literacy Journal. She is currently working on a historical novel about her family’s circus, which operated during the early part of the twentieth century, as well as an ethnographic monograph about literacy and migration in the U.S./Mexico context. To continue reading “Waiting Room” please visit our online archive, available through Duke University Press.

 

Waiting Room

Carla Ramirez. Here in the waiting room, with a child. An infant, shivering and nodding with the small, uncertain movements of a newborn. Its eyes are large and flat, like round quinientos coins. The hands like little claws. Carla’s baby. Her first? her second or third? How long has she been married? and to whom? Lucky man. But I’m not bitter. Not now. Only, disoriented. Back home in Chile. My country again after fifteen—no, sixteen years. Unsure which streets connect with which. Which lives cross and intersect now. Like Carla and her husband. And their child, here in the clinic, waiting for vaccinations.

It’s strange, but I know it’s all a fluke, the way lives bend and shift like continents—and shift back. To find the old things here and look at them with freshness, but not newness. These are things I’ve seen before: Alemda, la Virgin, la Vega, el Cerro San Cristobal. But they don’t claim me the way they did when I was twelve. The way I’d hoped—just days ago on the plane—they might, when I returned.

And it’s strange, too, seeing all of Carla’s features again in one face: connected. Not coming in and out of focus, the way they did when I was in Germany. First the eyes, then her brow, her chin and lips and cheeks. Soft mejillas flushed pink. It’s almost unnerving, seeing them together again, as though my memory of her were not entirely correct—and I wonder whether it is her.

But of course it is. The same face I’d imagined, writing all those heartfelt, adolescent letters—so many letters! Carla, I will be home soon. Carla, my parents have promised. Mi Carlita, don t forget me. Your friend, here, on the other side of the world.

But my mother never sent those letters. “Better not to think about home, hijo,” she’d warned. “Better to cut things clean. Like slicing through an onion—smooth, even sweeps. Or else the tears will come.”

Contributor Update: Sam J. Miller

10 Apr

Sam J. Miller’s “Operation Skunk,” excerpted below, first appeared in Issue 70 (2008) of the minnesota review. Since its publication, Miller has also released Horror After 9/11 (2011), a critical anthology co-edited with Aviva Briefel, along with pieces in The Rumpus, Slice Magazine, Arts and Letters, Strange Horizons, and Electric Velocipede. Miller also has work forthcoming in Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Shimmer. You can read more about Miller and his work here. To read the rest of “Operation Skunk,” please visit our online archive, available through Duke University Press.

 

Operation Skunk

Pastor handpicked us, three of his best girls for the man from CBS to speak to. Earlene, who’s seventy-five; me, who’s forty; and Shelley, who’s seventeen. Pastor called me up and told me to orchestrate the whole thing, our outfits and posture and perfume, and how to coach the girls beforehand, and said I had to host it because Shelley’s mom’s trailer smelled like burned plastic and Earlene’s house was too big and fancy. I got rid of all my Glade Plug-Ins because Pastor said city folks think they’re tacky, and bought a tube of cookie dough and timed the baking so the whole house smelled nice when the CBS man came.

Pastor had called me after midnight the night before.

“Remember, this is our chance to show America what good work we’re doing,” he said. “You three are our ambassadors. Be
friendly and humble. Don’t answer his questions—respond with our message. He’s going to try to paint us a certain kind of way, and you cannot fall into his trap. So if he asks you What do you think of the War in Iraq or something along those lines, you answer All I know is, the government wasn’t doing its job out here on the highways of Kentucky, and good Christians stepped up and did it. Okay? Like we said. He’s not your audience—you’re talking to America tomorrow. You know things need to be perfect for the next phase of Operation Skunk.”

“I know it.” I was as close to exasperated as I could ever get with Pastor. My ear hurt from holding the phone against it with my
shoulder. My hands, slick with mayonnaise, drummed at the kitchen table. I’d been mixing up a batch of tuna for sandwiches and the wooden spoon wasn’t getting it done fast enough so I started using my hands. When I’m stressed out I need to seize hold of something. It’s a reflex, left over from a million nights where loneliness hit me so hard I snatched up a bottle or some man’s forearm.

“You’ll call me when it’s over?” he asked. He could sound so small sometimes. Up in front of five hundred people, his voice was wide and rich as Gabriel’s must be. Other times he’d call me up just inches short of crying. “The man said it would take about an hour, but you know how these people are. So call me when they leave and I’ll come over and we’ll talk about how it went.”

“Sure thing, Pastor,” I said. “Now I got to get back to fixing the spread for tomorrow.”

“God bless you, Sister Schram,” he said. “Helen.”

February wind made a baby-crying sound outside. I’d been out back til ten p.m., picking up the yard so it looked less trailer
trash. Where had they come from, those ruptured garbage bags and waterlogged cardboard boxes and faded plush and plastic Easter bunnies? I picked this little house for its loneliness, for how far it was from the squalid backyards I’d grown up in, but they’d followed me.

The tuna fish sandwiches would go on the sunflower tray; the peanut butter and jelly on the cow tray. I focused on what they’d
look like: crusts snipped off, cut into quarters, the tiny white bread triangles and the pitcher of milk and the cookies and the bowl of apples. The room full of bright lights and camera equipment and men munching on my food while the famous man from television interviewed us. Shelley, sitting on my couch, bracketed by me and Earlene, her chubby arm calm and dry against mine. In AA they tell us to focus on today, and not to worry about the ugly days behind you or the long dry days in front of you. Pastor, on the other hand, says think about Jesus, and think about the future. Think about your mission. Everyone has a mission, Pastor says, although most souls spend a lifetime just wondering what it is. My need was so great I got two of them. Shelley was my little mission; Operation Skunk was my big mission.

Horror After 9/11, University of Texas Press (Fall 2011). Critical anthology, co-edited by myself and the amazing Aviva Briefel. Reviewed in The New Republic, with a review forthcoming in Film Quarterly, and featured in New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix as “brilliant/lowbrow”!!

“Boy on the Rocks,” forthcoming in Lightspeed.

“Alloy Point,” forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“Kenneth: A User’s Manual,” forthcoming in Strange Horizons.

“Allosaurus Burgers,” forthcoming in Shimmer.

57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides,” in Nightmare Magazine. Also published in the ebook version of Lightspeed, and on FearNet, and released in an audio version recorded by an actual actor who, among other things, has played Nazis on two separate Star Trek series. Accompanied by an interview with me, in which I somehow come across remotely not an idiot. AVAILABLE ONLINE

The Beasts We Want To Be,” in Electric Velocipede Issue #27. Soviet human experimentation, brotherly love, bloody revenge, and a maybe-magical painting. Reviewed in Locus Magazine, who named it a “Recommended” story!! “…The heart of it is this: How can ordinary people be brought to do acts of routine brutality? Or that there is something human in the worst of us?…” Later also cited in their year-end best short fiction post. AVAILABLE ONLINE

Sabi, Wabi, Aware, Yugen,” in Daily Science Fiction. December 6, 2013. Nanotech bad-assery, Westerners trying to adopt Zen aesthetics as a template for corporate dystopian survival. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Luke Letters” in Upstreet #8. Cited in Best American Essays 2013 as an “Other Notable Essay.” And lest I feel inclined to pity myself for not making it into the winners’ circle, I have only to look around and see that my fellow runners-up include Jhumpa Lahiri, David Sedaris, Jeff Vandermeer, Andre Dubus III, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jonathan Franzen, Malcolm Gladwell, Roxane Gay, Donald Hall, Nick Hornby, Ann Patchett, Colson Whitehead, and tons more great and/or famous writers.

“The Country of Dead Voices,” in Icarus, Spring 2013. Here’s a great summary that came along with a really nice review from 365shortstories.livejournal.com! “It revolves around a simple phone call to a phone sex line, and in the process of a conversation lays bear the narrator’s troubled past and feelings of guilt associated with former lovers. Is the voice on the other end of the call a ghost from his past or something quite different and equally as disturbing? I won’t spoil the outcome. I’ll just say that Miller’s narrator’s voice felt real and personal and the sense of unease that permeates the story is pitch perfect.”

“Who Killed Thomas M. Disch?,” in Strange Horizons. Sept. 22 2008. Essay about the suicide of one of my science fiction heroes, including interviews with his friends and colleagues. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“Black as the Sea,” in Arts & Letters Issue #25. Told by a little Jewish boy during the Odessa Pogrom of 1905, a sort of meta-Isaak-Babel piece, if Babel was writing with a full knowledge of all the horrors that the Soviet 30s and 40s would bring.

“Black Babe,” in Slice Magazine Issue #7 - Fall 2010. Noir-style short story set in 1948, about a sex worker who has evidence that Babe Ruth was Black, and the conspiracy of gangsters out to silence her before she can spread the word….

“Sex, Death, Facebook,” in The Rumpus. September 2009. Creative nonfiction about how sex and social networking sites help us process grief. “Fucking and dying—these two things everyone has in common, that no one wants to talk about.” AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Last Sleepover,” in Gargoyle Magazine, Issue 56. 2010.

- See more at: http://www.samjmiller.com/publications/#sthash.Ag28JT9i.dpufH

Horror After 9/11, University of Texas Press (Fall 2011). Critical anthology, co-edited by myself and the amazing Aviva Briefel. Reviewed in The New Republic, with a review forthcoming in Film Quarterly, and featured in New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix as “brilliant/lowbrow”!!

“Boy on the Rocks,” forthcoming in Lightspeed.

“Alloy Point,” forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“Kenneth: A User’s Manual,” forthcoming in Strange Horizons.

“Allosaurus Burgers,” forthcoming in Shimmer.

57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides,” in Nightmare Magazine. Also published in the ebook version of Lightspeed, and on FearNet, and released in an audio version recorded by an actual actor who, among other things, has played Nazis on two separate Star Trek series. Accompanied by an interview with me, in which I somehow come across remotely not an idiot. AVAILABLE ONLINE

The Beasts We Want To Be,” in Electric Velocipede Issue #27. Soviet human experimentation, brotherly love, bloody revenge, and a maybe-magical painting. Reviewed in Locus Magazine, who named it a “Recommended” story!! “…The heart of it is this: How can ordinary people be brought to do acts of routine brutality? Or that there is something human in the worst of us?…” Later also cited in their year-end best short fiction post. AVAILABLE ONLINE

Sabi, Wabi, Aware, Yugen,” in Daily Science Fiction. December 6, 2013. Nanotech bad-assery, Westerners trying to adopt Zen aesthetics as a template for corporate dystopian survival. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Luke Letters” in Upstreet #8. Cited in Best American Essays 2013 as an “Other Notable Essay.” And lest I feel inclined to pity myself for not making it into the winners’ circle, I have only to look around and see that my fellow runners-up include Jhumpa Lahiri, David Sedaris, Jeff Vandermeer, Andre Dubus III, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jonathan Franzen, Malcolm Gladwell, Roxane Gay, Donald Hall, Nick Hornby, Ann Patchett, Colson Whitehead, and tons more great and/or famous writers.

“The Country of Dead Voices,” in Icarus, Spring 2013. Here’s a great summary that came along with a really nice review from 365shortstories.livejournal.com! “It revolves around a simple phone call to a phone sex line, and in the process of a conversation lays bear the narrator’s troubled past and feelings of guilt associated with former lovers. Is the voice on the other end of the call a ghost from his past or something quite different and equally as disturbing? I won’t spoil the outcome. I’ll just say that Miller’s narrator’s voice felt real and personal and the sense of unease that permeates the story is pitch perfect.”

“Who Killed Thomas M. Disch?,” in Strange Horizons. Sept. 22 2008. Essay about the suicide of one of my science fiction heroes, including interviews with his friends and colleagues. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“Black as the Sea,” in Arts & Letters Issue #25. Told by a little Jewish boy during the Odessa Pogrom of 1905, a sort of meta-Isaak-Babel piece, if Babel was writing with a full knowledge of all the horrors that the Soviet 30s and 40s would bring.

“Black Babe,” in Slice Magazine Issue #7 - Fall 2010. Noir-style short story set in 1948, about a sex worker who has evidence that Babe Ruth was Black, and the conspiracy of gangsters out to silence her before she can spread the word….

“Sex, Death, Facebook,” in The Rumpus. September 2009. Creative nonfiction about how sex and social networking sites help us process grief. “Fucking and dying—these two things everyone has in common, that no one wants to talk about.” AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Last Sleepover,” in Gargoyle Magazine, Issue 56. 2010.

- See more at: http://www.samjmiller.com/publications/#sthash.Ag28JT9i.dpuf

Horror After 9/11, University of Texas Press (Fall 2011). Critical anthology, co-edited by myself and the amazing Aviva Briefel. Reviewed in The New Republic, with a review forthcoming in Film Quarterly, and featured in New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix as “brilliant/lowbrow”!!

“Boy on the Rocks,” forthcoming in Lightspeed.

“Alloy Point,” forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“Kenneth: A User’s Manual,” forthcoming in Strange Horizons.

“Allosaurus Burgers,” forthcoming in Shimmer.

57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides,” in Nightmare Magazine. Also published in the ebook version of Lightspeed, and on FearNet, and released in an audio version recorded by an actual actor who, among other things, has played Nazis on two separate Star Trek series. Accompanied by an interview with me, in which I somehow come across remotely not an idiot. AVAILABLE ONLINE

The Beasts We Want To Be,” in Electric Velocipede Issue #27. Soviet human experimentation, brotherly love, bloody revenge, and a maybe-magical painting. Reviewed in Locus Magazine, who named it a “Recommended” story!! “…The heart of it is this: How can ordinary people be brought to do acts of routine brutality? Or that there is something human in the worst of us?…” Later also cited in their year-end best short fiction post. AVAILABLE ONLINE

Sabi, Wabi, Aware, Yugen,” in Daily Science Fiction. December 6, 2013. Nanotech bad-assery, Westerners trying to adopt Zen aesthetics as a template for corporate dystopian survival. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Luke Letters” in Upstreet #8. Cited in Best American Essays 2013 as an “Other Notable Essay.” And lest I feel inclined to pity myself for not making it into the winners’ circle, I have only to look around and see that my fellow runners-up include Jhumpa Lahiri, David Sedaris, Jeff Vandermeer, Andre Dubus III, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jonathan Franzen, Malcolm Gladwell, Roxane Gay, Donald Hall, Nick Hornby, Ann Patchett, Colson Whitehead, and tons more great and/or famous writers.

“The Country of Dead Voices,” in Icarus, Spring 2013. Here’s a great summary that came along with a really nice review from 365shortstories.livejournal.com! “It revolves around a simple phone call to a phone sex line, and in the process of a conversation lays bear the narrator’s troubled past and feelings of guilt associated with former lovers. Is the voice on the other end of the call a ghost from his past or something quite different and equally as disturbing? I won’t spoil the outcome. I’ll just say that Miller’s narrator’s voice felt real and personal and the sense of unease that permeates the story is pitch perfect.”

“Who Killed Thomas M. Disch?,” in Strange Horizons. Sept. 22 2008. Essay about the suicide of one of my science fiction heroes, including interviews with his friends and colleagues. AVAILABLE ONLINE

“Black as the Sea,” in Arts & Letters Issue #25. Told by a little Jewish boy during the Odessa Pogrom of 1905, a sort of meta-Isaak-Babel piece, if Babel was writing with a full knowledge of all the horrors that the Soviet 30s and 40s would bring.

“Black Babe,” in Slice Magazine Issue #7 - Fall 2010. Noir-style short story set in 1948, about a sex worker who has evidence that Babe Ruth was Black, and the conspiracy of gangsters out to silence her before she can spread the word….

“Sex, Death, Facebook,” in The Rumpus. September 2009. Creative nonfiction about how sex and social networking sites help us process grief. “Fucking and dying—these two things everyone has in common, that no one wants to talk about.” AVAILABLE ONLINE

“The Last Sleepover,” in Gargoyle Magazine, Issue 56. 2010.

- See more at: http://www.samjmiller.com/publications/#sthash.Ag28JT9i.dpuf

The Best Books We Read in 2013: Fiction Roundup

29 Oct

TMR’s fiction readers have a few recommendations up our sleeves—here are the best books we read in the last year.

Amy L.’s pick: The Accursed, Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco, 2013)

I’ve been hyping Susan Steinberg’s Spectacle a lot this year, but as much as I love that collection, I can’t earnestly call it my “favorite.” In sort of the way that I’ll always claim The Wire as my favorite TV show when, really, I should just admit that it’s Grey’s Anatomy, Joyce Carol Oates’ The Accursed tops my 2013 reading list. The novel is no guilty pleasure; it’s a 700-page tome narrated by an amateur historian hellbent on identifying the origins of a mysterious “curse” that plagued Princeton, New Jersey, at the turn of the twentieth century. Oates’ third 2013 release pulls readers into alternate demon-worlds, yet still demands their engagement with the political and socioeconomic realities that shaped the early 1900s, placing historical figures such as Woodrow Wilson and Upton Sinclair among its major characters. No easy read, that. But Oates’ lush, pointed prose and sharp eye for the grotesque make The Accursed one of those immersive, epic books that will keep you marathon-reading for three days (or maybe that’s just me).

Freddy’s pick: El Coronel No Tiene Quien Le Escriba (No One Writes to the Colonel), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Harper & Row, 1968)

I read El Coronel in Spanish. It was one of Marquez’s less magic realist stories, which at first disappointed me, but I read on and did find magic in it, in secret miracles and simple statements about October—“one of the few things that arrive.” Marquez opens a window into the world of an old retired colonel who, in manic vigil, awaits his military pension, which will never arrive—but it does not matter, since waiting is a definition of his life. Marquez magically, surreptitiously penetrates our head with the feeling that El Coronel is Colombia, Latin America, humanity. He lets the beauty and miracles come out between lines that are filled with disappointment, and the human toll caused by futile, parasitic governments, and people, and heavy rain and a fighting rooster. Marquez ultimately offers what might be interpreted as hope; he lets us see the defiant, imaginative child who lives inside El Coronel, inside Marquez: a rambunctious, optimistic child named Latin America.

Joe’s pick: Dancer, Colum McCann (Picador, 2009)

Colum McCann’s Dancer chronicles the life of Rudolf Nureyev, a ballet dancer who famously defected from the Soviet Union to become one of the most celebrated performers of the twentieth century. The novel ranges from Nureyev’s impoverished childhood in the Soviet Union to his globetrotting years as a celebrity. Readers get to know the famous dancer through a multitude of perspectives that McCann assumes with such ease that at times it seems the book was composed by a consortium of writers and not just one man. By constantly shifting the lens through which the story is told, McCann artfully weaves diverse voices together to construct a narrative pulsating with the bravado of Nureyev himself.

Josh’s pick: The Runes of the Earth, Stephen R. Donaldson (Putnam, 2004)

Last summer, I received a generous donation of books from my grandmother, delivered in a box covered by a thin layer of dust. Among the books I received was Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Runes of the Earth, the seventh book in his Covenant series. The language, rich and sophisticated, told a surprisingly dark story that was compelling from start to finish—a book I couldn’t stop reading and won’t soon forget. The book includes one of my favorite scenes in fantasy, in which Joan, Covenant’s crazed ex-wife, tears at her skin until she is soothed by the touch of her former husband’s wedding band: “. . . it was precisely the reminder of guilt which calmed Joan: that Joan’s catatonia endured because she had been fundamentally defeated by the touch of white gold.” I enjoyed Donaldson’s book so much that I went out and bought the previous six books to ensure I don’t miss a single masterfully crafted scene.

Kari’s pick: Battleborn, Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead, 2012)

Near the end of the first story in this collection, “Ghosts, Cowboys,” which reads as a kind of hybrid of essay and story, personal and public history, artifact and invention, Watkins concedes: “Everything I can say about what it means to lose, what it means to do without, the inadequate weight of the past, you already know.” And yet—thankfully—Watkins goes on for nine more stories that, while all grounded in Nevada, span from the mythic to the historical to the personal– brothels to mining camps, the Vegas strip to a falling-apart peacock farm. All of them push against Watkins’ early concession by pulling forth story from past, narrative from mystery, meaning from haunting. Battleborn, Watkins’ first collection, is definitely one of my favorite reads of 2013.

Matty’s pick: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel 

This graphic novel took Bechdel over seven years to write and illustrate. That time and effort comes through in a heartbreaking coming-of-age story about a young girl grappling with her sexuality—while also grappling with her father’s ambiguous sexuality. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read in years!

Nora’s pick: Ghana Must Go, Taiye Selasi (Penguin, 2013)

Taiye Selasi’s first novel begins with the death of the Sai family patriarch in Ghana, a death that sparks complex reactions among his ex-wife and four children. The very public politics of Ghana and Nigeria reverberate in the private tragedies that break up the Sai family.  Each of the characters in this novel is unique, complicated, and fascinating; each breaks boundaries of one kind or another. By showing how larger forces leave scars on individual lives, Ghana Must Go gives life to the pages of history books and newspaper headlines.

Kelly’s pick: Blueprints for Building Better Girls, Elissa Schappell (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

Elissa Schappell’s collection of interconnected short stories contains engaging female characters grappling with challenging conflicts at various stages of life and across different generations. I loved the depth of emotion conveyed through highly accessible, entertaining prose. I could feel the loneliness, excitement, conflict, and grief of the characters. This is a great book for anyone interested in major transitions in the lives of women and the social implications of women’s struggles.

If You’re Stuck, Wait It Out – Advice from an Editor

4 Apr

As writers, we have what would appear to be a very easy job: float through life, and wait for the muse. Forget the crafting, forget the editing – the worst part of writing is just starting.

Usually my writing process follows a very similar trajectory: wait for weeks, think about needing to write something, wait another few days, lose hope and begin to think there’s nothing inspirational anywhere. Sometime after passing the last three stages though, something shifts and I open myself up to the world around me. I start observing.

Something begins then, when I really make myself available as a listener and thinker, that changes the game. I listen to people speaking and it evolves into dialogue. I look at the way someone adjusts his or her shirt or opens the door for someone else. I start thinking about how things feel. Washing your hands in the bathroom, but with cold water. You lather and rinse and dry off. Somehow they still sting after they’re dry. And then you hear someone else in the bathroom. You thought you were alone. There’s a story.

So that’s when you’re most receptive – in that waiting, feeling, listening, hearing period. That’s when your muse comes up and smacks you in the forehead.  

I can most easily describe it in the way it usually happens to me. I wait tables. It’s half soul-sucking and half gratifying, but somehow, it is great for writing. My three most recent creative endeavors have all come from things I’ve overheard, mannerisms I’ve seen, or conversations I’ve had while working.

Lately I’ve been all about the ever-talented Louise Erdrich, who I think says it the best. But what’s new. “Nothing I force myself to write about ever turns out well, and so I’ve learned to wait for the voice, the incident, the image that reverberates.”

And it’s true. If you’re stuck, wait it out. Listen to people, wait tables, use public bathrooms.

Start with something concrete, an image. Your dry, tingling hands. Now, make them do something. Write.

 

- Danielle Buynak, fiction reader

What I Like to Read – Will Bebout

19 Feb

Hello, Everyone! My name is Will Bebout, and I am one of the Editors of The Minnesota Review. I must admit, I’m very new to the editorial gig, but I thought I’d let my mind wander a bit about the things I’ve read before and what I’ve liked about them.

 As a brand new editor, I’m learning a lot about the process. It turns out that there are a lot of submissions to the MR, which surprised me, because I thought we might have to solicit people, but being an established periodical means that submissions don’t seem to be a problem. The problem, then, is what to choose to feature. Having just started, I haven’t even gotten to that final phase yet, we (the fiction editorial team) are just taking our initial glance through the stories. We’ve seen some good entries and we’ve seen entries that have potential, but need some work. It’s a shame, because while I firmly believe that there are no bad stories, only stories told badly, we have to make up our mind with the first few pages whether to read on. If it doesn’t grab us in 3 or 4 pages, we can’t spend anymore time on it. Assuming a story has passed the first round, it graduates to round two to be looked at in detail, its merits debated amongst the team. At this point, the factor of space comes in, and we have to choose what will fit, but after these rounds of examination, the stories can finally become a part of The Minnesota Review! It’s a rigorous process, but it’s been effective so far.

 As for what will get a story to round two, I look for something that can be immersive. I want to start reading and not notice that I’ve read beyond 3 pages, to be so swept up in the story that I’ve forgotten I’m reading at all. Introductions are always tricky things, and there really isn’t a formula for how this is done, but I would say to make it clear what kind of story you are writing (horror, suspense, drama, day at the beach, etc…).

 Also, I need to care about the characters. Whoever you decide to write about, whoever is starring in your story, you need to do something to make me care about them, to get invested in their story and want to see it unfold. Is there a mystery that the story promises to reveal? Is there a conflict that I need to see resolved for this person? All great stories have an element of conflict, internal or external.

 To get my short story fix, I’ve recently been going to the podcasts Podcastle, a fantasy podcast, and Pseudopod, a horror podcast, both of which collect and air audio renditions of short stories. Part of the appeal is that I can listen to stories as I exercise or drive to work. I also like the wide variety of stories that come through, the ones that grab me right away or show me a sympathetic character I want to follow. If either of those genre appeal to you, I highly recommend checking those podcasts out.

 My fellow editors and I have a lot of stories to read through to put together our edition of The Minnesota Review, but I look forward to reading each and every one of them, and seeing what is out there. Thanks to everyone who submitted a story, and thanks to all the readers of our fine magazine. We hope you’ll be back again soon!

A Call for Submissions

23 Nov

Editors Joe Hiland and Michael Mlekoday recently distinguished work they would consider publishing in Indiana Review from work that just isn’t quite right for them. Rarely does an editorial staff pull back the green curtain and show us the Wizard’s working pieces, so to speak. In an effort to offer transparency to our submitters, my intention for this blog post is to be a little more honest about our reading tastes here at the minnesota review. Let it be known: We’re looking for some very specific submissions in our next reading period, to begin on January 1. Rather than warn you how to stay out of the rejection pile, I’ll do you one better and tell you exactly what it takes to get your work published in our magazine.

the minnesota review staff would like to see:

Ahistorical chupacabra fiction: To be fair, we saw quite a bit of this early in the current reading period. But these particular ahistorical chupacabra pieces were missing…something. That certain chupacabra duende. Which isn’t to say we weren’t thrilled with the quality of your submissions, because we were. Alice Munro sent us a piece that nearly made the final round of voting, but ultimately we editors sensed a severe lack of well-rounded chupacabras in the story with which the audience could sympathize. As my grandfather always told me and his grandfather told him, One complex chupacabra is simply not enough in sustaining emotional resonance throughout the entirety of a narrative arc. Think of the minnesota review as a chupacabra-friendly market from now on. Amaze us with your chupacabravado. We’re also on call 24/7 to answer any chupacabra or chupacabra-related inquiries from our Twitter and Facebook accounts, so please do avail yourself of our collective expertise.

Direct address from the narrator to the reader: Is there a reason so few of you make space in your submissions to give an explicit shout-out to the editors and genre readers of the minnesota review, specifically me, Nathan Blake, saying something flattering about my choice secondary sexual characteristics?

Take for example the following excerpt from a recent submission that found success elsewhere (it was scooped up by Esquire)–

Mona parked her Honda beside the bridge abutment overlooking the Potomac River, roiling with crests like grabbing hands in the storm’s current. She unwrinkled a tattered and washed-out Polaroid from her hip pocket, a ritual she had practiced already fifteen or twenty times before even stopping to eat. The photograph seemed to hum with fluorescent light between her fingertips. Here was a man flexing his corded arms as he brought an axe to, and presumably–in a single fluid arc, no doubt–through, a felled tree. Nathan Blake, fiction reader, she whispered softly at the photograph, stroking gently with her upper lip the man’s formidable, not-weird sideburns. Mona’s life’s love, this Nathan Blake, fiction reader. Mona’s answered prayer.

Come correct, dear submitters. Show me some love. While I technically can’t guarantee you publication for your endeavors, I can guarantee you some serious consideration for BFF Status, for which there is only a handful of people in the queue (I’m looking at you, Ashton Kutcher & Charles Barkley…).

Submissions that are just Instagrams of thesaurus pages: We think this could work, depending on the thesaurus.

Two or more characters with the same name in the same story: Have you ever noticed there are really only like fifteen names? I have. At Friendly’s every night I meet probably five different people named Emily or John. And don’t you think these eponymic coincidences would occur more often in contemporary fiction, if much contemporary fiction indeed serves a mimetic function? That’s why I’ve decided to name both main characters in my forthcoming novel “Hambone.”

Here’s an excerpt from Hambone & Hambone, which drives at the heart of what we’re looking for in fiction submissions–

“Hambone, bring that old box of photographs in here for me to look at,” called Hambone to Hambone, who was deboning a ham in the kitchen before Wednesday supper. “I’d like to see that one of Nathan Blake, fiction reader, again. He’s got some serious skills in terms of looking great and smelling like, absolutely masculine. If someone thinks he smells bad, like hot garbage, perhaps, on the downtown bus, and lets him know that that’s what he smells like, hot garbage on the downtown bus, loud enough for the whole bus to hear and smirk at him for, then that person is probably jealous of Nathan Blake, fiction reader, of his formidable/not-weird sideburns, and maybe that person even has a defective freaking nose, maybe that nose smells the opposite of things as they are in reality, has that explanation even crossed your brainwave?”

“I know what you mean. I keep his portrait on my bedside,” said Hambone, “for it is the stuff dreams are shaped of.”

“I agree, Hambone,” said Hambone. “The most pleasant dreams.”

“I also agree, Hambone,” Hambone agreed.

Are you taking notes? I have seen the future of letters in this world, and it is Hambone & Hambone, forthcoming in a Highlights Magazine exclusive serialization.

Poems featuring roses: Duh, roses are very, very poetic. That is Heartstuff 101. Help yourself out by including one (or, to err on the side of caution, twelve) to raise the emotional stakes in your poem. We at the minnesota review like our poetry like we like our coffee–botanical in scope, ripe with tears.

 Nathan Blake was chosen as Time’s Person of the Year in 2006.

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Freshwater Boys Review

28 Dec Book Reviews

Freshwater Boys by Adam Schuitema

Delphinium: $13.99 Paperback, $25.99 Hardcover

Reviewed by Mark Derks

If you read Adam Schuitema’s debut collection Freshwater Boys over the course of a single night while working as a bouncer in a small southern college town, as I did, you may find that you garner a very particular sort of attention—maybe not the kind you were anticipating when you set out to traverse the book’s 240 pages. Over the course of the night I explained that Freshwater Boys really had nothing to do with being gay and that connections to Lolita were, at best, imagined. “The thing,” I said to marginally interested strangers and acquaintances who’ve never had a sober conversation with me, “is the book doesn’t need any of that.” The stories in Freshwater Boys are tightly crafted emotional capsules. They’re sweet little pills that kick with meaning when they hit the stomach.

Take for example the volume’s second story, “Sand Thieves,” which riffs on several of the book’s recurring themes: youth and maturity, the nature of right and wrong, familial relationships, and the looming presence of Michigan’s Big Lakes. Right away we’re introduced to Uncle Lucien, the character around whom the story turns. Every summer, because of a friendship with the narrator’s grandfather (now deceased) Uncle Lucien joins a trio of sisters and their children at a cottage in the north of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Because of his friendship with the narrator’s grandfather, Uncle Lucien has stolen sand from the nearby Duck Lake State Park—glacial sand from the shores of Lake Michigan—and created for his friend an admirable beach at the cottage. Without the grandfather present, tensions between the youthful (but male role-model-less) boys, their mothers, and the faux Uncle escalate to the point where Lucien, because of the mistreatment of a fish by the boys, causes Terry to bash the back of his head on the prow of a canoe. The mothers, in a rush of vindication, banish Uncle Lucien from the cottage for good. The moment is beautiful not only for its drama, but for its emotional power and for the dexterity of the narration. The narrator describes Uncle Lucien leaving in his beat up old car:

I heard him start the Duster and pull out onto the dirt road. When it happened, I figured he was heartbroken for having to leave. But now I think he wrote us off—wrote the cottage off—the second he started his car. Fuck the white pines. Fuck the horseshoe pit. Terry’s blood? Fuck Terry’s blood—it was less than the blood of a smashed horsefly.

After Lucien’s banishment the sisters and their children agree to return to the cottage a week later and find that all of Lucien’s effort to build and maintain the beach over the years has been completely reversed. Where once waves lapped on fine, white, glacial sand; now, “All the soft sand was gone, leaving a scar of roots, dark dirt, and a gaping mouth in the earth that the lake began to fill. He left us a lagoon.”

Like in Henry James, the structures—the symmetries and complications—of these stories are readily apparent. They’re like houses that aren’t afraid to bare the studs beneath the drywall, that see no shame in revealing the insulation tucked into the cracks around the window. But to appreciate these stories solely for their symmetries and construction is to miss their real importance. By laying the connections baldly before us, Schuitema is expecting us to examine the interstices of the characters and their morality and the ways in which this place, Michigan and its lakes, informs the dramas played out within its confines. And Freshwater Boys is replete with drama. There are deaths. There are spiritual rebirths. There are mystic deer traveling through cities. There are hermits. There are kidnappings. But all of these dramas are told with intense humanity and a sense that growing up—living, raising children—can never be winnowed or whittled to a single truth, but only complicated by the interaction of a boy or a man with his home and the people he loves. Like the narrator at the end of “Sand Thieves” Schuitema hopes that we will fill our trunks with Lake Michigan sand and “[roar] through the state park at dawn,” and in a final gesture that serves not to explain the narrator’s feelings about the hole left at the cottage, but only complicate it, we will leave “the rangers arriving to an already smaller beach.”

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Two Journal Reviews: failbetter and Drunken Boat

28 Dec Literary Journals

by Laura Nye


The Latest from failbetter

failbetter is always open for fiction, poetry and visual art, “that which is at once original and personal. When choosing work to submit, be certain that what you have created could only have come from you.”  I love failbetter’s confidence with The Huffington Post in their status as an electronic publication, translating traditional literary print-journal content to a clean, efficient, text-based  blog format. Contributors are published on the website in real time as opposed to being fit into the package of an issue, appealing to submitter and reader alike and earning a readership to dwarf those of printed journals.

As of late, Alexandra Chasin’s short fiction piece “You Loved The Morphine” narrates like an intravenous chemical, voiced with a vibrant tension hinging on the line, “How having to attend to me would drive her, and to what.”  Caren Beilen’s “Art in Relationship” traces an artist’s fragile complex of creation and self-concept with a significant other vicariously fueling and disturbing her creative process.

Kristi Maxwell’s two poems, “Game 1 (36 words[=36 lines])” and “Game 3 (37 words[=37 lines])” were borne from a word game called Royalty; each first shows readers a transcript of a round of the game, then uses words garnered from the game in a poem. The poems indicate play-words with capital letters, altering the natural scansion of its language with echoes, repetition and variations of mutations turning up inventive rhythms and phrases.

The Latest from Drunken Boat Issue 12

Drunken Boat’s approach to online publishing differs from failbetter’s by organizing content into contextual folio-features which are given unique open calls for submissions. Currently DB is looking for submissions for an upcoming Bernadette Mayer tribute folio, as well as upcoming issue 13’s “First Peoples, Plural” folio, which will feature “media by indigenous people worldwide.”  Along regular fiction, poetry and non-fiction folios, the current issue offers “Celtic Twilight:  21st Century Irish-Americans on Eugene O’Neill,” “Freedom & Belonging:  Short Short Fiction,” the collaborative and genre-transcending “Desire & Interaction,” and a short tribute to Franz Wright.

Robert M. Dowling gave me exactly what I wanted in his introduction to O’Neill’s folio:  “My intent with “Celtic Twilight” is to take a step out of the academic echo-chamber, where I’ve lived for years, and listen to voices unheard from in traditional O’Neill studies.” Drunken Boat is strengthened throughout with an academic precision and agility that is disarmed from the university arena and put to work, instead, on the playful and collaborative online stage.

Although flash-fiction is a developing genre I’ve not much explored, I was happy to get further acquainted with Mikael de Lara Co’s “Man Finds Crow,” which seems to balance just enough narrative with a delicate and abstract payload, delivering what fiction editor Deborah Marie Poe dubs “magic in motion.”  My other favorite is Kristen Nelson’s segmented work “Ghosty,” complimented with illustrations by visual artist Noah Saterstrom. His self-titled website, linked in the work’s preface, showcases other literary collaborations among a large body of work.

“Desire & Interaction” mixes the literary with the digital, the evolution of text with video, sound, and interactivity. Contributions like Jon Satrom’s iPhone App PURRFLUX and collective Squidsoup’s “Bugs” are sure to jostle the literary audience with refreshing bemuse. Drunken Boat flouts a dedication to the electronic venue’s flexibility with incredibly inventive collaborations;  this was my favorite folio, and the whole thing is quite worthwhile, but among my favorites are Roxann Carter & Braxton Solderman’s “Legend,” whose text and portraiture develop, disappear and converge through concentric pop-up windows, Chris Funkhouser and Amy Hufnagel’s  “Thank You,” a video of curious text revealed through soap bubbles, and molleindustria’s existential flash game “every day the same dream” proving that digital meaning is legitimate meaning. I’ve never felt so creeped by my own pressing of the direction and space bar keys. Think about it.

By far its largest, Drunken Boat’s poetry folio aids verse with visuals and recordings. Issue 12 features interesting experiments, “expansions . . . conversations.”  James Byrne’s “April 14th 1930”   speaks to Vladimir Mayakovsky, Amaranth Borsuk & Gabriela Juaregui’s “Hypertrope” readings, Philip Rush’s “Morning stole upon the night,” Amy McNamara’s “lampblack” and Sandra Doller’s “They Go To Bed With Gilda,” and Edward Folger’s “The Genome of the Endangered Sestina,” which ingeniously innovates form by placing the text of its allusions a click away, achoring its lineage, content and livelihood with undeniable accessibility. The poem epitomizes my trust in Drunken Boat’s selection of poetic stylings—it is its own key..

The small feature folio on Franz Wright includes collaborative readings labeled “Ill Lit,” and his brilliant poem “The Writing” deftly encapsulates all writers’ incessant dream of good work, work that really works, as he and countless other contributors, editors and readers continue to shape Drunken Boat into a  soberingly impressive reality.

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Death is Not an Option Review

14 Dec Book Reviews

Death Is Not an Option by Suzanne Rivecca

W.W. Norton $23.95 Hardcover $14.95 Paperback

Reviewed by Mark Derks

The word dexterous comes to mind when I think of Suzanne Rivecca’s fiction in Death Is Not an Option, not just because she demonstrates her mastery of point of view by running the gamut of first, second, and third person in these stories, nor because the voice of the pieces ranges from precocious teenager to jaded if insecure professor to well meaning though ultimately destructive elementary school teacher, but because in these stories she creates compelling, self-actualized women who confront their wounding pasts but recognize that in doing so they risk the equilibrium of their present. Her characters totter at the edge of the precipice. They grasp after tree roots while scaling the cliff. In doing so they remind us how tenuous our hold on life and sanity is, how lucky—how miraculous—it is still to be standing.

Take for example her story “Consummation,” which is told as a letter to an unknown doctor. The first line, “Twenty-seven years ago, when you were a surgical intern at Bingham Medical Center in Paw Paw, Michigan, you saved my father’s life,” drops us into an ongoing reality and suggests a trio of stories—the speaker’s and the doctor’s and the father’s—that we’ll be involved in. It’s a daring first line, one that offers no explanations, no setup, not even a consistent point of view. Right away we’re drawn into a tale of life and death. Only later are the epistolary conceit and the nature of that high stakes drama revealed. The stakes are not high for the father or the doctor though, they’re only high for the speaker, who inhabits the story’s present. In precise and evocative prose Rivecca gives us the young woman’s dilemma, the slope she’s struggling up though it might just be easier to let go and slide down and down through the scree:

Why do I want so badly for you to understand what you saved?

And what, in so doing, you gave me: a life sentence of uneasy love for a man I used to fear. I hope I can write a good eulogy. I hope I can forgive myself for every dark wish I ever had. I hope that, secretly, he never really loved me. I hope I die before he does. I hope I never have to see him suffer. And I hope that someday I can say thank you for disappearing and thank you for not responding with a letter saying you remember that day in great detail and pointing out all the things I got wrong. Every person who lives a life eventually starts to make it all up: not just the past but the future too. The only thing you can’t create is the present, while it’s happening—you going about your day, Doctor, not knowing what I’m thinking, and God knows where you are: you could be saving someone, you could be killing someone, you could be breaking the news of a death, you could be filling out charts, or you could be slicing open a person as they sleep, skin flaps pulled back like pages in a book, your silver hummingbird dipping into a dark mass of pomegranate-red tissue and coming back out, that simple, that improbably facile, and depositing in a crescent-shaped silver basin the pulpy lethal bit that doesn’t belong. I’d want it sealed in a jar and given to me: the thing that necessitated such an opening.

Here Rivecca gives us a glimpse of the emotional terrain she typically navigates: the victim with a complicated relationship to the violence done to them. Almost all the women in her stories keep that “lethal bit” close. They own it, as most of us do, and though these stories hint at just how long the climb is and how far the fall, they never measure it. They never tell us in feet or in miles how far these women have to go, because, of course, not even Rivecca knows that. These mountains are as tall and as long as life. Rivecca reminds that death, after all, is akin to the ultimate cop out.

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