“I want to live in Fictionaut,” I exclaimed when I first joined four years ago. I was startled and seduced by the quality of work and the bravery of its producers. The vibrancy and enthusiasm of the community was palpable. The whole thing was like a giant, bewitched slot machine, churning out small prizes and jackpots and lighting up the reward system of my brain with the only risk being the commitment of time required for reading and commenting. Considering the potential detriment to my family and work life, and like a lot of folks writing in this space before me, I participated in only an occasional binge-like fashion. So when I was asked to take a turn at the Editor’s Eye I accepted it as a challenge to develop a habit of daily discovery, something to work in to my busy, modern lifestyle like five servings of fruits and vegetables. And it has been good sustenance, indeed.

Because what I had assumed would be a daunting deluge turned out to be more of a measured trickle, I managed to read everything that came in over two weeks. Here are four of the dozens of writers who made an impression on me as I kept refreshing the “Most Recent” tab.

Gary Perscespe

Ex-Lover” is only 17 words, so I won’t spoil it by quoting it here. If brevity is the soul of wit, Gary’s piece is the soul of a wistful punch in the gut. It’s real, it’s sad and it does what I wish more poems did: get in, get out and leave it to the reader to imprint his or her own experience on the page (which, unless you’ve been cloistered all your life in some sort of religious devotional arrangement – and then perhaps, even so – you will be able to do).

Something a bit more finely textured is his piece, “Christmas.” Here are details of place, and an emotionally distanced observation of two lives intertwined, their possibilities limited by a gulf of time that Gary only dimly illuminates using a past that’s referred to in a speculative future tense. This fluidity is deft stagecraft set off by a holiday tapestry backdrop festooned with blue Christmas lights, diamonds and gold buttons.

FM Le

Reading “Strays and Lies” left me with a kind of literary road rash. It’s visceral, hard and important writing in that it articulates in a singular way something many readers will relate to first hand. Felicia repeats a refrain about elemental purification. There is a hamster wheel of sorts for those who have ever suffered “A man-shaped hole in my atmosphere.” How do we reclaim our power when it’s repeatedly appropriated by the language of the oppressor? By relearning her “ABCs,” and in reclaiming that appropriation, things becomes dizzyingly recursive for the narrator. For all the “doing” in reaction to the things that are done, she becomes desperately mired. It’s like struggling in quicksand.

I will keep all my bones and I will dance until
I am clean again,
until I am numb. The wine doesn’t
make me whole but the vodka
purifies me like fire purifies water.

He does not help me with
anything. He is the proof that the devil
can jump from the card and bind, bind with loose
knots and then convince me that they are tight
and I am stuck like I am waist-deep in mud.

Foster Trecost

How do we measure life? In “Dream(ed) Life,” Foster muses on the conventions surrounding time, and how much numbers of years can’t account for. It’s suggested his protagonist has discovered an alternate to the year as the standard of measure for fulfillment, but convention is sometimes needed to help us navigate in life.

So years were used, and secret numbers were kept secret.

The big measure of his life happens seems to happen nearly at its center staple, were it a book. But on what shelf would we find such a book? There’s a woman who starts it all, there are the many dream vacations, there is the resignation to age and repose and, finally, passing. There’s a life, and there’s the story of the life. There’s the implied question: are we the dreamers, or are we the dream? And the bigger question: does it matter? Trecost approaches this with a gentleness for his main character and a joyful sense of play regarding time, although “this is a sad, sad story. Sorta,” we are told in the Author’s Note.

Gary Powell

If, when you die, your life indeed does flash before our eyes, that great existential film strip could resemble Gary Powell’s “When.” Depending on how you’ve lived your life, of course. Regardless of whether you’ve carried on an extramarital affair, you’d presumably have flashes of your highest highs, your lowest lows, and some of the more mundane moments between. And if not an affair, you could probably pinpoint some other choice or pivotal moment that precipitated the cascade of events that has led to the moment you find yourself in. If not, maybe you need to get out more. Or at least vicariously live through Gary’s characters as the moments of their lives are ruthlessly cataloged and placed under gleaming museum glass. Grief, ecstasy, guilt, libidinous urgency, joy…every color of human experience is in splendid representation here, but Gary’s list-making provides these raw experiences without much in the way of editorializing. It’s like a Biblical litany of “begats” that have left me at turns bruised, jubilant, bemused and devastated. And it is all so, so rich.

_______________________

Sara Fitzpatrick Comito is a poet who lives in Fort Myers, Florida where she and her husband are urban farmers and beekeepers. She does marketing and public relations writing for work, and also gets to do a fair amount of writing about food and restaurants. Sara’s poetry has appeared in places such as Blue Fifth Review, THRUSH Poetry Journal and A-Minor Magazine

 

 

We are pleased to welcome Andrew Roe to this month’s installment of Writers on Craft. Andrew Roe is the author of The Miracle Girl. His fiction has been published in Tin House, One Story, The Sun, Glimmer Train, and other publications. His nonfiction has been published in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Salon.com, and elsewhere. He lives in Oceanside, California, with his wife and three children. 

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work in general or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

Despair? There’s no despair.

OK, just kidding. There’s plenty of despair. And I do find that turning to certain books and authors helps me get over those inevitable rough patches. My “go to” list is always evolving, but recently it’s been Charles D’Ambrosio—specifically, his short story collection, The Dead Fish Museum, and his recently published essay collection, Loitering. His sentences deploy in my brain like no one else’s at the moment, and his work makes me want to be a better writer.

In the past, I’ve also turned to big tomes like Don DeLillo’s Underworld and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. For whatever reason, my writerly despair can be soothed by randomly opening to a page from a large, capacious novel and then reading a short passage. When I was writing The Miracle Girl, Colum McCann’s magnificent Let the Great World Spin was a source of inspiration, as I searched (and struggled) for a way to bring together multiple stories and characters and voices.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

Whether it’s someone else editing your work or self-editing, it’s important to be open to editing and not be too precious about your writing. Of course there’s that old chestnut about killing your darlings (Colette? Faulkner?). It took me a long time to learn that one, and I’m still learning it. Don’t get too attached to your sentences and the sound of your voice. Always believe that your writing can be improved. Be suspicious if you ever start feeling too satisfied with yourself.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

I have a greater sense of the commitment that’s involved if you’re serious about being writer, about it being a lifelong pursuit. For a long time I was haunted by this quote from Don DeLillo. It goes something like this: “I didn’t realize the true commitment that writing required until I was on my sixth novel.” That’s kind of frightening, but I’m also starting to understand what he means. There’s this devotional, monkish quality to writing. And I’ve also come to rely on writing more than I did in the past—for better or worse. Meaning that if I’m not writing fiction for a prolonged period of time, I start to feel very uneasy and uncentered and cranky (just ask my wife). Writing seems to be more tied to my psychological well-being than it used to be. Not sure what to make of that.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

To be empathetic.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer? 

To be empathetic.

Your new book The Miracle Girl is a beautiful story, bound to win the hearts of countless readers.  You speak to your inspirations for writing it at the One Story blog—but more connected to craft nuts and bolts, exactly how long did it take you to write? Did write in chapters or increments? What was your process?

Thank you for the kind words!

It’s all a bit hazy now, and it’s a little hard to fully quantify, but the first sparks date back to the late ’90s. That’s when I had the idea and wrote the opening of the book and began compiling notes and ideas. When I moved from San Francisco to Humboldt County in 2000, I spent a year on it, accumulating more than 250 pages. I had the sense that I was only a quarter of the way done, so I abandoned it to write a shorter, “easier” novel. The Miracle Girl has a lot of characters and story lines, and looking back now, I don’t think I was ready to tackle that kind of a book yet.

I’m guessing I didn’t pick it up again until about 2007, when an agent (my current agent, Michelle Brower) contacted me and encouraged me to finish the book. It was slow going for several years, as I became a parent (my oldest son was born in 2005, and then my twins, a boy and a girl, were born in 2008) and worked a full-time job. At some point I stopped writing short fiction and taking on freelance work and focused only on the novel. We finally submitted it to publishers in January 2013.

So that’s a really long way of saying it took 15 years or so, with plenty of gaps in there when I was writing other stuff or not writing at all.

For the most part, I wrote it straight through, in chronological order. I found it very helpful to set small goals and zero in on sections/scenes first and then chapters. If you’re writing a novel, especially one with a lot of characters and stories, it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed. So it really helped to stay focused on what I was currently writing (that sentence, that paragraph, that section, etc.), which allowed me to gain momentum and also avoid freaking out (most of the time).

How many novels have you written?  Do you feel each one informs your process differently? 

Well, besides The Miracle Girl, I’ve written two other novels: one that was written after I graduated from college and that never (thankfully) was sent out or shared with the world, and another that was written when I stopped working on The Miracle Girl (see my answer above). I had another agent for that book, which was called Retreat and was sent out to a few publishers but never sold.

I’m not sure if each one has informed my process differently. I do know that each book is unique and has its own set of problems to solve. With novels, you’re constantly relearning, finding out new things, discovering humility over and over. And that’s one of the great things about the form: it’s so adaptable, so vast, so challenging, so conducive to aspiration and failure.

Does living in California affect your work—which is to say, is there anything about the West Coast that draws you to use coastal terrain when you write?  I note that The Miracle Girl is set in Los Angeles.

I’ve lived in California all my life—both Northern (San Francisco, Arcata) and Southern (Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego) California. The Miracle Girl is set in the fictional El Portal, which is an amalgam of the Southeastern Los Angeles suburbs where I grew up (Whittier and La Mirada).

So yes, California definitely affects my work. It’s where my stories are usually set. And one of the things I want to do is show a California (particularly Southern California) that typically doesn’t get depicted in books, film, and TV. It’s not all La-La Land and Jeff Spicolis and anatomical enhancements. There’s a complexity and diversity to California, and one of my hopes as a writer is to do justice to the reality of the place and its people, and perhaps convince readers to see beyond the stereotypical portrayals.

What’s in the pipeline for your readers next? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

I’m currently working on another novel. Since I tend to be wary/uncomfortable when it comes to talking about works in progress, I’ll just say this: It begins with a woman waking up in San Francisco Bay and not knowing how she got there or what has happened the past three weeks. Also, I have a new short story coming out later this year in Glimmer Train. 

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more: www.heatherfowler.com.

I want to thank every writer who contributes to Fictionaut’s story page. I commend you for your bravery. I know each of us posts work with the hope that it will be read and appreciated. Some writers submit a piece, and in what seems like minutes, it shoots to the recommended list like a comet trailing stars. For those lucky writers, it is the validation that, yes, the time they spent editing their poems, or tightening an ending was worth the effort.

For reasons I don’t always understand, a piece with merit may garner many readers, yet few or no stars. Sometimes a story plummets to the bottom of the page with only a handful of glances. For those under-starred and under-read writers, who may have received little or no feedback, it’s not a great feeling.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve read everything posted on the story page. Every piece had a bit of fresh language, a quirky plot twist, or something worth a reader’s attention. The four writers I’ve chosen for “Editor’s Eye” — Con Chapman, John Olson, Glynnis Eldridge and Darryl Price –brought me into their worlds and held me there with style and heart.

Con Chapman, “One Hurt in Collision at Intersection of Art and Commerce”

For me, humor works best when there’s a twinge of pain beneath its surface: some need unmet, an insecurity confirmed. There’s enough pain in Con Chapman’s “One Hurt in Collision at Intersection of Art and Commerce,” to make its wincing, can’t-help-but-laugh ending satisfying.

Con, who illustrates his story with photographs, has a great eye for the telling detail: The logo of his protagonist’s art gallery, in an affluent suburb, is written “bEth uPshaw sTudios”. Chapman let’s us know early on that she suspects her artwork is a fraud, by allowing us to eavesdrop on a bit of nasty business with her boyfriend, the onerous Kurt Mergen. Over a disagreement about wine not meeting his exacting standards, Mergen tells Upshaw she produces “…the kind of art that wouldn’t look out of place on the wall of a bank lobby.”

So we’re hopeful that when she sells a piece of her work to a couple for a hefty $5,000, telling herself, “I am an artist, dammit!”… “And I deserve to be paid what I’m worth!” she’ll be validated with an encouraging comment from the buyers. Con is too good a writer to give us an easy ending.

John Olson, “The World Explained”

John Olson begins each line in “The World Explained,” with “This is why”. He then subverts expectations by explaining his assertions in unexpected, sometimes unfathomable ways. There’s so much delight here. Each declaration is worth pondering, but below are a few of the reasons why “The World Explained” is on my list:

“This is why the caged bird sings: the blind games of your hands.”

“This is why poets never seem to make much money at their craft: vulgarly   ornamental finery.”

“This is why UFOs never land and introduce themselves the way a normal     creature of intelligence would be inclined to do after traveling billions of light      years through space: insufficient cosmetic for the cheeks.”

And this concluding bit of brilliance:

“This is why nothing can ever be fully explained by science: thongs.”

Glynnis Eldridge, “Dear Andreas”

Maybe it’s the blocky look of the letter on the page, or its disturbing subject that kept readers from bestowing stars, but Glynnis Eldridge’s “Dear Andreas,” deserves more attention. In this epistolary piece, Andreas, the narrator’s childhood friend, drowned himself. The narrator travels back and forth in time, happy to evoke memories of shared bus rides, and then, as if plunging deep into an ocean’s center, touching on painful truths:

“Andreas I think about your voice and I can’t think about how it          sounds underwater.”

References to ferries, swimming pools, and floating, touch on the way water exhilarates or sooths. But water has a darker pull, too. At the end, the metaphor Glynnis employs conveys not just Andreas’ death, but the way her character contemplates her own:

“Andreas, what happened? Sometimes my friends talk about going away like             you, and their talk makes me think about it too, but I think about the black           hole that formed when you vanished, and it’s been growing and pulling         everything into itself. I try to look at it objectively. It only comes into focus            when I see it peripherally.”

Darryl Price, “Flower Power”

Darryl Price begins his poem with an epigraph from William Carlos Williams: “Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels.”

In his poem “Flower Power,” Darryl sees the sky, the moon and right into the heart of the “you” he speaks to with such adoration. There’s power in love, and power in words, especially when they’re conveyed with such freshness:

“…than not words, but more like what you

might expect me to grunt or groan up

real close–stuck on or against almost–to

a huge sky full of clearly ripened opening

 

stars. I’ve been there before you see, so

the whole thing is neatly tattooed in my

invisible head at all times, like a benevolent

trauma. It has already become me. What that…”

The poem goes on revealing more of what it means to be a poet, to struggle to find words expressive enough, rich enough to continue to open and bloom as a flower would.

I hope you enjoy these pieces as much as I do. Please give them a read, and if they resonate for you, tell the writer. We’re all hungry for feedback. And stars. No one has ever said no to a star.

___________________

Tina Barry writes fashion, food and relationships articles for newspapers and magazines. Her poems and short stories have appeared in various anthologies and literary magazines, including Drunken Boat, Lost in Thought, Inch Magazine, The Camroc Press Review, Elimae, and Exposure, an anthology of microfiction from Cinnamon Press (2010). She completed her MFA in creative writing at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY, in 2014.

We are pleased to welcome Avital Gad-Cykman to Fictionaut’s Writers on Craft.  Avital Gad-Cykman was born and raised in Israel, lives in Brazil and writes in English. Her book Life In, Life Out, published by Matter Press, is a flash collection that includes both new micro-fictions and others published in well-known magazines and anthologies such as Prism International, W.W. Norton Flash Fiction International, Salon, and The Los Angeles Review. She is the winner of Margaret Atwood Studies Magazine Prize and first placed in The Hawthorne Citation Contest. She is a four-time Pushcart prize nominee and a finalist in Iowa Fiction award for story collections. Her work has been featured in The Literary Review, Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, CALYX Journal, Stand Magazine and elsewhere. It has also been anthologized in The Best of The First Five Years of Gigantic, Sex for America, Politically Inspired Fiction, Stumbling and Raging, Politically Inspired Fiction Anthology, You Have Time for This, and The Flash among others. 

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

First, thank you for inviting me to this interesting series. I’ve enjoyed your work for years, and am honored to be here.

In regard to the question, I don’t return to the same books for stimulation. The common ground of the books I seek is their literary quality—they are so wonderful they inspire and challenge me, even when they are not linked in any way to my work. Sometimes, I turn to poetry because its transcendence can connect me to my emotions in a way that keeps things raw. I usually turn to dead poets, but am open to all.

As for prose, in the past months I’ve read Elena Ferrante’s six books, and all this time I haven’t been stuck once. Her books flow smoothly while they go deep into the characters’ minds and relationships, and this constant insight into inner lives helps me feel and develop my own stories.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

I’d recommend using several levels of editing, but this goes beyond “one piece of advice”… I’ll focus, then, on not letting go of a story too soon, and paying special attention to the ending—it’s tempting to think that a story is done when it is so in a general manner, but the ending should be at least as good as everything that precedes it. I find that it’s interesting to tie loose ends, either completing a circle to the beginning or marking a process of change.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

From the time I started writing fiction regularly, I have felt certain urgency to publish my work, since it’s been my most profound way of communicating with the world. In this sense, things remained the same. Over time, however, I learned that neither writing nor publishing comes easy, so I take more time for both these days. My experience taught me that a writer of literary fiction needs to be stubborn, flexible, sensitive and thick-skinned, as well as disciplined and passionate, all of which requires some acrobatics.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

It’s hard to determine a purpose when literature probably came into existence simply because some people wanted to tell stories and others wanted to read or hear them. For this reason, the answer depends on the purpose of each human being, who has anything to do with literature. Readers expect a fulfilment of emotional, mental and/or intellectual needs, and their expectations are as varied as they are. A writer may say, like I did, that writing literature is a way to communicate with the world, while Roland Barthes, among others, has declared the death of the author, establishing a notion of reading without any regard to the writer’s intention.  Either way, even if there isn’t an inherent purpose, I believe in the power of literature to question existing paradigms, transport to different worlds, comfort, entertain, touch people’s lives, and bridge between the familiar and the foreign.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

I wish I could heal the world with a few good words or offer enough comfort, but when you don’t believe in a pre-existing reason for life, you don’t have a guiding formula, and you keep struggling to find a footing. However, there’s beauty in this crazy life, and it does good to find it, grab it and remember the sensation. I find that there’s magnitude in moments of elation as well as in a satisfying routine, in all sorts of love (of course) and in anything that holds the freshness of discovery.  In any case, when in doubt, humor can definitely come first.

In many stories in your new book, your work feels very informed by the jurisdictions of unspoken geographies and a sense of the political surreal.  I love the opening to the story “Peace Signs,” for example, which starts, “We raise wolf-like dogs and tiger-like cats and children who are not like us. We put peace signs around our yards, but nobody believes them.”   How does national/international politics inform your fiction? 

Thanks for this insight. Growing up in Israel, the limits between the personal and the public are blurred, since your life is deeply affected by existential questions. It goes from facing the fact someone close is in the army, to living through periods of high tension and war, and to considering your own priorities in the face of such a turbulent life.  The range of related emotions tends to appear in my writing in all sorts of ways, even when war is not the backdrop.  I hope to make readers stop and consider the complexity of such situations and the ways people find to survive emotionally and physically.

You have published short work in so many excellent venues.  How has the experience of putting out your debut collection been and how did you choose which stories would be included?

Having my first book published has been thrilling.  Clearly, when Matter Press accepted it for publication, I was very excited. Later, I learned a lot from the process of editing and arranging the stories in a way that suggests a trip through diverse territories. Basically, I tried choosing flashes that worked well together, illuminating a variety of moments and situations. On top, choosing the book cover required a better understanding of my own book. I was extremely happy that Vered Navon, an excellent designer and photographer, agreed to work with us. Finally, I have enjoyed many interesting, positive comments and reviews for which I am deeply grateful. I recommend having a debut book, and then the next one and the next…

What’s in the pipeline for your readers next? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

I’m working on the last part of a novel, and I feel quite good about it: I trust it’s meaningful work and love entering under the narrator’s skin.  She’s a complex, sometimes entertaining, sometimes rather scary woman in her forties. She was adopted in her childhood and has always considered adopting, but life took other directions, until a collapse of a part of her “foundation” sends her on a journey back to her previous plan. In a general manner, the book deals with her relationships and her choices, giving a special attention to questions of boundaries and adoption. I can’t write too long without being playful, so there’s that too. I am rather consumed by the story and hope to pass on this feeling.

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more: www.heatherfowler.com.

This digging for stories and poems that shine quietly on Fictionaut has been a pleasure. I read over two weeks and, as asked, chose pieces that were not on the Recommended list. I’m sorry I couldn’t read everything on the site, really. Maybe someday I will. Someone who probably did read your work and supported you with his comments is Matthew Paust, who gave his attention to every damn story I opened. He is a remarkably generous man who behaves exactly like someone who gets the huge importance of feedback to a writer, even if it’s just a “Kilroy was here” three-word comment. (Google explains this phrase if you are too young to remember it. It was still around when I was very, very small. Tiny.) Thank you, Matt. And thanks to all the readers who take the time to let the author know that you’ve read their work. Don’t be shy, writers. As they say way too often in the media, join the conversation.

I don’t think I’m much good at critical analysis of writing. My taste in literature runs the gamut from Henry James to Lydia Davis, Wallace Stevens to C.D. Wright. Good writing is nourishment for me and I am astonished by how well the writers on Fictionaut fill me up every time I come by here to read. Just like you, I “select,” based on my own mysterious process. So I will not try to analyze these authors’ works, but simply share my responses to the few pieces I could choose for the purposes of Editor’s Eye, and in some cases I’ll borrow from classical music to help me out.

Emoji Problems” by S. Asher Sand is, I believe, a failed relationship saga.  I’m not absolutely sure about that, but I don’t care. I’ve read his compact and witty love story several times and with each reading I become more adept at learning the narrator’s mysterious (for me) language.  This is life at full-tilt told in emoji code, and the reader gets to crack it. Here’s a sample, but the exchange I thought the funniest I will leave for you to read when you have the minute it takes to read the flash. It may take you longer to understand it, but you’ll enjoy the time.

“I gave her a full moon with face looking to the side.

She gave me a snail, a sunset over buildings, a bikini.

I gave her a dress, a glass of wine, a love hotel.

She gave me kids. Here they were, two loudly crying faces. She gave me that.”

“Mine” by Gary Moshimer gives us a boatload of emotional action in a little over 700 words.  Gary’s written this short fiction with enough depth to leave me feeling satisfied and uplifted.  A relationship develops in a few paragraphs without fuss and with certainty.  This flash has gravitas. I found it difficult to select a sample from this work because the words so belong together. They move us expertly from one heart-shift to another. Read this bit:

“She opened my door with a nail. She pawed my crystals with her big red hands. She squeezed my arm and pulled me outside to her big red convertible. She drove too fast and smoked.”

You know how the narrator feels about her don’t you? And in no time, you’ll know much, much more.

“Suburban Snomance” by Carl Santoro is flash, is poetry, is bright allegro. I’ll just go ahead and gush. Carl takes a moment and shares it with lyricism, humor, and a resounding word-sound track. He showed me what is possible when an artist “sees” a fleeting winter spectacle and has the chops to translate it for us so that we share his delight. There are only 189 words, but they set the scene, soar with it, and let it gently subside. Nice. A snippet from the quiet enough opening:

“From my large kitchen window, as I slowly raised the blinds, I watched as at the foot of my driveway, somewhere behind the high snowy mounds, the pink dusk sky suddenly became filled with an arched fountain of snow-sprays…”

From that point on things get riotous.

“Three Sundays at the Grove” by Dallas Woodburn is a leisurely adagio, longer than most of the pieces I tend to read on Fictionaut. Every time I am drawn toward a longer work on this site, I am rewarded for my attention because the writers are so good. There are more characters in this story than in the others I mention here and more time elapses. Dallas focuses on two people, one who founders and one who triumphs in a surprising and touching final scene. “The Grove” is an outdoor shopping mall in West Hollywood, which is a rich setting for sounds, tastes, smells, and as a background for a grand range of emotional tones. As in musical adagios there are thematic resolutions, there is one in this lovely story, too.

Here is a favorite paragraph:

“That was twenty-one years ago, and the Hindi phase was long gone—as was her father. Still, Deepti was left with two constant reminders: her vegetarianism and her name, Charusheela Deepti, roughly translated to “beautiful jewel full of light.” These two things, combined with her honey-freckled skin, almond eyes, and unruly wiry curls, made Deepti feel a part of many groups—part Asian, part black, part Hindi—and yet not really a part of any group. She was a one-woman species. Unclassifiable.”

“Checkboxer” by Mark Zarvox: humor? horror? science fiction? satire? Obviously, I have trouble describing this flash, but oh, god, I hope it’s not prediction. It’s a lightening flash of 600 or so words that will strike postmodern, atonal chords (to beat the music thing to death) with you, I betcha. Just read it. Feel free to drop me a message if you think I’m nuts, but I don’t think you will. I’ll stand by my recommendation. Here’s a morsel:

“Dennis was surprised by the knock that came to his door the next day. His desire was to not answer but there was a fear that coiled and roiled in his belly and made him go do it. It was the police, as he feared… or maybe he had always been looking forward to this moment in a way.”

“Gray Tail” by Lucinda Kempe is a spare, surprising, funny, sad poem in five stanzas. There are only 151 words, but Lucinda only needs that many to tell her story, share honest images that will endure for me. I once took a workshop with a fairly famous poet/teacher who told me that I should leave my dog out of a poem the group was critiquing. Why the hell would I do that? I thought, but didn’t have the nerve to say. Maybe now I’d speak my mind. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best things about humans (okay, not all of them) is that their hearts have as much room as they do for animals. Lucinda’s poem did the job for me. My heart sang.

“The tip flicks, shiver of anticipation

As dinner arrives on the porch. “

Thank you for reading. I appreciate it. Let me know what you thought. xxoononnie

___________

Nonnie Augustine was a professional dancer with a B.F.A. from The Juilliard School, co-founder of The Albuquerque Dance Theatre, and an instructor at the University of New Mexico. She has been published online and in print and was the poetry editor of The Linnet’s Wings from 2007 until 2014. He poetry collection, One Day Tells its Tale to Another, was named by Kirkus Review to “Best Books of 2013” and in 2014 she won the 16th Glass Woman Prize. Her website and blog are at www.nonnieaugustine.com and at www.augustinesconfessions.blogspot.com respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now, here we are, bogged down in the February Flats where light is a precious commodity, and our days are blighted by sleet and wind. There’s a carwash in my head: I look straight ahead, but the view is obscured by the slap of water and greyish mists. Reading fiction is my antidote to all things dreary at this time of year. So, going into the Editor’s Eye this week, I was mining for poems and stories that would shed light, lift me out of the Flats, make me laugh (whether at comedy or whimsy or just delight at a fresh point of view). Five outstanding writers warmed me, cleared a path forward and illuminated the winter gloom: Darryl Price, Katrina Trepsa, Lorna Garano, Peter Churches and Ed Higgins, I thank you.

Darryl Price presented us with a group of eleven poems in “Mailings.”

Darryl has such a strong command of language that I hear kettle drums when I read him; he never tiptoes around words. He stomps and marches them toward the front lines where they do glorious battle against equivocation. He is wrong when he writes “I’m mucked. No one is going to discover my poems in a locked away desk drawer somewhere.” That will never happen. This writing is too good.
I have no favorite poem among the eleven, but there are favorite moments.

Your face in my hands

is a lot more fulfilling. How many more ways can I break

this to you? I don’t care if they read my poems in school. I care

that my poems talk about the soft skies of your eyes over

and over again. It’s never enough/

from “I Was Supposed to Write This.”  Or,

whenever
someone says that they like my stuff I
immediately feel like a failure. Like is for

ice cream I’m thinking. Like is for sex and

walks in the park. Where’s the love? It’s the downfall
of my house of poems
/ from “Safety First.”

One last excerpt (and yes, I love your “stuff,” Darryl) from “It’s a Beautiful Banana Moon:”

…. the latest pushy words still want to give themselves over 

to you tonight like ants on the march. I

definitely tried to stop them. …. And so,

 nothing quite as new as a golden

nugget cracked on a struck rock, for you

or for me, or full of potential

as a gestating pearl. It’s just a

regular miracle fruit in a

deep blue basket of folded, wading 

stars.


When I read “a deep blue basket of folded, wading stars,” you banished winter and warmed my hands and feet. Your poetry was a hearth.

********

Lorna Garano brought us a fable about health and fear with “The Sick.”

It’s by far the longest piece I’ve read on Fictionaut, full of rich characters and careful plotting. Following the death of Winsome Rehaga, in 2087, a household juggles the superstitions and semi-science that so often overtakes people in the time of a plague. The world is divided into Well zones and Sick zones (the word Sick is always capitalized the way a religion is capitalized or a famous battle). Garano’s characters include her narrator, Salda, who is a Domestic; Sorayda who is a snitch, and others who worry they might become one of the Unemployables. She perfectly balances the story’s science fiction content and its naturalistic emotional content. Food is made in labs, and things sometimes go wrong.

This time it was breadfruit. A few months ago it was plums and the year before Brazil nuts, tangerines, and parsnips. To write a contemporary history of our country would be to write a history of food fights. In 2087 a full-blown riot erupted over cantaloupe, and between the police shootings and the internal killings, more than a hundred people died. Eighty-seven was a year of riots and tumult on all sides. It was also when a group of protestors broke into HealthLink demanding airtime. “Malcontents,” Grandmother called them. “They shouted their nonsense conspiracy about the Well keeping themselves artificially healthy,” she told Mother.   

This is my first encounter with Garano’s work, but I will be looking for her byline from now on.

 

Peter Cherches’ “Working with Frank,” is a quirky story about a young man who has to help his boss on the eve of Thanksgiving.

Together, they have to manhandle poultry out of an extra cold refrigerator. Set in the notorious Perdue chicken plant (notorious, in real life, for harsh working conditions and undocumented workers in several southern states), the story is a small gem. The narrator, a proofreader of recipe labels and a cog in the huge agribusiness machine, meets the actual Frank Perdue and finds him shorter and fatter than he appears in his TV ads. The piece has a creative nonfiction feel to it.

“Frank,” I said, “I never knew we sold turkeys.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know, young man,” he said. “For one thing, these aren’t turkeys.”
“What are they?”
“These are my new big-breasted super-vixen oven stuffer roasters. Just perfect for those big family get-togethers, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Passover.”
“I’ve never seen such big chickens,” I said. “How do you do it?”
“It’s done with a combination of genetic engineering and nuclear radiation,” he said. “And the results are just scrumptious.”

For me, the story ends too soon. I want to see the two men sitting on the loading dock, passing a bottle of wine back and forth, and I want to know the secret formula for making radioactive chickens. (But then, I want Boo Radley to sit on the porch with Atticus and start speaking, so what do I know?)

Here’s a little slice from Ed Higgins’ “Writer’s Cough.

I. . .Oops . . . . . . wait a sec!. . . I’m stopped, astounded, stunned between coughing my left lung clear over my keyboard and watching it flopping on the back of my desk just now. . . Oh shit! my spat-up, spasm-seized lung just slid behind my printer and down the crack between the wall and desk. . .

Caught between grimacing and laughing big honking guffaws, I left the February Flats far behind for a delicious few minutes. This is the kind of writing to kick flu season in the butt. Inspired, Higgins says, by chewing “vile tasting zinc gum” one time when he was sick, the gum make a comeback hereTastes like a half-rusted galvanized rain gutter.
As he tries to retrieve his lung from under his desk, it finally comes back to him with dust, paper clips and post-it notes stuck to it and must be washed off before he can swallow it back into his body.

And would your believe, one of the lost sticky notes from under my desk that I flicked off my dust-bunnied lung is just the inspiration I need to finish up this frigging story I’ve been stumbling around in. “Snot. Do something with snot,” the still bright-yellow sticky note says.

Kudos to Higgins: This may be the first recorded use of “dust bunny” as a compound adjective!

Jumpers,” by Katrina Trepsa, is a gripping story about two women who ride on the roofs of trains to travel across Mexico, as so many migrants do for survival.

They risk their lives with each attempt, their tools consisting of cardboard and string. They need to place the cardboard between their bodies and the hot metal of the train roofs; they use the string to tie themselves down so that they don’t slide off.

At dawn we walked across the lawless and nameless countryside, avoiding checkpoints, and speaking little. The thick overgrowth gave way to loosely paved roads scattered with plastic bags that clung to the gates of cattle ranches. We reached the tracks at midday.

Both narrator and her companion are nameless, but Trepsa makes them utterly real – maybe all the more so for being nameless like Woody Guthrie’s “deportees.”
The companion is utterly practical and instructs the narrator, “Your body is a credit card,” she said. “Cuerpomático. Use it to buy yourself a little safety.”

Trepsa says she was inspired by an article in the Guardian about Central American migrants traveling to the U.S. on freight trains through Mexico, and she recommends reading Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martinez on this topic.
With her short story, she has created a snapshot of a friendship born out of necessity, and I have no doubt there are thousands of such friendships like this one being forged right now, as we read.

 

 

 

 

One of my New Year resolutions this year is to be a better Fictionaut member. What that actually means, I’m not really sure, but given the opportunity to be a guest editor for The Editor’s Eye, I jumped on the chance to give something back to the community that has welcomed and inspired me the past four years.  I admit to being a somewhat sporadic, binge connoisseur here. I often drop in when I can, reading almost obsessively for a few hours or days, until the amount of awe-inspiring writing gets too great, and I shuffle back to my own writing, feeling a little lack-luster and over-stuffed. I recently read (probably here) how upon reading The New Yorker, a writer threw the magazine against the wall because the writing was just so impossibly good. Well, that could be Fictionaut too. I’m just glad my computer’s a bit too heavy and still too wired for me to throw. The writing here never ceases to amaze and entertain me. No matter how many times one posts or publishes, putting your work out there can feel like dropping your soul in a void. It’s impossible to predict which pieces will soar with comments and favorites, and which ones will slip by seemingly unnoticed. But every day, every week, there you all are posting and writing, reading and commenting, and I thank you all for making this community real. These past weeks, I gluttoned myself on Fictionaut and read everything posted. I cheered as some pieces began that soar, and secretly cheered more as a few I really liked slipped by, quieter but definitely not unnoticed. Here are the ones that continued to rattle, sing, and cajole me back again.

1. Untitled, Natasha Whyte

Natasha Whyte’s Untitled poem, which opens, “I am a sunflower,” first reminded me of a series of yoga poses, The Sun Salutation. With simple, bold imagery and the POV of a sunflower, it’s as evocative as a zen meditation. In the next lines: “I turn my yellow/ and black face,/ bruised, to the sun,” the poem reveals a deeper tension which eats away at the poem’s opening warmth, and moves the narrator to a much darker awakening at the end. If you passed this one up expecting sentimental poesy, or were fooled by its warmth and charm, I urge you to take another, closer look

2. City of Masks, Marc Lowe

Of all the pieces I read these past weeks, Marc Lowe’s City Of Masks haunted me the most. The story describes a city plagued by some undefined, ominous air contamination. What’s most frightening about this piece is what happens behind the masks as we hear the narrator describe the masked people, “Watching them is like watching zombies on a movie screen, like watching comatose patients try to move around.”  Indeed, it feels like zombies. It feels cinematic. Dark and edgy, with an uncomfortable dose of fear and pathos, this may not be a read for the faint of heart, but very worth the while for those courageous enough to withstand a psychological jolt out of their comfortable, recliner chair.

3. George Square, Samuel Derrick Rosen

Who can resist the first line; “Buchanan Street; god strums a cheap guitar”? Samuel Derrick Rosen’s poem, George Square, paints a wonderfully complex, if abstract, picture of a civic center that could be George Square on Buchanan Street in Glasgow, Scotland, but could very well be many streets in many civic squares. The poem’s worth the read for its voyeurism alone. (A particular favorite of mine was the old woman on a bench.) Layered in riddled details, this scrappy, lyrical poem seems to take on its predecessor, the epic poem. Stealing its fiercest strength from the rumbles of the cenotaph of artificial forms, Rosen gathers the elements to create something new and less defined. The poem nods to progress and art as something not so much achieved, but something continual, universal, and unchanging:

Far past these art deco fantasies, these irresistible acidities,

these shadow-Juliets, these clown-faced Romeos,

pieces of a truth must oscillate.

The poem ends with a powerful couplet, you’ll have to see. It’s a big poem, a hard poem, but a great one that earned my fave.

4. Sacred Throne, Book 1, Chapter 15, Dan Kelly

I’m just as guilty as the next of often avoiding or skimming the longer pieces here. Having not read any of the previous chapters, and being a little baffled by the title (which the author discloses is not the actual title to his work-in-progress), it took me a bit to straighten out the characters Cal, Charles and Freddy. But the Cal/Charles confusion was short lived, as one of Kelly’s strengths is his ability to create convincing characters and shine a light on the complexities and fragilities of their relationships and personalities. Full of stolen snack food bootie, pornographic magazines, and other adolescent shenanigans, Dan Kelly brings these characters, otherwise invisible or suspiciously spied, to life on the page. My curiosity was sufficiently stoked to the end, earning it a fave and ensuring I’ll be coming back for more.

5. Quasimodo Casanova, strannikov

This delightfully funny tale is just what the title promises: an absurdly humorous retelling of an old familiar tale. It’s a fast read and without giving anything away, I don’t want to give anything the end made me laugh out loud. The greatest thing about Fictionaut is finding the little jewels you may otherwise not have found or read, and this for me, was one of those gems. Check it out for the lust, pride, vanity, for the sheer delicious fun if it!

6. The Zipless F—, Karen Karlitz

Having never read Erica Jong’s The Fear of Flying, which inspired this piece, I admit being a little baffled by this one at first. I didn’t know what a zipless f*ck was (can we write that here?), and surmised that it just meant casual sex, sex with no strings attached. In a day where women may have just as many sexual partners as a man, and marital affairs are probably as common for wives as for husbands, I didn’t know what to make of this rather old fashioned tale. But still, it takes some ovaries to write about feminism or sexuality today. We’re still not comfortable with discussing it, despite attempts to legislate it. It was that 1970s turquoise shag rug and the teenage-like giggles of married women meeting like a secret think tank to discuss the zipless f*ck, that made me look up the term and reread the story again. In Jong’s book, the term signified the purest kind of sex, between strangers, offering freedom from the give and take of unfulfilled relationships. Karlitz puts this revolutionary act to the test on the page, and the results are provocative and murky. The telling is in the details, like the vividly rich description of the dinner scene as contrasted to the white space and scarce dialogue of the bedroom scene where the protagonist, Lisa, confronts her husband about his suspected affair, and in the final image of the carpet store being available for lease. Looking back, I found the story didn’t aimlessly revel in an act of infidelity or revolution, but instead gnawed away at the edges of prepackaged ideals, expectations, and certain social roles, be they old or new. With so much to like on Fictionaut, I don’t often go back for seconds; but in this case, I’m glad I did.

Emily Bertholf received her BA in English from the University of Iowa. Her poems and flash fiction can be found in publications such as Lost In Thought, Flash Frontier, and vox poetica, but live mostly in dark caverns of old file drawers and dusty notebooks. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband, three children, and their aging pug.

 

We are pleased to welcome Ravi Mangla to Fictionaut’s Writers on Craft.  Ravi Mangla is the author of the novel Understudies (Outpost19). His stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, The Collagist, American Short Fiction, Barrelhouse, and Corium Magazine. He lives in Rochester, NY and keeps a blog at ravimangla.com.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

When the sentences aren’t coming out quite right, there are a handful of texts I use as tuning forks: Ray by Barry Hannah, Florida by Christine Schutt, End Zone by Don DeLillo, Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Mary Ruefle. I’d like to start a campaign to get her elected U.S. Poet Laureate. Or, better yet, president.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

Let the work breathe. Putting aside a piece of writing for a day, a week, a month, allows you to see it in a whole new light. Young writers are constantly in a hurry. Wait, let me try that again: Most writers are in a hurry. It helps to slow down, take a deep breath, step away from the work for a while. Time isn’t always such a bad guy.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

Recently I’ve started to think of writing as a collective endeavor as opposed to an individual one. For a while I was dealing with this crisis of faith, wondering if the work I did was selfish, and whether I had anything to truly contribute to the literary arts. I probably quit writing half a dozen times (as close—and infinitely patient—friends can attest). Then I asked myself two questions that helped to clarify the situation: Do you believe the writing you create has value? And my natural response was no. The follow-up question: Do you believe that literature as a whole has value? That I answered with a resounding yes. Literature can initiate social and political change, foster deeper feelings of compassion, and open the mind to new channels of thought and inquiry. Once I stopped thinking of myself as an individual entity, fighting for recognition in an overcrowded field, and imagined myself instead as part of a larger constellation of writers, all aiming to put beautiful things into the world, I was able to relax and get back to work.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

To make us more empathetic creatures, by providing us with a mousehole into different lives.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

There’s this part in The Night of the Hunter when Lillian Gish’s character (after witnessing an owl swoop down and snatch a rabbit) remarks, “It’s a hard world for little things.” So I’ll use that as my advice: Show compassion toward the small and helpless among us.

Also, invest in quality bed linens. You can’t put a price on comfort.

Your short novel Understudies  has a style that’s quite wonderful in its biting humor, an insouciant tone.  What made you decide to partition the novel into tiny chapters like you did? 

The fragmented structure allows for a more interpretive reading of the text. Certain sequences will resonate differently for each reader. The interstices between sections offer a brief (very brief) moment of reflection before beginning on the next one. Plus, I can play with tones, switching between comic moments and more solemn ones, without startling the reader. 

Do you feel like social commentary is the obligation of the modern writer?   

No. I think the beauty of contemporary literature is the plurality of forms. The only obligation of a writer is to do right by their characters.

What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

God, I wish I had some large, important tome in the works, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. Mostly I’ve been tinkering with little pieces—short stories, essays, tweets, missed connections, and so on. 

Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more: www.heatherfowler.com .

 

What a nightmare this has been. A luxurious nightmare, to be sure, but one of impossible satisfaction. To be sweet of tooth and set free in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with strict orders to select only one treat, why, it would induce madness or crime, or both. As for this place, literarily dripping with delicious, exquisitely burgeoning uncompensated talent, it could easily leave the restricted taster strangling in a duel between tortured aesthetic appetites and solemn duty.

I am sworn to highlight a mere handful of new diamonds after two weeks of staring at the glistening gem case. Had I Goliath’s hand this task should be none the easier. As such, my own scant hand is forced to rely on the eeny meeny miny moe selection method, which, as it may satisfy the law of the land, leaves a giant hole in my heart—not to mention in a mind already riddled with the wounds of too much living with too little armor (altho I think I did wear a helmet in high school playing that game, you know, the one with the turd-shaped ball?).

Anyway, I am also hamstrung by a noticeably deficient articulation in the critical arts. As previously confessed of himself by Chris Okum, when he was in the barrel, I am all thumbs in the language of why something works for me. Not so much why something may not, although I am rarely up to taking the time or, more likely, risking the hurt to publicly point out shortcomings as I see them or even privately to the responsible party. Cowardly, I suppose, but…as I said, anyway.

Okum, by the way. I welcome him back with glad thunder despite my resentment of having prepared to laud one James Parker Jr. as the new Voice With Buster Keaton’s Face. As Parker’s departure coincided neatly with Okum’s return from somewhere, I, and I’m sure many other Fictionauts, let out huge volumes of bated breath in relief at the vanished prospect of a titanic deadpan battle for the Buster Keaton title. And now, my ado duly exhausted, let’s give it up for the winners!

Gary Moshimer lured me off the street with his first paragraph in the story, Summer-1966, and sold me a ticket to his show with the second. With these five short sentences, using words none of which I had to Google, he foreshadowed a story I knew would pluck at my heartstrings and titillate the adolescent residing within me—and it did. I even touched my fingers to my lips afterward. I daresay you will, too.

Loren A. Moreno, a relative newcomer here, I believe (it’s sometimes hard to tell, of course, with the constant dynamics of name shifting and comings and goings and all of that) boldly posted a looong story. Now we all know the best way to win comments and garner faves here is to post short stuff—good stuff, of course, but short). So Loren wins his first * from me for daring to swim upstream with his 1,539-word “rough draft” story, Consequences of Waiting. Even I, who’ve alienated Fictionauts for years violating this custom, almost walked on by. But being in the barrel this term I knew I had to stop and check this thing out. Then I saw that our two most recent returning exemplars of excellence (besides Okum, who rarely appears in comment boxes—with which I sympathize whilst officially withholding applause) already had visited Loren’s piece and left laudatory remarks. I’m speaking of Kathy and Jane, obviously. So, with a huge sigh, I plunged in and…and found a true gem—and not as rough, either, as Loren modestly says he fears it is in his author’s note. As I noted vernacularly in my comment, the kid has chops. Check him out. You will be tested.

Come we now to Katrina Trepsa, whose very name I find so intriguing I would look at anything she posted whether I was in the barrel or not. And she does good titles. This one, Washed Up, prompts so many connotations my fingers could go crazy on the keyboard trying to list even half of them. And how’s this for an opening sentence: “At noon on a weekday in the off season, when the trickle of tourists who wandered into the Mermaid Curio Shoppe had died out completely, she walked in with wet hair, leaving tiny puddles on the floorboards.” Don’t you want to know who she is? Huh? Don’t you think you’d like to sit on a bench overlooking the beach and sip piña coladas with her? If she’s paying? Read the piece. It’s short, has great dialogue, an easy swinging pace…hell, you can dance to it. If I didn’t give it five faves I should have.

Peter Cherches. I didn’t pick him. He just popped up, again. And why not? He’s terrific!

Strikhedonia! (That’s the title, not the poet, whose name is Samuel Derrick Rosen) But what a title, huh. Maybe it’s not so cool to regular poetry readers, of which I’m not, but to me it…it sent me straight to Google. Which is where you will have to go if you want to know what it means. My comment in response to Strikhedonia!, the poem, was “A most eloquent “bah humbug”. And I meant it.

Trying to get a fix on something Tara Isabel Zambrano posts is like fighting with a kitten over a ball of mercury. Now you see it, now you don’t. Her writing never fails to awe and stun with its insights and exotic perspectives. I get the impression she takes forever to pick just the right word, and then, after another forever, switches it for something even better. But being in the barrel and trying to find an example of one of these perfect jewels is…well, the kitten analogy again. She takes them down and stashes them somewhere out of reach (I hope at least she can still reach them) and then puts up something new. Despite her sleight of hand with her work, she’s prolific. To give you an example of her excellence, I was forced to go to her page and select one of my all time favorites. You’ve likely read it, too, but it gets better with every reading. I suspect it will continue to do so, forever.

Oops, I believe I’ve about fulfilled my quota and filled my space, but..but I have two more! Honorable mentions? Can I award honorable mentions? (No answer, but I will. Here they are):

Strannikov. What a name. It’s Russian, my major in college. I have no frigging idea what it means. But the sound of it! It just might be the name of a general: “Comrade Lenin, we’ve sent Strannikov and the Cossacks to the Western front!” “Хорошо!”

Anyway, here’s the general’s piece that won from me the comment: “Delightfully bizarre”.

And now…AND NOW…Brace yourselves for Joseph E. Lerner‘s report from amongst the organgutans.

Mr. Lerner’s superb reportage won from me, this: “Bwahahahahaha… Fooled me right up to the reveal. My advice, eat more of whatever you had that night before going to bed. Artists are supposed to suffer for their fans, you know.” I no longer can explain what I meant by that, but here is what inspired it.

________________________________

Mathew Paust is a man of a virtually autistic personality spread. A forcibly retired newspaper reporter, he now writes novels, short stories and the occasional embarrassingly derivative poem. He appears under various guises on Facebook and Twitter, but is too exasperated by the proliferation of unnecessary technology to venture into other social media or even to want to buy the kind of hand-held device that is sucking modern youth into its black hole of merchandising. He resides in Gloucester, Virginia, and is considering raising a tankful of triops to study perhaps as characters for a future novel.

 

We are pleased to welcome Lauren Becker to Fictionaut’s Writers on Craft.  Lauren Becker is editor of Corium Magazine. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online venues, including Tin House, The Rumpus, The Los Angeles Review, and Wigleaf. Her collection of short fiction, If I Would Leave Myself Behind, was released by Curbside Splendor Publishing in June of 2014.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?

I don’t have any formal training in writing, which is sort of an explanation rather than an excuse for my lack of knowledge with regard to instructive texts about writing. Honestly, when I despair at the state of my work, which occurs often, I tend to walk away from reading much. Reading great work sometimes feels accusatory to me. At times I get down on myself for not being as productive or talented as the writers I otherwise take great joy in reading. That said, when I push past that completely unconstructive way of thinking, I am inspired by authors including Alice Munro, A.M. Homes, Miranda July, and George Saunders, as well as writers better known in the independent literary community, including Andrea Kneeland, Ravi Mangla, Amber Sparks, Scott Garson, and Alan Rossi.

If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?

Believe in what you write before putting it out in the world. Whether you feel your work is “done” without edits, or whatever you’re writing takes years to finish.

If it doesn’t fit, cut it. If it doesn’t lend itself to inference by a reader, cut it. I’m a big fan of cutting. I respond best to incisive writing that assumes an intelligent reader.

How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?

I think this goes back to my answer to the previous question. When I first started writing, I was greedy for publication. As a result, I look at older work that was published that feels unfinished or just bad. My standards are much higher. If I don’t stand behind it absolutely, I don’t submit it. I reverted to my old habit with a piece recently and am embarrassed that I sent out work I didn’t fully support. I’ll work on that piece again, but it’s tucked away until I love it.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

I have no idea how to answer this question. I guess I would say that the purpose of literature to me is nourishment, sustenance, hope. Putting words together is creation, almost in the sense of giving birth. I know this sounds extreme, but I feel like literature saves my life over and over. Reading and writing have provided me with an identity. I cannot define myself without the role that literature has played in my life.

As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?

If you view life as competition, you will lose. Giving love and support doesn’t mean you have less. We each have an endless supply.

Your work features incredibly intimate moments with narrators who seem to visualize themselves disappearing at times.  It explores themes of loneliness and friendships between women quite a bit—as well as romantic relationships.  Can you speak to your thoughts about writing women, or writing women well? 

I write from experience or imagined or desired experience, and I’m fascinated with friendships between women – the negotiation involved. Expectations of the role one will play in the other’s life. What happens when those expectations are or aren’t fulfilled. It goes back to my life advice about competition. Too often, I have found women compete with one another rather than providing support and encouragement. I am fascinated by the precariousness of love relationships, whether between friends or in the romantic sense. I don’t mean to write only about the bleak aspects of these relationships: I have many supportive, healthy relationships. I write about loss and loneliness to make sense of it, to mourn ended relationships, to connect with people. We’ve all experienced loneliness. I suppose it makes me feel less lonely (and more visible, in the sense of the wording of your question) to know this.

The shape of some of your prose is quite poetic.  I notice this in both the cadences of some of the sentences and the inversion of phrases.  What relationship does poetry have to your fiction?  Is this a conscious choice since many of the stories in the new collection are flash fiction, which lends itself to density?

I love when people tell me things about myself I don’t know.  The more I hear interpretations of my work, the more I learn about recurrent themes or devices I use. Do I write with poetic leanings intentionally? No. It’s what comes out.

What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.

I’m still writing flash and have a few things set for publication in the new year. I am writing a longer story with a favorite writer/friend. I have an idea for a collaborative book that’s rolling around in my head. Mostly, I am attempting to work on a novel that is continually confounding and satisfying. I’m excited to push myself to write longer, to work against my comfort with conciseness, to let characters exist for more than a few hundred words. I can’t wait to find out what these characters will do and become.

 Writers on Craft is hosted by Heather Fowler, who cares about writing. She does a lot of it. Visit her profile on Fictionaut or see here for more: www.heatherfowlerwrites.com.