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I thought this was going to be an enjoyable task, and on some level it was, but mostly I have found it to be a daunting one. The reason is simple. Almost everything posted on Fictionaut is worth a look. The writing here is highly original. The writers are also very genuine to boot. And they never seem to give up on themselves or their art for too long after a setback before they are back on track with another try to get your attention and be noticed for their creative efforts. This makes me smile all the time. Fictionaut is full of amazing people who love to read and write. But it’s very difficult to isolate the overlooked writer on board because they don’t stay hidden for long. At first I would leave my own little comments, come back and discover that the comments on a particular piece were beginning to multiply. (This knocked them out of the race for Editor’s Eye, where we get to celebrate some of the works posted during the last 2 weeks that received 5 or fewer faves.) Then I simply didn’t leave any comments at all, but just kept my eye on a piece I liked. Inevitably, someone else noticed that work, too, eventually, which is nice, which is great, but it makes it so hard to pick out and promote pieces that may have accidentally been overlooked in the daily process. So my hat is off to all those who came before me and spotted their list of gems. It’s harder than it looks. Here’s a sampling of what I found, in no particular order:

Sunburn by Maria Rumasuglia

A beautiful love song that sings its heart out and bravely sculpts the person in question out of ache and knowing, a complete and tender picture. Bravo performance.

gravelortian part 9 by Chad Smith

Poetry that yawns and screams at you at the same time is pretty hard to pull off under any circumstance: ”Take an axe to the machines/ See the robot run away with the spoon/ Connect the borrowed jumper cables and shock it awake a few more times.”

Five Million Yen: chapter 71 by Daniel Harris

Ben plays politics and life goes on.

Miguel’s Fence by Rudis Muiznieks

Nicely done, beautifully set up, so good, a full rounded snapshot of the meaning of meanings.\

In Knucklebones, This Is What We Keep by Peter Richter

a children’s game mined for rich metaphor, both clever and telling.

The Lovers by Marc Lowe

Very much like a surrealist painting, but what I like, what I look for, is sentence structure and courage in syntax — all here.

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Darryl Price is the poetry editor for Olentangy Review.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at michelleelvy.com, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.

 

We are pleased to welcome Ryan W. Bradley to this month’s Writers on Craft.  Ryan W. Bradley has pumped gas, changed oil, painted houses, swept the floor of a mechanic’s shop, worked on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle, fronted a punk band, and managed an independent children’s bookstore. He now designs book covers. He is the author of four poetry chapbooks, three full-length poetry collections, including The Waiting Tide, and a collaborative collection with David Tomaloff. He is also the author of a story collection, and Code for Failure, his debut novel. A novella, Winterswim is forthcoming in late 2014. He received his MFA from Pacific University and lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or modern literature—any “go to” texts?

The only thing to do when I despair at the state of my own work is to keep looking at it, as painful as that can be. Reading other writers can only make me feel worse. I can’t tell you how many times I go to bed thinking about how shitty of a writer I am, but like many feelings in life, these moments drift and are interchangeable with moments of pride and even arrogance about my writing. If I make myself keep going back to it I know that the roller coaster will stay on the tracks and I’ll see the same things I’ve seen before as I go past.

Beyond my work I don’t know that I despair at modern literature at all. But there are writers who make me love the world more than the world deserves to be loved at times. Neruda, for sure, but even writers who were far less hopeful, like Raymond Carver. I tend to re-read writers for the way they make me feel, the way my chest is split open taking in the sentences, the way I writhe in envy at their sheer ability.

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

Don’t be dismissive. If you’re having a hard time nailing a piece, or if you are given advice or criticism that is hard to take in, don’t write it off, don’t ignore it, don’t shy away from it. Go on a bender if need be, but go back to the work afterward. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your work can’t be improved because 99% of the time it can be, and that’s not a knock, it’s just a fact. Everything can get better, so why not help it get there? Stop worrying about how much you’re producing or about producing at all. Worry about creating something that is worth creating.

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

I take myself less seriously all the time. When I think about how seriously I used to take myself, take my writing, it makes me sad. I wasted so much time on that. You can write serious stories, poems, whatever, without taking it seriously. It’s life, it’s art, but that’s it: life and art. I beat myself up constantly about my writing but at least I’m learning that it’s okay to step back, to say I want to have fun again. I don’t want writing to be a labor of love or hate. I want it to be a craft that I enjoy, the way I enjoy other artistic endeavors, like designing book covers. It’s rare for designing a cover to not be fun. And it’s definitely hard to not take the “pursuit” part of writing seriously, and I still do often. I get down or jealous or frustrated, but I’m getting a little better at letting go.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

I struggle with this, and maybe in part because I don’t take it seriously anymore, but I’m not sure that literature or art in general needs to have a purpose. And if it does have a purpose it’s too esoteric, for the sake of inspiration, aesthetic pleasure, beauty, and yes, even though some writers don’t want to hear it: entertainment. People wouldn’t still be reading books if they didn’t enjoy them. And like it or not that base enjoyment isn’t a product of some deep analysis or high-minded relationship with humanity and the universe. No, it’s much more primal. Enjoying something that has “artistic merit” doesn’t make it any less a form of entertainment, it just means you’re attracted to different aesthetics than the people you think have “low-brow” tastes. We’re all seeking entertainment.

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

I think the not taking yourself seriously thing works here, too. But really I’m a deeply flawed human who is constantly trying to evolve and make my way through life. Louis CK has this riff about people saying life is short. “No it’s not,” he says, “it’s long. It’s really long.” And really that’s all the more reason to try and do what you love to do and be around who you like being around. That’s what’s going to make the days worth it as they pile up.

Your creative work spans fiction and poetry, among other things.  If you had all the time in the world to work strictly on your creative work, which new projects would you pursue and why?  Also, can you speak to how being a poet has impacted your prose here—what you feel each genre gives and takes?

There are a lot of things I want to write, things that may never be fully realized not only because of time, but because of psychological motivation maybe. If I had all the time in the world for these endeavors I would no doubt finish more of them than otherwise, but I would probably also spend more time on other creative work. I always wanted to be a filmmaker and I think I would pursue that more if I had the time, it brings together a lot of my artistic interests into a single medium and I think that I could do something I would feel proud to create.

As for the poetry/prose issue, I’m not sure what crosses over between the two for me. I’ve always been a pithy writer, sometimes to a fault, and it would be convenient to say that came from starting out in poetry, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. It’s likelier to have come out of being impatient and blunt, just as my tendency to write uniformly short lines of poetry comes out of obsessive-compulsive issues.

Poetry feels more personal in some ways, mostly because I fall very easily into writing in the first person. Fiction for me is more of a true excursion, a commitment to a journey even in the shortest of stories. I’m sure both have had impacts on the other, but they also seem to occupy separate portions of my brain as I rarely am able to write them both during the same periods of time. I tend to go on streaks of one or the other.

What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? Give us a sneak peek.

My third full-length poetry collection, The Memory of Planets, has recently been released, but I’m gearing up for the release of my novella, Winterswim in December from Civil Coping Mechanisms. I’m excited because it’s my first fiction to be released since my novel, Code for Failure and they are drastically different books. While Code for Failure was an autobiographical exploration of factotum storytelling, Winterswim is a twisted story about religion, mythology, sex, death, drugs, and my home state of Alaska. I’m also very fortunate that in addition to the print version Winterswim will be released as an audiobook by Blackstone Audio and that’s very exciting. Beyond that I am holding out hope that my second novel, A Hard Place to Die, and my baby, an Alaska-set story collection called Nothing but the Dead and Dying, will find homes.

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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.

My experiences with Fictionaut have always been framed by my writing — submitting stories, treasuring the responses, enjoying the Recommended pieces. It’s less fraught as a reader; my ego is off-duty. There’s so much going on here, with nothing but the wide-ranging inclusiveness to bind it all together, and I love that! An excuse to put all my nagging concerns aside and read every single piece posted to Fictionaut over two weeks: what a rare treat.

Stories that appeal to me polish a spot in the frost to let me peer through the window. Or they make me laugh. Or they show me something new or true. I would much rather read than explain what I like; it feels like a failure of the imagination to say what I like, because something new will soon come along and show me just how wrong I was.

I made one little new rule for myself here: I only selected stories from writers whose work I have never before read. So I am now a fan of seven new writers…

“The Graduate” by Jim Breslin

I love the vividness of both paths here of the boy; I feel intimately connected to this story. My son turns 18 as I write this, so that couldn’t be it…

“A Totally Inaccurate Reduction of the Second Generation Immigrant Experience in America During the 20th Century” by Chris Okum

In this portrait of a faceless man, Okum cleverly reveals a face. The piling on of cliché is done to tremendously witty and thoughtful effect. Halfway through it arrested me and grabbed my attention: You’ve read all this before. Look at it.

“Pen and paper” by JP Kemmick

The first three sentences! Oh, how I love these sentences.

“Four Bars” by Neil McCarthy

I love that these are four bars, not four imaginings of bars. This nails it.

“Tarzan” by Dallas Woodburn

I don’t know everything that’s going on here, but I am so very grateful that Woodburn lets me mull it over. The agony of the family for the boy breaks my heart.

“The Roach in My Bathroom” by Charlotte Hamrick

The opening image pulls me in immediately, and I admire how this comes full circle.

“The Broken Ones” by Misti Rainwater-Lites

Raw and biting and clawing to the surface for air: the narrator here is soaked in bile and it made my toes squirm.

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John Wentworth Chapin lives and writes in Baltimore, Maryland. He is at work on yet another final draft of the same novel. John is a founding editor of 52|250 The Year of Flash and A Baker’s Dozen: thirteen extraordinary things.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at michelleelvy.com, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.

My turn in the editor’s chair. Thanks for the invitation.

This is a great chair, much like Captain Kirk’s on the Starship Enterprise. From here I get to study various life forms in the Fictionaut universe. Some of them  (their silver lamé uniforms notwithstanding) look a lot like me! Others are generated by a creative DNA quite different from my own.

For new readers of the Editor’s Eye feature: my task here is to shine a little light on some pieces posted during the last two weeks which received five or fewer favs and impressed me, in some way. My selection process involved both indulging in work I loved at first sight and trying (it’s hard!) to step away from the beloved familiar into the possibly stimulating unknown.

Some of my original choices gathered more favs as the days went on and had to be scratched off my list, which is a good thing, of course. My still-eligible picks:

Untitled part 2 by volleyball mugwump

A wonderfully manic portrait of a mother daughter relationship heightened by the mother’s impending death. This story is a fine example of how surface tension can support deep emotion without breaking apart. I had no idea of the range of flavored vodkas available until I read this piece! I enjoyed all its 3300-plus words.

Blood by Pines, by G.E. Simons

Like a sprint through quicksand, away from the jaws of one death, perhaps into the arms of another. This piece held strong sensory appeal for me. I could smell blood and dogs and taste snow. I felt a pall of loneliness surrounding this story.

Calypso by Iain James Robb

An excursion into luxuriant language and phrasing, well worth the trip even if (as in my first reading) only partly understood.  Try a second reading with the author’s comment in mind. Aha!

A Manual for Readers by David Backer

Learn how to approach several varieties of contemporary fiction in this handy manual, which ended up being so engaging that I wanted to take all these stories home for dinner.

Letter to a Lost Friend by P.R. Mercado

An unapologetic and unrelenting lament of the many ways in which life and sub-par companions have disappointed the narrator, somehow refreshing in its refusal to be satisfied and grateful for merely being above ground. I enjoyed the self-awareness evident in the lines, “generally, my life is yet to be lived, even.” and “No one else has a catalogue /of my failures and loneliness /that is so comprehensive”.

Exile by Jeffrey Flannery

A beautifully written story of isolation, with a touch of strange that kept it my head some hours after reading. This is the first of Mr. Flannery’s work I’ve read and I look forward to more.

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Carol Reid lives on the west coast of Canada.  She is in the process of constructing an accordion book of micro and flash fiction and trying to keep the puppy from eating it.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at michelleelvy.com, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.

As a reader, my criteria are simple and subjective: I like what grabs me, what gets under my skin, what makes me feel. The voices here at Fictionaut are so diverse, it almost comes down to something like this: What’s best? A carrot or a hummingbird? If there is a common thread to writing that draws me more than anything else, it is an author’s courage to expose something deeply felt or thought without expectation that it will be popular or attention-grabbing, so long as I can feel the subject matter is meaningful to the author and presented with compassion, whether it be tenderness or horror.

Here are a handful of recent stories that I believe deserved more attention:

Kait Mauro “Five True Things

A concise capture of a moment of loneliness in relationship.

Loyola Landry “That Place Underneath the Spreading Ficus

Serene artist encounters muse, then slides into yearning; then obsession spreads; then . . . oh, just read it yourself.

Chris Okum “Martin Sorcese on Jealousy

I’m blown away by the compelling voice here. I feel like I’m trapped sitting across from the narrator. I kind of want the gift he offers in the first line, but not the rest of the baggage. It’s just too much. I’m mesmerized, and at the same time I want to run as far as I possibly can.

James Knight “Mon in the forest: a fragment

A collection of fragments (originally tweets) that hang together like a dream with fairy tale qualities, not to mention fairy tale characters. There’s a light-hearted and innocent feeling to this piece. It made me think of the tarot deck fool wandering out into the world with an attitude of “bring it on.”

Eric Sweder “Romance

A long, well-written study in helpless disbelief as the narrator’s lover slides into neo-Nazism, ending with the narrator derailed into a totally incongruous response to devastation.

Ryan Parks “The Bachelor’s Hymnal

A crisp explanation of bachelordom.

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Beate Sigriddaughterwww.sigriddaughter.com, lives and writes in Silver City, New Mexico. Her work has received three Pushcart Prize nominations. She has also established the Glass Woman Prize to honor passionate women’s voices.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at michelleelvy.com, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.

 

We are pleased to welcome Paula Bomer to this month’s Writers on Craft.  Paula Bomer is publisher of Sententia Books and the editor of Sententia: A Literary Journal as well as a contributor to the literary blog, Big Other. Her writing has appeared in The Mississippi Review, Open City, Fiction, Nerve, and Best American Erotica. Her collection, Baby & Other Stories, is published by Word Riot Press. Her debut novel Nine Months is a Soho Paperback Original. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or modern literature—any “go to” texts?

Yes! I reread Philip Roth, in particular Zuckerman Bound, and Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene while revising Nine Months. Both books exemplify to me that satire is, or can be, high art. I reread obsessively Tolstoy’s short fiction while writing Baby and Other Stories. And my newest book, Inside Madeleine was inspired by firstly, Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior and also Jesus Son by Denis Johnson. Then, later, the short stories of Richard Yates. I’m a big re-reader.

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

Honestly, I don’t agree with “kill your darlings.” I think one should stick to their gut when writing, especially short stories. I do find I tend to tweak the beginning and ends almost always. But ten or fifteen years into writing, I stopped editing unless the story or book was accepted. I wasted a lot of time and energy editing things that weren’t going to be published, when I wasn’t in contract. Never again. Also, if you think you are getting bad advice—I got lots of it—you probably are right.

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

My interests have changed a lot in the past twenty years, or so it seems. I’m more sentimental than I was when I was younger. And I have a lot less energy, which makes writing even harder, not that I’ve ever found it easy. Basically, writing is like squeezing water from a rock. And yet, I’m committed and always have been. At times, even when it’s so difficult, the blank page is my best and only friend.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

I have no idea. I used to think it was “important” in some vague way. Now, it’s just a part of who I am—I’m a reader, a writer.  I guess it’s about connection. It helps me be less lonely.

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

Be kind. And if someone is an asshole to you, you don’t have to be kind anymore. The latter took me a while to figure out and I still have issues with it, but really, it sucks being a doormat. My Christian upbringing made it difficult for a while to get rid of toxic people. But I’m 46 now and have much less tolerance for bullshit.

Your creative work is often bold in that it flouts conventions expected from women.  Do you feel that conservative reactions to previously published books, either as an author or a publisher, cause you to react by pulling back or pushing the barrier harder with your subsequent publications? 

I would say I pretty much stay the course. I’ve tried to pull back- it felt dishonest. And a lot of people think I push barriers. I know as a young woman I did so purposefully. Now I sort of can’t help myself, or so it feels that way. That said, some of my work if purposefully less “in your face” than other works. I do hope that I can experiment in style and substance.

What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? Give us a sneak peek.

I’d love to publish a collection of essays. I wrote a bunch for Big Other and some other places that I’ve been fiddling with collecting into a volume. I probably will never write a memoir. I have a collection of stories and a novel that both need some work. My website is recently redesigned by the amazing Adam Robinson so it’s now easier to read some of my more obscure stuff online. For instance, an old website called Verbsap still has this weird piece I wrote in the form of a letter to Angelina Jolie. Sometimes, I just have to mess around. I even had a secret, not so secret, tennis blog for years. It was written in the voice of a boozy, sex obsessed tennis fan with too many cats.

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.

We are all editors here. And everywhere we confront or are confronted by language. The mass of written, spoken, sung, enumerated, painted and designed content/information would overwhelm us if we didn’t have standards and expectations about the qualities of invention, presentation and discourse that interest and engage us. Each of us curates our private experience of art, science, politics and commerce and selects the representations that move, dazzle, inspire and entertain us. Some throw extraordinarily wide and fine-meshed nets. Others fly-fish.

Since becoming a member of the Fictionaut community in 2010, I have tried to read here every day. I scan the titles, author names, and any samples of text provided to find what interests me enough to open and begin reading. I confess that if the writer is unfamiliar, anything with a word count greater than 1000 words will likely be ignored unless the volume of comments and stars suggest I pay attention. I have a short little span of attention. But, if the first sentence or line is authoritative enough, I will continue without the comfort of other opinion or familiarity. Through such combinations of curiosity and serendipity, I make “discoveries” that often lead to serious enthusiasms for particular writers and those enthusiasms lead to comments, citations of favorite passages, and “faves”. Sometimes, my attentions to writers encourage their attention to my own work and a relationship comes about. Fictionaut is a social medium, after all, and there is a polite element of quid pro quo that is a natural consequence of the social aspect of the place. Yes, that aspect can be abused. In my experience, the healthy interactions far outweigh the unhealthy.

When Michelle Elvy invited me to participate in “Editor’s Eye”, I was both delighted and terrified. It provided an opportunity to recognize work that delighted and/or amazed me but also invited the disaster of saying incredibly stupid and shallow things about that work. Being a writer, though, allows me to ignore the possibility of humiliation and death and simply say what I can say.

The criteria for this column limit me to 6-8 pieces (unless I choose fewer or more) that have appeared during the past two weeks and have received five or fewer stars at the time of my observation. I am disappointed that John Olson and W.R. Smith did not post anything during my watch. John introduced me to the full power of the prose poem and W.R. showed me how to see the beauty and grace in sorrow, banality and human frailty. Other writers I enjoy had the audacity to become too popular for my purposes here.

I found nine pieces that I believe were overlooked and deserve wider attention.

After the Kiss by Jane Flett

In which the speaker has mythic and incredibly vivid adventures in pursuit of the after-feel of a kiss likened in one remarkable simile to horseradish which re-emerges as wasabi at the close. But one cannot describe a poem by Jane Flett– one must experience it first-hand. Her visual and aural imaginings are without equivalent.

The Breech by JP Kemmick

Imagine the Lost Boys grown up with real jobs and real concerns like stock tips and sports scores and without Wendy. It’s the No Girls Allowed world of 9-year-old boys’ dreams until They begin to appear on the bus, at the supermarket, and- in the last of all possible straws- at the Friday night poker game. In a panic worthy of Tea Party xenophobes, a Wall to prevent further infiltration is debated but by the time any decision can be implemented, the women are everywhere, serving crudités between hands and generally civilizing the Boys. Fully imagined and very funny, “The Breech” is worthy of its (for Fictionaut) unusual length.

Dorchester by Steven Pirani

A brief reverie, wherein the protagonist is spirited, Dorothy-like, to the Home of his childhood. The suckling dog’s ears simile is splendid and worth reading for itself alone. I would classify it a prose poem, myself, wanting to claim it for the poets.

Phantom head syndrome by James Knight

I first began following James Knight’s work here at Fictionaut when I read two pieces in his mannequin series. Wonderful, alternative world material and highly recommended. In “Phantom head syndrome,” he introduces me to a critic-beheaded Bird King, another arrestingly off-kilter alternative world character who seeks the advice of shrinks, homeopathic healers, and mystics in his unsuccessful efforts to deal with the pain and anguish of his missing head.

yawn by Lynn Beighley

A pithy ars poetica which confronts the auditory dimensions of poetry and suggests that, without them, what is the point? A debate I have with myself weekly, being terrified of reading aloud in front of actual people.

The Attraction by Jeffrey S. Callico

We at Fictionaut have been treated with numerous short fictions from Jeffrey Callico in the past 2-3 weeks—a trend I hope will continue. In “The Attraction,” he creates an unnamed spectacle witnessed breathlessly by his he and she protagonists which, because they didn’t snap a picture, is forgotten after a dinner eaten out. A concise and pointed presentation of an entertained but never actually mindful consumer class if ever I read one.

The Brazen Bull by Alex M. Pruteanu

A documentary/journalistic narrative technique is put to excellent use in this multi-perspective story of a small time charmer and con-artist who crosses the wrong marks’ paths and ends up singing while he roasts inside a cast bronze death device imagined by the ancients but only built and deployed in contemporary times where such devices may soon become commonplace. Excellent prose.

On Learning a Lover Died a Suicide by Con Chapman

An Audenesque elegy of great elegance. Its depth of feeling is effectively conveyed through constraint and skilled modulation.

Artist’s Statement: Oracle by Mark Reep

The problem with curators and editors is this need to have background on artists when the art is the thing that speaks for itself. This totemic little gem harvests that absurdity along with self-deprecation and a splendidly ironic allusion to Greek mythical belief systems.

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Work by Gary Hardaway has appeared at Gumball Poetry, Manifold, Silkworms Ink, Connotation Press, Divine Dirt Quarterly, Cu.ren.cy, The Olentangy Review, Ochre and Umber, The Arlington Review, Eye Socket Journal, and Blue Fifth Review. He currently lives in Texas and has earned his living as an  urban planner and architect.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at michelleelvy.com, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.

James Lloyd Davis, 3 yrs old, circa 1948, reading Saturday Evening Post.

As a young child, long before I’d been taught to read, I would pick up books and sit in a chair, look quite as though I could read, even to the point of turning pages slowly.  If anyone cared to listen, I would tell them a story from whatever book was in my lap.  Of course, I could not read and the story in the book had no relationship to the one I’d relate, but I sincerely believed I was reading it. I write stories now and write from a sense of need to do so, but reading is my lifelong passion. Though I’d hardly call myself a critic, I know what I like, but long ago abandoned the practice of explaining why I like the things I like.

Sometimes the beauty of Fictionaut offerings is purely raw in the emotional sense, found beauty and truth presented entirely without guile.  Yes, I can appreciate humor and clever writing, but when I recognize quality that I cannot so easily define as entertaining, amusing or clever, I am pleased beyond measure. Perhaps the key to that curious finesse is simply the indefinable essence of attraction.

I quickly said yes when Michelle asked to do this, but discovered it was a difficult trip to read so many posted stories over a two week period and choose so few to highlight. Even more difficult is the task of explaining my reason for the choices. In a large part, I suppose, it’s recognition. You love a story because it’s touched you in some personal way. You love it. Maybe others will see the quality therein, but you’re damned if you can easily tell them what it is that makes a story or a poem so damn good. A human certainty, perhaps, or a universal chord that resonates in the human heart.

What’s my benchmark? Hard to say, but I do remember a short story, one of my favorites, “I want to know why” by Sherwood Anderson, written long ago.  If you’ve never read it, you can find it here:

It gives you a taste of what I’m trying to say about quality, but carries it a step or two beyond, marches like some little army of words into a world of parallax purity, an unorthodox, but decidedly spiritual ethos, profound though written in the vernacular of a time and a place entirely alien to our post-modern ears. If the story appeared on Fictionaut, I’d add it to my list in a heartbeat… along with these:

Dallas Woodburn’s “Goosepimples” is the perfect example of the stunning work you don’t expect to find until you stumble into it as I did, clicking through the mix, looking for gold.  Coach Blake is everyman, just doing his best. He pays some heavy dues when doing the right thing is the wrong thing to do. Innocence is a world of half-light and shadow, subject to interpretation, ultimately. You must read this story.

Glynnis Eldridge’s offering, “Dear Joe”, is about something we all experience: regret.  Sins of omission… “If only I’d called….”  “I shoulda sent that (letter, email, whatever)” Some might say that regret is self-serving, existential, that it places our guilt on an altar, but everyone knows the pain of doubt.

Speaking of guilt, Foster Trecost’s story “Man In Hiding” takes a walk down that hard, dark street.  Foster, a long time regular at Fictionaut, who writes some excellent short fiction, says it’s unpublished.  Someone should correct that.

Barry Basden gave us a very short and powerful story in “Rags”  I know the principal idea of Editor’s Eye is to choose overlooked gems, but even though it did very well, was not overlooked… if you haven’t read it some may have missed it.  Follow the link and see why it shines.

Of course, Fictionaut is more than its name implies. It includes poetry in the repertoire of posted offerings. I love poetry, though I can no more define it than I can define quality in fiction. This is an example of the poetry I enjoyed: “Invicta” by G. E. Simons. It brought to mind an old poem by Sandburg and a moment of clarity and grief when, at Arlington National Cemetery, I saw a cardinal light upon a white cross in a green field sown with thousands of bird-less white crosses, rows upon rows upon…

In the vein of poetry, I have to point out one that forced me read it over and over again to try and invoke, summon, conjure up a meaning of sorts, a key to the vision. I failed, but I do like the poem. I like it a lot. Mark Reep’s “Black House”. Go read it and see for yourself.

There is no pretense in Adam Sifre’s ghost story “Christine” but there is charm and a lovely innocence within.

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James Lloyd Davis resides in Ohio with his wife, MaryAnne Kolton, who is also a writer.  James is presently working on two novels and has published some short fiction and a couple of poems in numerous journals and anthologies in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK.

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at michelleelvy.com, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.

We are pleased to welcome Okla Elliott to this month’s Writers on Craft.  Okla is an Illinois Distinguished Fellow at the University of Illinois, where he works in the fields of comparative literature and trauma studies. He also holds an MFA in creative writing from Ohio State University. He is the author of a collection of short fiction, From the Crooked Timber. His poetry collection, The Cartographer’s Ink, is forthcoming from NYQ Books in late 2014, and his novel, The Doors You Mark Are Your Own, co-authored with Raul Clement, will be released in early 2015.

What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or modern literature—any “go to” texts?

It’s different for different genres. In fiction, I can always rejuvenate my love for the written word by reading Lee K. Abbott, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, or William T. Vollmann. For nonfiction, it would be Simone de Beauvoir, William H. Gass, Norman Mailer (again), and Jean-Paul Sartre. Poetry has a longer list—not sure why, but here it is: Margaret Atwood, Marvin Bell, Kelly Cherry, Albert Goldbarth, Andrew Hudgins, Stephen Kuusisto, Joyce Carol Oates (again), David R. Slavitt, Maggie Smith, and Wisława Szymborska.

All of these writers have one thing in common: massive vision expressed in invigoratingly good language. When I read any of them, I feel it can be done and can be done astonishingly well.

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

You must develop a brutal honesty with yourself. It is all too easy to read a passage you know needs to be radically altered or cut or replaced, and yet not quite have the courage to make yourself admit it. And this brutal honesty can be applied to every aspect of your writing—the overall concept, word-by-word style issues, character development, and so forth.

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

I have never thought of this before, and perhaps the reason why is that now that I do think about it, the basic goals of my writing haven’t changed much over the years. Maybe that will change as I get older (as a guy in my mid-thirties, I’ve really only been serious about writing for a little over a decade), but thus far exploring the broken and untoward in the human psyche and incorporating as much of the world as possible have been my two main aspirations. And by “the world” I mean everything from foreign countries to history to philosophy to psychology, and so forth. I have a greedy mind; I want it all, all the time.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

It has several purposes, all of them equally important to my mind. It entertains us. It educates us. It teaches us empathy for others. It broadens our imagination. It helps us to make meaning of the world we live in. Without literature of some sort—be it films, religious texts, poetry, essays, or novels—human existence would be hopeless. Even religious texts, I argue, offer meaning because of their literary aspects, not their metaphysics. I mean, I think it’s pretty unlikely that literal demons exist, but stories about demons can prop us up and teach us how to better ourselves and carry on more fully in our lives.

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

Feel compassion for all sentient beings, animal and human. Imagine yourself into their suffering or sadness or anxieties, and then try as best you can to help them assuage their troubles. Or, minimally, don’t add to their burden. I remind myself of this regularly. Even if people are unnecessarily snippy with me or rude in whatever way, this might be because they just had a bad break-up, lost a job, have an excruciating headache, haven’t slept properly in a week because of a deadline at work or a sick child crying all night, and so forth. Of course, I fail at this more than I would like—because of all the usual human shortcomings—but I find if I remind myself of this mantra-like, I am better at it for a few weeks at a stretch. That would be my advice: remind yourself of this regularly and try a little harder every day to empathize with others.

Your creative work is often informed or enriched by your external scholarly activity and I admire that you often function as a public intellectual, in discussion with the work of philosophers and other writers. This sort of cerebral vibrancy and generosity is immediately apparent in many of your discussions.  How do you find a balance between the critical work you do concerning the study of other authors and the making of your own creative work?  Is there a natural balance or do you work at finding that balance?

Nearly all of my cultural heroes are writers and public intellectuals. Beauvoir, Mailer, Oates, Sartre, and Vidal are writers who practice what Sartre called engaged literature—that is, literature that is dedicated to serving as commentary on the human condition, society, the world and our place in it. My scholarly work with trauma studies informs my literary writing constantly, since it allows me to more accurately explore trauma and violence. In my forthcoming novel, The Doors You Mark Are Your Own (co-written with Raul Clement), my work with Holocaust studies and trauma studies has been invaluable. And the philosophy of Foucault, Heidegger, Lacan, Marx, and Sartre all make appearances in various ways, so there my work with philosophy informs a post-apocalyptic sci-fi world. And even the conception of the novel, which blends Nazi Berlin, Stalinist Russia, and Golden-Age Hollywood to form a place call Joshua City, comes from my study of German literature. Brecht has a great play titled The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which blends Nazi Berlin and 1920s gangster Chicago. I thought this would be a cool tactic to use in a po-mo/sci-fi novel, so I borrowed it.

I guess my point is that all of my various endeavors are mutually reinforcing and every effort informs every other one. My scholarly work on philosophy, psychology, and trauma informs my writing, and my writerly work helps me to better understand and teach the writings of others.

What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? Give us a sneak peek.

In terms of forthcoming work, in June an essay titled “Cinnamon or Crocodiles, Romanticized Suffering, and the Productivity of Error: A Polymorphous Essay in Fragments” will come out in The Chattahoochee Review. To refer to your previous question, this is an essay that straddles creative nonfiction and scholarly writing, and thus is a good example of how my various efforts converge. In October, my poetry collection, The Cartographer’s Ink, will be released by NYQ Books. And in March 2015, The Doors You Mark Are Your Own will come out from Dark House Press.

In terms of recent work, readers can find my short story “The Boiling Glass” online at Tupelo Quarterly, my poem “Alien War, Human War” at Contrary Magazine, and another poem “That the Soul Discharges Her Passions upon False Objects” in the print issue and online at The Literary Review.

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.

 

Fictionaut has always offered the invaluable opportunity to share, learn, and connect with other writers.  It is my belief that the fruit produced can only be spoiled by the assumption that any one person has more potential, more talent, or greater gifts than any other contributing member. What sums each of us up uniquely is our particular process of filtering input and forming output.  We must gather our tools one by one, work with them until they are available to use and apply them with a grip that has formed to fit only our own hand.

Whichever platform of language we choose to communicate with must be mastered, thereby allowing the knowledge of just how far the rules can be bent, or when they should be broken.  More so, we must always feed on new input and master the ability to interpret the sounds that resonate from the gut.  The greatest story that any one writer can craft is one based on his or her own experience, perspective, and voice. To temper the tone of your voice in order to please the ears of your reader is a terrible mistake. With all of that, I tell you humbly that I am master of nothing other than the ability to be completely consumed by a well-wrought story, considered thus solely by my own opinion, for what it’s worth.

Whenever I begin reading a piece, I am aware of the fact that there are words arranged on a page.  I am aware of my senses, which have nothing directly to do with what I am reading, but affect the purity of the attention being paid to the words.  I am also thinking about the fact that I am thinking about the fact that I am reading, and truth be told, saying to myself, “I hope this doesn’t suck. Dear God, please let this be brilliant.”  As a reader, I am either lazy or persnickety.  Never fussy, but I gotta be grabbed in the first few lines. I want to have my heart broken, my face smashed in, my pulse changed.  I want to be inspired, destroyed, or both.

The titles I selected were only a few that I enjoyed and with little time to read as much as I would have liked to.  Mind your business. Live bravely.  Fuck the rules. Write it down.

The Laughing Prophet by James Loyd Davis

Here, the narrative finds you wherever you’re at, takes a seat on your shoulder, and tells you a story —  rather, points out a story unfolding.  The voice in this piece is simple and easy, which is key to making the story accessible so that the reader is taken directly into the middle of the scene, without the scant awareness that there are words being read.  Quite simply, this is the mark of a great storyteller.

Yolks by Lucinda Kemp

I like this piece because of its quirk.  There is an odd slant, slight enough to be noticed, but not to the extent that I could not connect.  I was drawn by curiosity to know these characters. That last paragraph caused me to consider myself in her situation.  Nicely done.

Baling Twine by James Claffey

Consider these two lines:

“These days I’m sore afflicted with gout and the weight. She had them put the bed on bricks to stop the frame from collapse.”

There is a poetry to Claffey’s style. This can be dangerous. With the application of  rhythm, alliteration, triplets, and the like, the writer runs the risk of losing the reader by spinning them off into fantasy or fancy.  When well applied, these mechanisms become tools by which a deeper connection is attained.   In the excerpt, Claffey presents two simple observations written with creative word choices.  Granted, I find a certain beauty in the tone and accent of his native Irish tongue, but the point remains that when I read this piece aloud in my own voice, it flows effortlessly.  An unknown nerve is struck. The story sticks.  Fewer words are needed when words are well chosen.

Bassinet by Chris Okum

There is simply no fucking around with this wonderful little piece.  I want to write like that four-year-old boy. I want to slap his parents.  They are the majority.

Omaha by Denisova Hominins

Again, I am rewarded with a perfect measure of quirk and an accessible level of brilliance.

Instinct by Kelli Tranpnell

A unique approach to telling a common story.  Capped and personalized with the last sentence.  A fine read!

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Michael Dickes is a writer, composer, and filmmaker. His stories have been published in Southpaw JournalThrice FictionMetazenKerouac’s Dog MagazineThunderclap PressApocrypha & AbstractionsConnotation PressThumbnailTHIS Literary MagazineBlue Five NotebookRiff RaffDualityThe Istanbul Literary Review, and others. His songs have been featured in film, TV, and radio. He is founding editor of Awkword Paper Cut. More information about Michael can be found at www.michaeldickes.weebly.com

Editor’s Eye is curated by Michelle Elvy (Fictionaut profile here). She writes and edits every day at michelleelvy.com, and readers can also find her editing Blue Five Notebook (with Sam Rasnake) and Flash Frontier.