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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.

 

 

When Michelle Elvy asked me to submit the latest Editor’s Eye, I felt a bit of an obligation to search out new writers I’d never read here.  I went to the People list – in quest of Newest Users.  What I found was that in the past year, most of the recent members of Fictionaut have yet to post a poem or story.  I wondered at the reason.  Many of the new writers – certainly not all, but a large group – have yet to comment on other works here or have only rarely surfaced with their presence.  Why join and not participate?  Maybe the answer is that Fictionaut is a bit of a beast when you first join – how to navigate, what’s expected, what type of writing … and so on.  From my point of view, the burden rests with the founders, board of advisors, and veteran members – I joined in 2009, so I’m speaking to myself – to become more active in encouraging new members once they’re here, to keep them involved.  Joani Reese developed a Welcome and Primer, posted at the beginning of the Forum.  It’s a wonderful introduction, and I recommend it to everyone.  I wish I could have read its guidelines when I joined – what a help that would have been – but I’m glad it’s in place now.  One of the requirements in joining FN should be to read that introduction.  It could, no doubt, save writers from futile efforts and help minimize frustration.

For this installment of EE, I settled my focus on neglected readings that deserve a wider audience, and I found many.  Some of the writers I’m familiar with, some not.  Here are five pieces I hope you find rewarding.  I know I did.  In the words of two great British philosophers – Lennon & McCartney – “So may I introduce to you” …

“Grandmother’s Heirloom” by Emily Bertholf

Emily Bertholf is quite adept at drawing in the reader.  Her use of details – “cascade of porcelain,” “refrigerator clicks and hums,” “pots, cups, saucers, pitcher, bowls centuries old,” and “yellow sweater” – is emphatic in creating the world of the poem.  The focus in the lines is constantly moving – either by physical motions within the piece or the flow of imagery – “creeping,” “splash-crack-crash” “swaying” – to the reader’s eye.  The phrasing is tight and effective.  The lines keep playing their music in my head.

More works by Bertholf: “Boy Toy,” “Hero Song,” and “Teeth, Face, Hand”

 “The End of Things” by Loyola Landry

A calm and personal tone takes over in describing a moment of memory in Loyola Landry’s poem.  The phrasing is casual in an appealing way – believable, natural – holding the reader’s interest.  Because the poem’s speaker never waivers from the woman at the center of – though never directly placed in – the poem, we are accepting.  We become good listeners.  Though never directly stated, a loss creates a hole in the poem, and its telling leaves plenty of room for elucidation, for connections, for the reader’s own discovery of the what and how.  Good writing.

More works by Landry: “Life Stats,” “The Rock & the Crow,” and “Without a Goal, in Need of”

 “Head Holding” by Carl Santoro

The Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti stands in shadow only behind Carl Santoro’s brief poem.  “Head Holding” is laser-clear in its purpose: the nature of art.  Readers encounter a stand-in for the artist – an everyman/everywoman directly at work – “the clay-filled thumbnail / hollowing out a new eye”.  A new way of seeing, of understanding art.  In the poem sculpting serves, at least for me, as the sum of all creative arts.  As writers, painters, photographers, musicians, filmmakers, dancers – we all strive for, without reaching, the perfect moment.  Our hands, eyes, feet, bodies fully at work in the art.  That’s the journey.  The arriving – though hoped for (“Giacometti would throw up”) – is never found.

More works by Santoro: “Blocked – A Facebook Tale – 13 – Baboquivari,” “IRON Meditations (thoughts while pressing a clean shirt for work),” and “The Yardsale is Over and the Rain is Falling and It Is Getting Dark”

“The Day the Internet Disappeared” by Linda Seccaspina

I like the straight-forward telling found in the works of Linda Seccaspina.  The phrasing in “The Day the Internet Disappeared” is informal and, oddly enough, given the material, relaxed – not worried about intent or purpose.  All imagery and motion push the story forward, closer to apocalypse.  Bits of life – of a reality – lives altered with no going back:

As she slowly scanned the newspaper she noticed words were spelled wrong as writers   had to remember how to spell again without the benefit of red squiggly lines informing them of misspelled words. Those that had been addicted to the internet had suddenly become illiterate.

and

Myrna wished she could have gotten all the music she could have before they had pulled the plug, as now the human race was back in the stone age soon to wipe each other out.

This piece is the 8th work from a series: “Linda’s Dreadful Dark Tales”.  Seccaspina is a writer with a personal vision, tapping into the wilderness of “I” – and I connect with her approach.

More works by Seccaspina: “Behold the New Day That Allows the Rabbit Hole to Disappear,” “Naughty Alice – There’s No Laughter When You’re Extinct,” and “What Day is it?”

“Fulton Flapper” by Katrina Trepsa

This flash by Katrina Trepsa is ekphrastic in its origin, drawn (as inspiration only) from a photograph, Girl in Fulton Street (1929) by Walker Evans.  The connection between Trepsa’s story and the photo end there.  She creates a character, giving her a real world – as if suddenly, the image in the photo begins to move, and readers become a part of that world.  The writing is compressed, image-driven and successful – leading to a strong closing – “The satisfaction of seeing his face hover between desperation and contempt was worth the trip downtown”.  Well done.

More works by Trepsa: “Golden Dawn,” “Seventh Avenue Local,” and “Upper East”

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Sam Rasnake’s works have appeared in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Best of the Web 2009WigleafOCHO, MiPOesias Companion 2012Big MuddyLiteral Latté, Poets / Artists, LUMMOX 2012BOXCAR Poetry Review Anthology 2, and Dogzplot Flash Fiction 2011.  His latest poetry collection is Cinéma Vérité (A-Minor Press 2013).

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 novelist and short fiction author Victoria Patterson to Writers on Craft this month.  Victoria Patterson is the author of the novel This Vacant Paradise, selected as an Editor’s Choice by The New York Times Book Review. Drift, her collection of interlinked short stories, was a finalist for the California Book Award and the 2009 Story Prize. The San Francisco Chronicle selected Drift as one of the best books of 2009. Her work has appeared in various publications and journals, including the Los Angeles Times, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Southern Review. She lives with her family in Southern California and teaches at the Antioch University’s Master of Fine Arts program.

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

Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre.

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

The delete button is your friend.

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

The reasons I want to write aren’t simple and never have been.  If it’s good, it’s as complex as any person.  But I hope for maturity and humility and to avoid simple self-expression.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

To connect people and remind them: you’re not alone.

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

Try to do your best, one day at a time.

When I read your work yesterday evening, I really liked the way you approached double-standards and how gender roles impact professional respect.  Do you feel such double-standards impact the literary community as heavily as they have impacted those in sports and athletics—and is there any wisdom in particular that you would impart to a female aspiring novelist that could save her some valuable time in the current publishing climate?

Double standards do impact the literary community.  It’s frustrating. My advice: When and if the feeling of jealousy takes hold for the attention your male counterparts receive, know it for what it is—and not as a measure of your work—and do your best to get that jealousy-monkey off your back, since it can lead away from your art.  At the same time, anger and frustration can help further your resolve and determination. One last thing: be generous to other writers, whether male or female. 

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

I have a novel coming in winter or spring of 2015, loosely based on the Haidl gang rape case that took place in Newport Beach in 2002.

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.

As an editor, I search for a writer whose work contains a mix of the pragmatic (as far as mastery of basic craft) and the mysterious /romantic /lyrical/ or humorous nature of plot or voice. I like a good yarn. I also adore a good laugh. Irony is my friend. I will, however, dismiss the need for an obvious A to B story/narrative altogether if a writer has a marvelous ear and a facility for word combinations that sing, even if the meaning of a story or poem is difficult, or impossible, to decipher. Sometimes, the music is enough, but that requires a fairly seasoned and proven writer, and many of us haven’t reached that state of luxurious linguistic freedom. If a writer doesn’t take the time to polish a piece until it glows, I tend to shut the piece down before I even finish reading. I suppose my prejudice comes from years of teaching composition and my love for the art of writing well as an art.

As I read through the offerings for my stint at Editor’s Eye this week, I discovered five disparate pieces that seem to have been overlooked by the majority of Fictionaut readers but deserve recognition:  “Fish” by Nicholas Cook, “Prime Cut” by James Knight, “Let’s All Get Up And Dance To A Song That Was A Hit Before Beyonce Was Born” by Roz Warren, “Seed Toss” by Oliver Hunt, and “Present Tense” by John Olson.

Nicholas Cook’s “Fish” incorporates the critical components necessary for successful flash writing. Reading the piece reminded me of the Wallace Steven’s line in “The Snowman” about behold[ing] / the nothing that is not there / and the nothing that is…” The piece treats readers like adults and respects their ability to conjure for themselves the larger story hidden in the background of the implied narrative arc. “Fish” is an example of flash fiction at its best.

James Knight’s “Prime Cut” is a strange sort of wonderful poem that combines butchered body parts in new and surprising ways. The speaker recounts the sad tale of Orpheus in a unique and blood-soaked abattoir. The voice is so matter of fact that it fragments the reader’s imagination as the scenes recounted are a bit more stunning than contractions like “…it’s her day off tomorrow…” and text-speak like “…LOL…” seem to call for.  Even the author’s use of strike-through on some lines is interesting and novel. This tension between what is written on the page and what is actually happening in the story as “they lick their fingers and belch him…” is what makes this poem work for me.

Roz Warren’s homage to fifty years of Beatlemania, “Let’s All Get Up and Dance to a Song that was a Hit Before Beyonce was Born”, offers baby boomers a gentle laugh at themselves. This clever self-test asks us not only to consider how much four men’s art impacted us (I knew every answer), but it also reflects an amusing perspective of society’s fixation on the icons of pop culture. The piece also asks us to consider that fifty years is a long time to hang on, and underlying the laughter and pride of knowing these answers is that little niggle called impending oblivion for those of us who remember these songs in their original incarnations. Though it seems to be simple, it isn’t easy to write with wit and humor. Roz does it oh so well.

Oliver Hunt’s “Seed Toss” is a gritty look into a man’s secret heart. The author’s use of dialogue to create character is spot-on. We KNOW these two guys. The narrator is almost as unreliable as John Updike’s Sammy, and nearly as amusing in his musings. Just as Hunt’s narrator wonders toward the end, “… if distended adolescence could legitimately be considered a developmental disability,” so, too, do readers see a bit of themselves in this flawed character who has finally learned that “…you don’t always want what you think you want.” Nice work.

John Olson’s “Present Tense” is the work of a seasoned word wrangler. I have read and enjoyed every poem he’s placed in the queue at Fictionaut, and I truly believe he is in the top tier of unsung heroes who post here and don’t give up even though their offerings aren’t as lauded as they deserve to be. Olson’s mastery of his craft is obvious in every phrase and in the music each makes. The beauty of Olson’s ideas shimmers and dances in every glorious and intelligent line, and he deftly combines both the exquisite and the pedestrian in a kind of intellectual two-step that never stumbles. John’s work both delights and humbles me.

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Joani Reese (JP) is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Final Notes and Dead Letters. Her poetry and fiction have been widely anthologized and featured in over seventy print and online venues. A senior poetry editor for Connotation Press—An Online Artifact and an annual fiction guest editor for Scissors and Spackle, Reese won the first Patricia McFarland Memorial Prize for her flash fiction and The Graduate School Creative Writing Award from The University of Memphis for her poetry, where she also earned her MFA. Reese lives and works in Texas.

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 author Jim Ruland to Writers on Craft today. Jim Ruland is a Navy veteran and author of the short story collection Big Lonesome. He is the host of Vermin on the Mount, an irreverent reading series based in Southern California. He is a columnist for the indie music zine Razorcake and writes The Floating Library, a books column, for San Diego CityBeat. His work has been published in The Believer, Esquire, Hobart, Granta, Los Angeles Times, McSweeney’s, Oxford American and elsewhere. Ruland’s awards include a fellowship from the NEA and he was the winner of the 2012 Reader’s Digest Life Story Contest. He lives in Southern California with his wife, visual artist Nuvia Crisol Guerra.

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

I think despair is probably too strong a word for the kind of ennui that takes hold when I slide into an extended period of distraction, because it really doesn’t take much to get me inspired. I get excited listening to music, reading zines, making art, walking on the beach, etc. My go-to book is probably Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp. It nails the entirety of the writing process from inspiration to composition, revision to revulsion. There’s a scene at a party where Mr. Earbrass laments “the unspeakable horror of the literary life.” Perfect. If I need a quick fix, I pick up poetry. At worst, poetry is an artful arrangement of words. At best, it’s sorcery. I’m no warlock, but it’s helpful to be reminded of my aspirations.

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

I don’t know if I have any advice other than to emphasize how essential thoughtful editing is to revision process. I can’t tell you how many times writers have told me that they are slow, careful writers who labor over every paragraph so that by the time they reach the end they’ve got the book right where they want it. I call bullshit on that. Who wants to read a novel written on a billion grains of rice? For me, I try to look at editing as an opportunity for improvement. Editing always makes me think of cut-rate surgery. A little snip here. A little snip there. And, oh my, this needs to go. Improvement is a concept I can get behind. That’s not really advice, but I can tell you that that feeling you get at the end of a draft, when you just want to be done with the fucking thing, is death. When your desire to be done overtakes your desire to improve, it’s time to step away, get out of your head, and plunge into the great glimmering world for a bit. You need it more than it needs your book. Trust me on this.

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

It’s always changing. This is something I’ve come to accept in the last few years. Everything is always in flux. What that means for my daily writing practice (har har har) is that if something worked really well before, it probably won’t work the next time. Last spring, I was able to meet a deadline on a book project by staying in my office where I work after hours. I finished the book on time – barely – but when it came time to start the next one, I wanted no part of that office, and when I did force myself to stay I did the things that people do when they are avoiding the thing they were put here to do. I had to shake things up, make it new.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

Honestly, Heather. I have no idea. I think literature has a socio-historical function. To me, literature feels bound to the context of its creation in ways that don’t register in other arts. That’s probably a bias on my part, but there it is. Literature attempts to teach the reader about class, sex and power in human relationships at a particular moment in time. It’s meaningless, of course. We’re all passengers on this dinky life raft we call earth. We haven’t gotten to the kill-or-be-killed part of the endgame where your next-door neighbor starts to look like a roasted chicken, but we’re getting there. The water is slopping over the gunwales and we’re squabbling over when we need to start baling.

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

Let it go. When I stopped drinking, I was surprised by how easy it was stay stopped after the first few months of sobriety. The desire to drink just went away. Psychologically, I was still a wreck, but recovery programs have all these tips for how to keep your head out of your ass and what to do when it inevitably finds its way back in there. This is the one bit of advice that has helped me the most. Let it go. The biggest enemy of sobriety is resentment. Getting upset over things people say or don’t say, do or don’t do, and so on and so forth. All the petty bullshit that eats us up because we let it eat us up, a sizable portion of which we won’t even be able to remember ten years from now. Just let it go.

Your punk aesthetic informs a lot of the work you do as a visual artist, but what do you think informs which writing projects you select to complete?  Would you say you go after life experiences and they then become aspects of written material—or that your reading inspirations impact your next selected projects more?  Also, perhaps speak a bit to your experience as the host of the vibrant Los Angeles / San Diego based reading series Vermin on the Mount.  How does hosting a series like Vermin feed into your creative life?

Right now, the key word is completion. I’ve come to realize that I spend a lot of time and energy writing things that will never see print between the covers of a book: essays, articles, reviews, interviews, press releases, ad copy, etc. So I’ve put more of an emphasis on completing book projects. Publishing I can’t control, but I can get the manuscripts ready, right? Life experience plays a big part of that. For instance, last year I had an opportunity to work on a book project that took me to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, which I didn’t realized was in the middle of the Aleutian Islands way out in the Bering Sea. Flying from Anchorage to Unalaska was a mind-blowing experience, like going to another planet. It was a reminder that there’s so much out there in the world that I have no awareness of – people, culture, food, art, etc. – and I will never find out about it unless I take that leap into the unknown. Some writing projects are the exact opposite. Sometimes I know exactly what I’m getting into ahead of time and it’s good. Sometimes I don’t and it’s bad, like going to work at an Indian casino and getting stuck there for five years. Sometimes bad is good. Sometimes bad is bad. Right now I’m working on a collection of linked stories inspired by my adventures in pet sitting. It features a lot of cats. So there you go. You ask me about punk rock and I give you cats. But since we’re back on that thread, organizing and hosting Vermin on the Mount gives me the same thing punk rock gave me when I first started writing about it for zines 20 years ago: access to my passion. In the ten years I’ve been putting on literary events with Vermin on the Mount I’ve met so many great people, so many great writers. It is its own reward.

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

Giving the Finger is a book I co-wrote with Scott Campbell, Jr. of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. It’s all about all the things he went through – disfiguring injuries, colossal storms, lost crewmembers – to become a successful crab fisherman in one of the most, dangerous industries on the planet. The book is part memoir, part behind the scenes look at life on the Bering Sea. That’s the book I went to Alaska for and it comes out on April 2. You should order it. Incredibly, my first novel, Forest of Fortune, which draws on my experience as an employee at an Indian casino, was recently acquired by Tyrus Books and will be published in August 2014, which, as you can imagine, I’m unbelievably excited about. Thanks for asking, Heather. It’s been a pleasure!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

I confess; I don’t read well.

I think I’m a little dyslexic, and my literary background is thin. I studied film, work in video and only almost accidentally became a writer. So fiction must engage me quickly, and I need strong language.

I looked for pieces that had received little attention, but I inevitably included some familiar names. There. As a good Midwesterner, I’ve now both equivocated and apologized.

Let’s get on with the show.

Michael Gillan Maxwells Winter

Michael Gillan Maxell has given us gems such as “Short Fuse” (published in the December 2013 issue of “The Bitchin’ Kitsch”) and recently, “Winter.”

With joy and brutality, Maxwell remembers a childhood when kids came home from a day of sledding bloody and elated, sweating inside frozen clothes….

“Winter” is symmetrical on the page. Sometimes I rewrite paragraphs simply to make them balance in space … a short paragraph, three long ones, a short. I think there’s something to this.

Barry Basdens They Say You Finally Have to Forgive Everything

This is a great example of a writer trusting his readers, his insistence that readers write at least a little of the story themselves…

Where’s “still over there somewhere?” and who’s the “they” who talk about “over there somewhere?” Happily, I can create this myself and WANT to create it, and Basden has trusted me to do that. This is how flash fiction can be so satisfying.

The title also impressed; I’d paid little attention until the story’s end and only then realized how well it had worked. It kicked up the story’s tone without getting in its way.

I’m thinking of asking Barry to write titles for me.

James Lloyd Davis Momento Mori, Mon Amour

Stretching across gender as a writer, I suppose, is tricky and dangerous.

I’ve tried a couple of times and expect to be called out as a pretender for it on every occasion. Davis travels the same road and bravely imagines himself  “stunning in a black dress.”

“Momento” employs a list that I adore for its rhythm. “I would have slept with a famous actress, four heads of state, three poets, two designers, and a lovely young student named Renee.”

Davis also imagines a woman completely comfortable in her skin: “I would not be famous, but quite satisfied with the murky edges of celebrity.”

Christian Bells Floating Away

This piece, after many reads, still puzzles me.

I can’t get my arms around what in it works. It’s how I feel about work from Ann Bogle and Matt Rowan and Jake Barnes. It has a dream quality, a disconnect, without being pronounced a dream. A motif of the fluid runs through the piece and leaves the reader haunted.

“Soon, she will turn to liquid, that other person, the world floating away.”

This kind of abstraction has influenced me in things I’ve tried lately.

Lucinda Kempes Great Big Beautiful Girls

OK, I’m a guy… a man. Can I even start to talk about this? Am I allowed? No, of course not, but I’ll try anyway because this piece cracked me up.

I wrote in my comment, “I dig the tone, love the voice, love the flow; and it’s funny. And a HAPPY ending! What’s NOT to love?” And that holds.

Check out the voice and rhythm here, “I am so fine. Bolded, italicized letters followed by ten exclamation points fine. Yes!  Me, and my Double D, smoother front, no underwire self!  Whoo-whee, hot is happening here. Slip me off the rack and onto your girls and change your world.”

See Lucinda Kempe’s latest posted work too, “Something About Your Mother.”

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Steven Gowin grew up in darkest Iowania but escaped after an MFA from his state’s hotbed of workshop writing and creative remorse. These days, he’s a corporate video producer in San Francisco and has returned to fiction after a long hiatus away from it. He loves California, all of it, even the desert, and sometimes feels better now. Gowin has a story upcoming in the premiere issue of  The Mojave River Review and will be featured reading on an upcoming “Awkword Paper Cut” podcast.

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 author, journalist, and activist Ming Lauren Holden to Writers on Craft this month.  Ming Lauren Holden grew up on a zebra ranch in Santa Barbara county and has done development work in ten countries on four continents over the past twelve years. She founded the Survival Girls, a self-sustaining theater group for Congolese refugee girls in a Nairobi slum, in 2011. Her nonfiction book about the experience was published in November 2013 by Wolfram Productions.

Ming spent her year as a Henry Luce Scholar in Mongolia, serving the Mongolian Writers Union as its first-ever international relations advisor and advocating for a Mongolia PEN Center.  She most recently won Chattahochee Review’s Lamar York Nonfiction Prize, Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Story Contest, and USAID’s Frontiers in Development essay competition. Her poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, photography, and literary translations also appear in Arts & Letters, Cerise Press, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Passages North, Poets & Artists, The Poker, The Santa Ynez Valley Journal, The Huffington Post, and others.  She graduated from Brown University with Honors in Literary Arts and went on to earn her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Indiana University, where she was the first M.F.A. student to be named the Herman Wells Graduate Fellow.

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

I go to contemporary poetry, actually, to get a break from both the form and content of my own nonfiction and those of the media superstructure.  Sharon Olds is a favorite, as are Ross Gay, Forrest Gander, Steve Scafidi, Charles Wright, Jenny Factor–and the work of experimental fictionauts like Noy Holland, Brian Evenson, and Thalia Field.  Anything that busts through the usual and hits me in the gut with that rupture usually wakes me up from whatever trance my own work or the “master narrative” has put me in.

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

Trust your own rhythm and voice.  You can edit something until you lose hope or faith in what it could be or what you thought it was.  Don’t let it get to that point—where the heart of it is on the cutting room floor.  Editing can be a way for the gremlin in your ear to start criticizing your work so that, after enough rounds of editing, you cut things that are really some of your most unique gifts.  Everyone edits their stuff a ton—by no means am I saying don’t edit—but remember whatever bell inside you that rang when you were inspired to write this thing you’re writing, and don’t get so far away that you can’t hear it.

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

It has, happily, focused outward from my own navel a tiny amount from when I started writing.  I started to wonder what literature does for people, and whom it serves.  I started trying to tell stories that helped to illuminate the plight of millions of voiceless people–an inherently problematic endeavor, but one worth trying and failing at.  It exists at the juncture of literary art and activism, which is an important place.  Writing used to be a way to describe my life as I felt it from the inside, and now it’s something I think of additionally as a connective tissue between myself and the people I write about, and between those people and my readers.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

On an individual level, I think it is to endow freedom and connection.  It helps people feel less alone.  Everyone, I think, needs to be heard telling their story.  I think everyone needs to see themselves in the art they experience, to know they’re not the only one to have looked/felt this way.

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

I can only quote Kurt Vonnegut: There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-”God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

(I would add: to both others and yourself.)

Your work has been so deeply influenced by your exposure to other cultures.  Can you speak to that for our readers?  How do you feel being a World Citizen has impacted the projects you’ve taken on or would take on?

I think my incredibly good fortune in terms of working in other countries is the chance it has given me to really look at what stays the same across cultures—the wonderful and the terrible—because that’s what makes us human.  Classic literature is classic because it’s timeless; because it asks or answers questions about humanity and existence that stay true through the ages.  Kindness, cruelty, love, humor – it’s all there, in every human corner.  I got to see that, in many countries, at a relatively young age.  The questions asked and answered by literature and the writing of it were illustrated deeply by what I saw and the people I worked with.  The Survival Girls (www.thesurvivalgirls.com), who are Congolese women creating original pieces of theater about the injustices they have suffered, taught me that storytelling truly does save lives; it really does affect trauma recovery for the better.  When I saw how central telling one’s story is to healing from certain things, I began to be interested in the work of literature as that of witness, and of testimony.  I looked for ways to honor that role that literature plays in grief and healing and trauma, in shedding the light on situations so that those situations begin to change. Seeing so much of the world and working with people from all over taught me the opportunities to care for others that comes along with being a human in community with other humans, and the projects I take on engage with literature’s role in that.

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

The Daily Beast put up an extract from my book about that theater group, which I founded in Nairobi two years back.  The book is called The Survival Girls, which was released last month. All proceeds from sales of the book go to tuition for the Survival Girls’ university education.

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.

 

Lately I’ve been absent from the world of Fictionaut, consumed by a return to the classroom and the many issues such a change implies. Still, there are favorites, writers I seek out here for their brilliance; Chris Okum, Michael Gillan Maxwell, Steve Gowin, and Sheldon Lee Compton. However, when Michelle Elvy asked me to contribute to the Editor’s Eye, I decided to go in search of strangers, as I feel estranged from the world of Fictionaut these days, and the old familiar faces are not so familiar after all. So here then are my diamonds in the rough:

1: Peter Kispert’s Tourniquet

This is a short, beautifully wrought piece of writing. I found myself drawn in by the strength of the writing, the way each word builds on the previous word. When I read, “I learned a tourniquet is a compression tool, a vice for flesh” I knew this was a writer I wanted to discover and share with people.

2: Paul de Denus’ The Confession

Powerful scene that takes me right into the action. I found the first line to be a killer: “He told me he once burned a church. I particularly liked how once the first line dissolves on the tongue like a communion wafer, the whole world of the narrator opens up and the whole thing is like watching a log burn in the grate on a cold night—satisfying, engaging, wonderful.

3: Steve Edwards’ An excerpt from The Heart Café

Longer than the usual Fictionaut offering, this one brings a world to my attention that I want to read more of, become immersed in, discover what the hell happens next. The writing is strong, the dialog sharp, the narrative flow nice and snappy, and the last line is a humdinger: “…she dissolved like a snowflake on a tongue.”

4: Glynis Eldridge’s black friday

Maybe it’s because I’m brooding on life, death, aging, and my own mother is growing old, but there’s a weigh, a poignancy, an absence though of sentimentality, in this work-in-progress. The writing is strong, the voice assured, the subject matter no laughing one, and the image of an old woman sipping tomato soup through a straw is enough to break one’s heart. A worthy read.

5: Sina Evans’ 11/30/13; or, what you won’t see in the picture

A poem, because I don’t do poetry at all well. I love the shape and form of this one. The images are fresh, the language simple, and there are avocado trees within! No, really, this is a gem, a real beauty of a poem. The way the weight falls on the final trio of images—“hive, landscape, bodies,” is quite wonderful.

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James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. He is the author of the book, Blood a Cold Blueand his website is at www.jamesclaffey.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.