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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.

 

 

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.