Archive Page 3

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.

____________________________________________________________

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.”

____________________________________________________________

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.

__________________________________________________________

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.

 

I’ve so enjoyed being back here, participating as an editor for the “Editor’s Eye” feature! What a unique destination Fictionaut is. There are new gems here every day, fresh-pressed and ready to be loved.

I read to feel. I am not an academic reader (or writer). Typically, I am not interested in the groovy-ness/cleverness of an imposed structure, unless it’s internal, unless it is authentic.

When I read, I want to be moved, the same way I do when I listen to music.

I let words dance in my brain and trick my senses. Sensory involvement and emotional engagement go hand-in-hand in short prose pieces. What grabs me is often more about what is NOT said than what is.

When selecting these five stories, I tried to give myself very few restrictions. I let the work decide, not the comments or stars. Some of the pieces I chose were somewhat overlooked, others were well-favorited.

Reading for the “Editor’s Eye” feature reminded me of how much I admire what Fictionaut offers readers and writers to share on a daily basis.

I’m grateful to Jurgen Fauth and Michelle Elvy for asking me to participate in this feature.

Here are my choices:

Zeta Reticuli  by Christian Bell

Poetry and prose blend here in this flash by Christian Bell. What Bell creates is a visceral, claustrophobic moment when what we love feels threatened. He brings us into the eye of a personal hurricane. There is little comfort to be found in his beautiful ending. We just want it all to be okay.

Grackles by Barry Basden

Basden is asking the reader to sit and observe quietly as he sets the past before us. This piece tackles bigotry, wearing old and new small-town binoculars:

“One of our distinguished old-timers, reminiscing a while ago, said, “We let them pickaninnies fend for themselves.

Basden incorporates much poetry in his use of language. The following sentence, like so many in this piece, is masterful:

I sip the Dairy Queen’s sweet iced tea and, from a shaded bench, watch the grackles prance.

No need to say more. Please read.

AFTER by Adam Sifre

Reminiscent, to me, of Raymond Carver’s poetry!

 You haven’t lived until she dances just for you,

under the kitchen lights

Details wrap me inside this moment, AND do not want to be unwound:

naked except for the gray cotton shirt

and we are there, we are in love with what the poet loves.

She laughs, arms waving above her head.

Just delightful!

Quitting by Jake Barnes

This story by Jake Barnes is mysterious in the best way. It takes me through a cloud of… smoke. I can see what is happening and yet — I can’t completely work it through until the end.  It jiggles like the ample-sized bellydancer. I can see that the speaker must quit smoking and yet the world is an oozing place, he notices too much, he needs the crutch of the cigarette (cigarettes are known to be love replacements). There are vague hints sewn in about the difficulty with temptation in more than one form. It is a very human story, sly and smartly written.

The tip-off (for me): “A little lower, actually…”

This man is lusting after something he is not supposed to have, and it is going to win. This is all too true, in life, this daily struggle of “not supposed to…”

Thank you, Mr. Barnes.

Some Nights by Ron Burch

Ron Burch’s story “Some Nights” is an addictively dark read. It kidnaps the reader with one man’s experience of modern isolation. I am right there with Burch’s narrator, feeling locked inside a bruised and hopeless night…. alone and looking for love, inside a big house, in Los Angeles.

 You worry what it can do to you this night.

The night is a bully. And yet, the night itself hurts…

This night, which seems especially wounded.

This excerpted line takes us into the lonely city of online loneliness farms i.e. dating sites:”…and you send suggestively sexual lines to each other while exploring a roomful of each other’s personal history the size of a mansion, and you desperately want it to keep going on and on…”

Loneliness kills. Scientists know this. The solution? Dating sites! Burch shows us just how empty online looking-for-love sites can feel: a bigger, virtual house with lonely people invisibly calling out to one another, using sex as glue, bringing us microscopically, unflinchingly close to a very modern kind of desperation.

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, editor and poet John Lawson to Writers on Craft this month.  John is the author of nine books of fiction and poetry, and seven chapbooks. Over 500 of his poems, stories, and articles have been published in magazines, anthologies, literary journals, and newspapers worldwide. John was a winner of the 2001 Fiction International Emerging Writers Competition; in addition to being a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (2006, Superior Achievement in Poetry) and the Wonderland Award for Bizarro Fiction (2007, collected fiction), other award nominations include two for the Rhysling Award, two for the Dwarf Stars Award, and the Pushcart Prize.

He is also a founding editor of Raw Dog Screaming Press. He spent four years as editor-in-chief of The Dream People online literary journal of bizarro fiction and poetry. Other editorial projects include two print anthologies, four e-anthologies, and freelance work for such companies as National Lampoon and Double Dragon Publishing.

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

Typically I’ll look at something I feel is the bottom of the barrel and draw inspiration from that, ha ha! Not unlike those gruesome car crash assemblies in high school meant to instill safe driving habits in students. Barring that cold splash of water approach I’ll opt for The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath, Sailor & Lula: The Complete Novels by Barry Gifford, Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, maybe Audition by Ryu Murakami or Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I’m lucky enough to also hang with some brilliant contemporaries from whom it is easy to draw inspiration as well, so friends like D. Harlan Wilson keep me on my toes, and colleagues like Eric Miles WIlliamson, not to mention a great book published this year titled This Time, While We’re Awake. I can pretty much flip to any page from those sources, read a few paragraphs, be like “Uh-huh!” and go get down and dirty.

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

Avoid writing how you want the reader to feel. This one thing will clear up a lot of the word usage advice out there along with “show, don’t tell” all in one swoop, and in narrative terms will keep you focused on the details that matter. Which is fairly significant, because that allows a clearer understanding of what’s actually happening, and keeps the pace more brisk. As an editor I often see work in which there are so many descriptors of the adjectives and verbs that the action slows to a snail’s pace, scenes drag out forever, etc., and the constant emotional digressions about how things “feel” aren’t actual investment in character development. We don’t get any clearer idea of what the character is like after a page about how horrible and unjust something is, but if we see the character’s reaction to injustice, well, there you go. The phenomenon I describe here is not limited to those of us who are unpublished. My son has been enjoying audio books during our two hour roundtrip travel time to his school. The series he currently prefers was an attempt to cash in on the Harry Potter craze (and yes, the intro music employs the same notes and chord progressions as the theme from the Harry Potter films), and in the publisher’s haste the work was brought to market seemingly unedited. The books are an extreme example of what I describe above, far more egregious than what I normally see in the regional writing contests I judge, or in manuscripts I’ve rejected. I could go on, but the point is: time spent writing how you want the reader to feel about your writing is time spent not writing the characters, plot, and action.

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

Fourteen years ago I was “having fun” and doing whatever I wanted, which did earn me some respect, but overall wasn’t appealing in any mass market sense. This was a good phase to get out of the way early on, because now that I have a solid grounding in “rule breaking” it’s a lot of fun to take various conventional forms and see what I can do within those parameters. Believe it or not I began with screenwriting, a field that is not friendly to the rebel. Luckily I soon found my way into fiction markets to entertain my disruptive tendencies, and poetry markets to hone my word usage, while still keeping a foot in the screenwriting arena to develop my understanding of traditional story structure and “how to please the crowd.” Years later I seem to be able to do all these things simultaneously, which pleases me to no end. In the beginning my vision was fairly narrow because I believed that in order to push boundaries one need focus on very select audiences at society’s fringe, whereas now the sky’s the limit. I feel I can write for every audience while still bringing something new to the table, and absolutely love doing romantic comedies—something I despised when I started writing.

What do you feel is the purpose of literature?

People need to be entertained, first and foremost, even if it’s just in the most shallow sense. Beyond the surface, though, literature hopefully touches on something thought provoking. I think the goal is to give the mind a full workout, to provide a safe environment to explore what it means to lose one’s lover, to kill another human, to find yourself in unexpected danger and prevail, to exercise a form of compassion you didn’t know existed. Literature is the original virtual reality, after all, but unlike video games or web sites or films: it exists only inside you. It’s a collaboration every time, really, with the reader filling in the chalk outlines provided by us authors. The purpose of literature? To work together toward finding a more enlightened place while distracted by the fun of it all.

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

You are going to die, and probably sooner than you think. What would you want to do before that happens? What will you regret? Sort these things out now. Not some figurative “now”—I mean this second. Why are you reading my words when your life is slipping by?

Your work spans many genres and styles.  You also wear a lot of hats with all the various aspects of publishing you work within.  Do you have any thoughts to share about how to manage a career while serving each genre well?  How does time management work for you?  Can you share how you’re able to accomplish so much? I’d also be interested in hearing the differences you perceive in the publication climates between literary and genre venues.

As referenced above I’ve spent a lot of time sick, or watching the people in my life suffer and die, so I don’t worry about what other people intend for me to do, instead opting to pursue my aspirations before time runs out. Does it always work out? No! But things wouldn’t always work out with a regular 9 to 5 job either, although that would probably pay better. So, I make time in my life by not having a life, essentially. There is no leisure time. I haven’t watched commercial TV in at least a decade, don’t socialize, don’t go to concerts or movies, and don’t sleep very much. That “blood, sweat, and tears” saying? That’s pretty much how I accomplish things.

Now, as I said, I started off doing whatever I wanted, which has been crucial for operating in the various writing circles I’m now established in. Sometimes I see my friends or others painted into a corner and trying to break out of being the [insert genre here] author, and feel bad for them. At the same time I don’t have the reputation of being the [insert genre here] author to fall back on and build a single, dedicated audience for myself, so it cuts both ways. No matter what style or genre you’re working with I learned early on to get involved in the scene. Be a reviewer or editor or proofreader or publisher. So many of the big breaks I’ve gotten came through the time I dedicated to publishing others as editor of the literary journal The Dream People—which only came about because I approached an indie publisher I admired and said, “Hey! How can I help?” They had a lit journal which was in limbo after losing its editors, and the rest is history. The Dream People published cross-genre work, so from there I organized anthologies in several genres featuring the authors I had worked with. Meanwhile, those authors became familiar with my writing and would direct me to the appropriate markets, or were themselves like-minded editors, vastly increasing my acceptance ratio. It continues to this day even though I’m involved in publishing books. Every hat I wear feeds the other, so to speak, keeping my career in motion—and in publishing a body at rest stays at rest, while a body in motion stays in motion.

Career aside, when it comes to serving the genres I can’t think about what genre I’m working in too deeply while writing, instead focusing on serving the needs of the story. Often I could set out to do one thing and find it really needs to be another, and then kill the story by trying to force it into a certain mold. I’ve not encountered the supposed snobbery of the literary scene; they only seem concerned with the quality of the writing regardless of the story’s focus. As for the genre circles, they are receptive so long as you operate with the required speculative element, although…well, I won’t say there’s snobbery per se, but some editors are far more “traditionalist” when it comes to experimentation and other more “literary” approaches to spec fic. Regardless, I don’t think you can go wrong serving the needs of the story above all else.

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

Well, that’s a long one, isn’t it? So. On Halloween I brought my second poetry collection, The Horrible, back into print. While people liked my first collection well enough there was some resistance to mixing so many genres in a single volume, thus I focused solely on the horror genre with this one. There are other reissues in the works for the next couple months, both of which fall under the bizarro banner, those being my novel New Mosque City and my fiction collection Pocket Full of Loose Razorblades. As for my other poetry collections: Wholesome Terror, which is more literary and experimental, will be out later this month, and I hope to have No Clean Way to Die out by the end of the year—it’s a fun romp through phobias.

Two other fiction collections I’m doing final edits on before publication are Truth in Ruins and Devil Entendre. The work in both those is older, having mostly seen publication in the bizarro and horror press respectively, maybe a decade ago. Also…I hope to finally have Verminomicon: A Field Guide to the Vermin of Yuggoth, Abominations of a Haunted World ready soon. Verminomicon is a Lovecraftian art book almost a decade in the making, conceived by Anthony DeBartolis who spent six years building the sculptures. Just when I almost had the accompanying novella complete last year my computer died, taking with it the text (and the bulk of other writing from my last 14 years), which I’ve been slow in reconstructing.

Beyond that, 2014 will see a number of erotica releases from me, starting with NSFW: Not Safe For Women, and Colors Made of Tears. These works come easily, especially when attempting to answer: how would Kurt Vonnegut write erotica? Or: what would a collaboration between Thomas Harris and EL James turn out like? Those are too much fun, and I’ve even thrown together a free original soundtrack to accompany them on my site, currently about two and a half hours in length with more to come. Most exciting to me, though, is the children’s market. My son and I are always concocting stories together, so I’ve started writing early reader and mid-grade books. They’re addictive, and I’m hoping to see them start trickling into the marketplace over the next couple years. We’ll see how that goes, I suppose.

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.

After I graduated from my MFA program, I felt battle weary. As a minimalist writer in the midst of Foster Wallace-worshipping post-modernists, my work provoked derision at the best of times or a yawn at the worst. I joined Fictionaut six months after I graduated, but I did not post work right away. I waited another couple of months before I worked up the nerve. For me, Fictionaut was a lab where I could do anything. And I did. Sometimes readers ignored a piece or chided me for writing it. But, every so often, a fellow writer acknowledged one of my pieces. The encouraging words and the critical challenges helped me to understand why I do what I do.

For this edition of Editor’s Eye, I looked for pieces that not only captured my literary sensibilities (which are eclectic), but also offered a new perspective to the old problem of how to tell a story in a fresh, engaging way. I paid close attention to the decisions other writers’ made within their chosen literary form, but more importantly, I looked for stories that best captured the spirit of Fictionaut– stories that enliven this eccentric playground.

(In order of most recent stories)

Phillip F. ClarkThe Readers

Love of family, of the self, and of art. Clark invokes the ethereal with precision. The voice never falters, it never meanders into exposition or trivialization, and it leaves us happily suspended.

Neil McCarthyOn a bridge in Regensburg

There’s grace and beauty in this poem. The emotion conveyed is familiar, but how it’s disbursed illuminates the narrator’s longing for identity or proof of existence.

This incessant journeying, these photographs that document
the ages of my illusory face, this cracked black pepper light
on my skin at night is but a stopgap grace.

We travel to escape the routine and experience something new, but often we miss the familiar and the place that is our own.

Charlotte HamrickUp To Down

A good poem should feel like a shot of caffeine injected into your consciousness. It should clobber you with the possibilities of language.

Should we drag our anger and our
blue acquiescence, bloodied, over
a cat tongue rack for misplaced hope

Hamrick delivers an avalanche of a poem with humbling panache.

Con ChapmanMe and J.D. Salinger at Burger King

J.D. and “Me” are a match made in a primitive place with dial-up modems. As Chapman’s J.D. Salinger quips: “The Vatican runs the place. They’re not about to put in Wi-Fi.” Well sweet baby Jesus, I admired the chemistry between “Me” and the fantastical Salinger. How can we not be enthralled by Salinger’s deep disgust for the BK Veggie Burger and his posthumous obsession with his now maligned legacy. Don’t we all love and hate Salinger. I believe some teachers assign The Catcher in the Rye because they hate their students. Ah, but wait I bought my copy when I was thirteen.

Linda SeccaspinaBed Bugs are Jumpin’ in Thunder Bay

Halloween and bed bugs mayhem. A play on an itchy (sorry) problem, but also on our paranoia. We obsess over the source of an infestation. Neighbors turn against neighbors, parents turn against their children, etc.  And, what about the xenophobes who want to blame the critters on those “damn foreigners.” These little shit stirrers torture and destroy our domestic sanctums. Seccaspina has fun bringing all these elements out and has a hell of a time going George A. Romero on us.

Bea StreetNew in Town

The relationship story told from a doubtful “we” or what “we” will never be again in this age of human disconnection. Street exhibits control over each sentence in the piece. The images flow with dexterity through a set of relationships each wrought with history and apples, lots of apples. I usually stay away from apples and snakes in my work, but Street’s confident, lyrical style takes full advantage of all those damn apples underfoot.

Chris OkumShirley Temple

What can I say, but thank you for this gem. Okum expertly weaves a little tale about egomania, capitalism, the American-can-do spirit, and corporate despotism while foreshadowing the outsourcing trend and economic doom. Here’s a fun fact, I went to business school. I’m a child of immigrant parents and as such had to help pay the rent, so cut me some slack. I read (scanned actually) Iacocca’s book in my sophomore year at college. I get this story at a particular level and snicker in awe. This story has already received 6 faves, but come on people, we can do better than that.

I also wish to acknowledge two stories that have not gone unnoticed by readers on Fictionaut in terms of faves: Cruelty by Deborah Oster Pannell and Ancestry.com by Nonnie Augustine. Here’s a salute to these valiant writers.

Many thanks to Michelle Elvy and Jürgen Fauth for inviting me to participate in this series.

_______________________________________________________

Gessy Alvarez earned her MFA from Columbia University. Her prose has appeared in Hothouse Magazine,  A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, Literary Orphans, Black Heart Magazine, The NewerYork, Bartleby Snopes, Thrice Fiction, Camroc Press Review, Pank, and other publications. She interviews emerging and established writers and poets, and showcases links to published work at her blog, Digging Through the Fat.  

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.

With only the caveat that I should spurn the recommended list for pieces with few or no favorites, I read for Editor’s Eye in the same way I read Fictionaut for myself. That I get to share my thoughts about the pieces I’ve read is an additional privilege and I’m grateful to Michelle Elvy and Jürgen Fauth for this opportunity.

Starting on October 6th, I’ve read Fictionaut every day to ensure no newly added story eluded me. I also followed leads; I ruminated the “Other stories by” archives of writer’s who, for whatever reason, came under my radar during my reading period. It’s been an education. I’ve learnt about process, about what interests me as a reader, about my reader prejudices and foibles. I’ve come to realise how forgiving I am of punctuation and grammar slips when I believe in the story being told. That all authors who posted works between the 6th and 20th had my full attention and intellectual investment may be small compensation for the following short list.

John OlsonA Little Load of Paint*

An artist is the embodiment of his chosen medium in the first line of John Olson’s “A Little Load of Paint”. Lush, vibrant prose is utilised expertly to give a sense of the colour and stimuli that were the armature of Cezanne’s work.

As a Fine Art undergrad, back in the nineties, I spent hours either poring over reference books or wandering around my home town trying to get my head inside Cezanne’s. I wanted to know how to translate the rough mound and slab of industry, and then post-industry, into the cell lenticular patchwork of light and landscapes that this impressionist was master at.

Testament to Olsen’s skill, he managed what a bachelor of arts couldn’t, I was right there in the “theatre” “of seeing”, until, “Later, toward evening, it will glow. It will swallow you whole. It will collide with everything you think you know. Everything you think you think you know”, when, as if self-conscious of the poetry he’s created, or perhaps in parody (?), Olson lays it on a little thick. Otherwise this piece was a tour de force of “consciousness in pigment and space” and a mini masterpiece in progress.

Steven John HorayHis Father’s Statement

In just fourteen lines, Horay compiles two generations’ worth of slow-baked bitterness, a father and son’s finely accounted relationship. Not even a couple of rogue apostrophes could bump me out of this engagingly detailed and psychologically deep and layered narrative. Resonant, this is the work of a writer to watch.

Steven PiraniTo Be Delicate, to be Colour

I was drawn to the mood evoked by the title of Pirani’s fiction, which I instantly imagined as a soft birds’ egg blue but was surprised to be told was “purple”.  This piece begins as an exploration of the adjective and takes the reader on a journey through the Proteus nature of language. Along the way, we pass a beautiful description of colour before personification brings the description to life. What I liked peculiarly was the sense of being urged to probe a little deeper into the implications attached to the descriptive tags we use. I thought Pirani demonstrated exquisitely the linguistic limitations of a group of words that’s function is meant to enhance and expand understanding, by holding a mirror to the way language can be reductive. In essence, this piece flags the patriarchy of language.

This exercise could easily have gone up its own cake-hole of intellectualism, but just as it seems about to be sucked into the tea-towel holder of pretention, Pirani brings it humorously under control with acerbic wit: ‘occasionally, they decapitate your name for you and call you “Deli”, which we both agreed sounded like shit, and so we both avoided that one.’ It’s intellectual play at its most readable.

All Pirani’s work is brimming with emotion – perhaps sometimes a little sentimental – perhaps sometimes it could use a little tough love on the endings, but in and among so much control and self-conscious, self-aware and trying-too-hard-to-be-clever, showy writing, Pirani’s was the warmth of a bonfire slumped low with good company.

Chris SheehanA Bear Story

This story would make a great study subject for a semiotics paper. I read and re-read it many times. Each time, a different element presented itself to me. It’s cloudy enough to be engaging, like poetry in its avoidance of spoon-feeding, but not so mysterious as to feel exclusive. I’d urge everyone to read it, then go read Saussure and come back to it and say a knowing ‘Ah’.

Rhys NixonMuch Ado About Exploring

Nixon’s piece begins in a lovely farcical tone with an edge of something register-clashing to come that served as enough of a hook to lure me in – just like the Shakespeare play alluded to in the title. And this story has its own similarly innocent Hero, whose character is called into question before lights out on this narrative.

Wonderful descriptions drive the plot forward as opposed to merely adorning the narrative: “The houses all appeared twice as tall as usual, and the streetlights long and bright” – as our Hero’s exploration outgrows his preparations and expectations, his surroundings dwarf him.

I like, too, that there are smells, and these are in keeping with our Hero’s limited perspective. The subject of exploration – the house – is damp, but rather than saying so, which would have left the reader assuming our Hero had prior knowledge of such locations, we are informed: “It smelt like somebody had decided to do the laundry, but after organising their clothes they decided to leave them in a corner, forgetting them.” This tells us so much about our Hero’s character, his oversights and lifestyle.

If this were my story, I’d edit out the chat with the officer – best left to the imagination – but the ending’s spot on. I’ll be reading you, Nixon.

P. R. MercadoMyself Today

I was intrigued by the autobiographical suggestion of Mercado’s title for this piece, a narrative loaded with suggestions, and I was pleased to have invested my attention. It takes the form of a poem but it’s really more a flash about the inability of the speaker to write “a good poem”. I enjoyed the genre bend, the play with form. I felt the ending fell a little flaccidly, though, in hindsight, this is perhaps deliberate and a clever choice. Overall, it put me in mind of some of Isherwood’s Berlin stories and left me wanting more.

 

*After note: this story went on to get recommended, as did a number of stories I earmarked, but I kept it on my list in order that I might end this selection with a few observations and thoughts about the recommendations process.

There were a number of stories I picked early on in my reading period that then went on to make the recommended list and therefore had to leave my list. As an indication of the quality of the pieces I was choosing, this was all good. Except, what of the other stories I had chosen? Yes, yes, this is the whole reason for Editor’s Eye, to find such overlooked gems, of course. But it got me thinking about what this oversight revealed about the process of recommending stories. That the others stories on my list did not get recommended has less to do with the quality and entertainment value of the pieces, as far as I can determine, and more to do with showmanship or the popularity of given authors within the Fictionaut network based on reciprocity. I’d like readers to think about this for a moment; think about what happens when we value back-patting above critical rigour. If writers were evaluated in the first instance and elevated on the basis of their social skills, we’d have to knock a good number of greats off the literary canon. The internet has opened up a fast-track highway for many aspiring authors, but I wonder how many talented greats are side-lined by a media that values extroverts over their quieter counterparts. It’s my opinion that the words on the page should be considered before the personality of their author. That’s just my opinion. But I hope you’ll agree. If not, I hope you’ll read with your mouths shut and your minds wide open.

_______________________________________________________

Rachel J Fenton was born in Yorkshire and currently lives in Auckland. Winner of the 7th Annual Short Fiction Competition (University of Plymouth), she is also the recipient of the 2013 Winter Flash Frontier Award and has been listed for many prizes, poetry and fiction, including the Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize. AKA Rae Joyce she works as a graphic poet and comics creator, was Artist in Residence at Counterexample Poetics, and won AUT’s Graphic Fiction Prize, 2012. Her vocal talents can currently be heard sampled in the hip-hop track ‘15 Years’, courtesy of Jamez Chang and The Last Ancients collective.

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.