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I was pleased and honored when Michelle Elvy asked me to do an Editor’s Eye for Fictionaut. She sent me the following instructions: “choose stories or poems that do not appear on the Recommended list, with only a few ‘faves’ or none at all.” Thanks for this opportunity, Michelle!

Before I announce the work I picked for the Editor’s Eye, I should lay out my criteria for doing so.

What do I look for when I look at work on Fictionaut?

First, I look for complete work. I do not like to read parts or excerpts of larger wholes. I do not think it’s possible to appreciate, assess or understand a part separate from its whole. I need to see the whole thing. In my teaching, I teach only whole works. (I generally hate anthologies with their worthless little snippets of things.)

I read only finished work. I do not see Fictionaut as a workshop—there are groups on Fictionaut where writers can workshop pieces and get feedback. When a story or poem is published on Fictionaut, I want it to be a finished work, not a draft. Well, people can do whatever they want to do. My preference and practice is not to read and comment on a draft.

I prefer work that has been revised and polished. I like to see work on Fictionaut that has been vetted by an editor and published. I don’t like to see on Fictionaut work that has just been written that morning or the night before. All the work that I post to Fictionaut is at least a year old when I post it. You may not all have my patience, but I would caution you not to rush your work. What is the rush, really? Wait until it is ripe. “The ripeness is all,” right?

I don’t enjoy reading works written from specific word prompts. These always just strike me as clever solutions to annoying puzzles. When you are given a group of words to incorporate in a story or poem, the work of imagination is already completed for you. For me, a prompt is the whip of someone else’s imagination. Writing according to a prompt is merely following a set of directions. I prefer imagination unfettered.

What do I like?

I like work that is well written. Write well and everything else is forgiven. I am avid for good prose. For me, language is the essential element. Everything else is secondary. So I look at the opening paragraph or the opening lines of a poem and evaluate the writing qua writing. If it doesn’t begin well, it’s not going to end well. Samuel Johnson had it right: “when I take up the end of a web, and find it packthread, I do not expect, by looking further, to find embroidery.” He’s not talking about a “hook” in the beginning of a story or a poem, by the way. He’s talking about the specific words you choose.

I like works that are edgy, that attempt something, that push the envelope. I like to be surprised. I like to be astounded. I like to be shocked. But writers who try to be edgy or surprising or shocking generally bore me because they try to be edgy and surprising and shocking in very conventional ways. Or they just try to be shocking for the sake of being shocking. That’s not how to be shocking.

Lastly, endings. The ending must live up to the beginning. I hate nothing endings, throwaway endings. Be an Olympic gymnast in your writing. If you don’t stick the landing, you’re not going home with the gold.

OK. Here are the overlooked and underappreciated stories and poems I picked by writers new to me, Fictionaut writers I have never commented on:

1.  Richard Toon’s “Dad, August 10, 2010”  

The subject matter (a father dying) is moving in and of itself and many Fictionaut writers have memorably addressed this subject. What I like about Richard’s story is the control he shows in his writing.

Take a look at the structure of and the rhythm in his opening paragraph:

“Satchmo sings a love song over the sound system. People read books, tap keyboards, drink coffee, eat cake. In Barnes & Noble—more a coffee shop these days than a bookstore—I am thinking about my dad and his stomach cancer.”

The first sentence divides neatly between the direct object and the prepositional phrase. The first half of the sentence is lyrical and timeless, the second half realistic and rooted. And so goes the whole piece, alternating between the present and the past, between disease and health, between existing love and impending loss. The second sentence is nicely balanced and firm in its insistence that “and” is not needed before “eat cake.” The third sentence is rightly periodic. Note the colloquial observation inserted perfectly between long dashes that introduces the idea of change (“these days”).

I like the word choices (I’ve bolded the ones I think are especially effective) in the next paragraph as well.

“The terror he has fought to keep at bay most of his life now growls at his door. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” I hear him saying, the way he would cluck on the motorway when he missed his turn. As death stalks him, I feel I should be back in England to say, as he said to me many times, “Don’t worry. Never mind.”

The father’s words (“‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,’ I hear him saying”) sandwiched between the terror and the motorway are effective and also help paint his portrait. Conscious artistic decisions like the three (rather than two—it makes a difference!) “oh dears” excite me. I like writing like this that is conscious, careful, and precise.

The story also has wonderful texture and depth—Laurie, the Wyeth paintings in the Farnsworth Gallery, the mother’s dementia, the brother, the doctor…but also the latch! the piece of string!  the Tower Ball Room in Blackpool! Like the arms of the dancing parents of the narrator, it all entwines.

Great story, Richard!

P.S. If I were to edit this piece, however, I’d delete the last line and end at “How strange that this music should be playing now.”). That is more moving to me. The last line feels superfluous.

2.   Steven Miller’s “Flower-Gathering”

This is a beautiful piece, not just in the longing the narrator expresses toward his wife at the end, but in the way the piece continuously undoes and redoes itself.

Paragraph 1: “I used to read this poem in my youth…yet its meaning hurried on just ahead of me like a doe spooked by my footsteps.”

Paragraph 2: “I did not understand its meaning until college…. The poem opened up then with all its splendor.”

Paragraph 3: “It contributed…to my belief that poetry is larger… than life could ever be.”

Paragraph 4: “That was then.  But then today…  I can’t help but realize how small Frost’s words are.”

This is structurally marvelous, but it is also marvelous because it understands that plot is not action but understanding. Not epiphany—understanding. And misunderstanding. And understanding again. And understanding differently. The thinking process, muddy as it really is. The twisted human trajectory of trying to figure it out.

Love this, Steven. Excited to have discovered it.

3. Wolfe Pang’s “Thunder at Three Minutes to Midnight”

Mysterious and haunting. Wolfe makes the reader believe there’s something (“the wound”) worth figuring out here. I think it’s the “I.” [“I found nothing… I walked away… Don't know if I can…”] Also the presence of connected bits: “lapin leg” and later rabbits; “you see” and then “If there was anything to see in the sea”]. Eccentric but not nonsensical.

I appreciate precise word choices like “highlighted” and “lapin.” [“castrated male rabbit”]

I like memorable phrases like “the loving kind of wind,” “the godly answer,” “the rash gift of darkness,” “the breathing parts,” “the feeling part of my arms,” and “fleet darkness.”

I enjoy surprising turns like “God touches down at right angles,” and “I found nothing for me through his door and knew it was meant for me.”

Minor quibbles:

The lack of standard punctuation in “Holding my hug, a bear hug standing in the dark, I’ve had it to here you see.”

“beyond yellow right angles”—interesting but made less effective because readers have already read “God touches down at right angles”

“tidal oceanic wave”—“oceanic” is a good word but it adds nothing to “tidal wave.”

“what I had left of God that bend from…” typo? Make grammatical.

Your piece gave me a lot of pleasure, Wolfe.

4. Miranda Merklein’s “Plight of the Injured”

Looks like a story but reads like a poem.

I like the voice (or voices) in this poem, much louder and more assertive than “that small, still voice” announced in the first line. Interesting inversion of the Biblical phrase: “And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice [italics mine] (1 Kings 19:11-13)

It’s both the voice of “polished beach glass and jade knees” [beach glass is, by definition, already polished by the ocean—is this glass polished on top of that?] andPlus, how do I know you’re truly sorry? It’s not my fault / you’re locked out of the house, / that somebody lifted your wallet and finally, now you see / my silence is my answer. So there!”

Fun play with language (“A stitch in time in search of a seamstress”) and surprises galore: “rides a white camel and wears black legwarmers during this eternal monsoon season.”

“Delta. Nine. Delta.” This is funny also!

As is: “It’s raining starfish amputees.”

As is: “Dear Distraction, the closest weapon of convenience, please explain the vintage Zorro masks and acrylic hair attachments…”

This poem is finely written, not “as we penitents are / hopelessly in need of revision.”

“So there. Show me or tell me—it doesn’t matter.

Brilliant close, Miranda! (BTW, in this poem you do both wonderfully.)

5.  Peter Richter’s “Hyena Spit”

My kind of title! My kind of prose poem.

Pulp and flesh falling into dry grass is a gaze you cannot shake is sun following the ax handle the grit in the grain that burns like acid on the blade is salivating over your disgrace is rotting peaches and the warrior you want to be is useless sound. Worn leather boots, you are your past, dismantled and placed in buckets is venom and holy water and open hydrants, these are your last rights, the bruise that bled.

I like a work that strains, that sweats excessively, that tries to do too much at once, as this piece wonderfully does.

The high points in sentence one:

“is……” That structure.

“a gaze you cannot shake”

“sun following the ax handle”

“salivating over your disgrace”

“rotting peaches” (from out of nowhere!)

The high points in sentence two:

“you are your past”

“open hydrants”

Keep turning the screws! Keep kicking out the jams, Peter!

6.  Laurie Stone’s “The Energy of Girls”

I love this piece because, despite the many places it could easily go wrong, it refuses to go wrong. That is especially true of its beginning and its ending. No thesis. No moral. Thank you!

It also has a lovely rhythm with many compound-complex sentences alternating with simple sentences. Those tripartite constructions echo the triangle of characters here.

As here:

“Emma and I were in a shabby part of town with vacant lots and overgrown yards, and I wondered if something would happen as we loped beside Tom, who was slow-witted and 21. We were 13, and it was dark, but I wasn’t afraid. My parents were doctors.”

And here:

“He cupped his face in his hands, looking at us, and Emma touched his soft hair and long body. I touched him, too.”

This story, despite its familiar loss-of-innocence theme, is brilliantly imagined, structured, and told.

An amazing moment:

My parents were doctors. When they hugged me, they scanned for disease, so I was used to a low-level atmosphere of alarm.”

An even more amazing moment:

“Tom’s penis stood up. I didn’t have a brother.”

The only discordant note is the word “raying”—too aware of itself as writing.

The rest (with special kudos to the title) is perfection.

Bravo, Laurie!



Getting Noticed on Fictionaut: Thoughts on the Recommended Page and Related Topics

The Recommended pages are longer (thirty stories per page on my monitor) than when I joined Fictionaut in April 2010, which is great—Fictionaut is recognizing and celebrating more outstanding work. But when you look through the sixty-six recommended stories currently up, ten of those stories have zero comments or only one comment and all ten have zero faves. So that’s confusing. The algorithm for appearing in the Recommended section (I thought it was based on the number of comments and faves—not just the number of reads) is not transparent.

And stories in the Recommended section tend to be self-perpetuating because people (it seems to me) turn first to the Recommended section and comment on the stories and poems already there (often the stories or poems by writers they are familiar with and whose work they have liked in the past) so a good story or poem with comments and faves gets even more comments and faves as it gets more and more readers. And with thirty stories on the first page, fewer readers may get to the second or third page of Recommended stories.

So where does that leave the work in the Most Recent stories tab? Do people go there first? They should, and some do (some must!), but I suspect most do not. (No, I have no hard or even anecdotal evidence for my feeling this is the case. Someone please supply some.) I generally go to the Recommended page first and see what people think is good and then read the work and see whether I agree with them or not. If I get through all the Recommended stories, then I turn to the Most Recent stories tab and see what’s there.

To get around the problem of getting one’s most-recently-posted work read, some people have taken to posting the news of a new story or poem on Fictionaut on Facebook or Twitter. I don’t do this myself, but I think this is smart. It’s honest advertising. I myself appreciate the alert and sometimes am led to work on Fictionaut by these announcements. But this solution just underscores the problem: how do people get their work noticed on Fictionaut?

The first tab on the home page is the Recommended tab. If we are really interested in promoting all work equally, maybe the Most Recent tab should come first.


Bill Yarrow is the author of Pointed Sentences, a full-length collection of poems published by BlazeVOX in 2012 and two chapbooks—Wrench published by Erbacce Press in 2009 and Fourteen, published by Naked Mannekin Press in 2011. He has been published in many print and online journals including PANKPoetry InternationalThrushDIAGRAMContrary, and RHINO. He is a Professor of English at Joliet Junior College where he teaches creative writing, Shakespeare, and film. Two chapbooks (Incompetent Translations and Inept Haiku from Červená Barva Press and The Lice of Christ from MadHat Press) are forthcoming in 2013.

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

August 11-25, 2013

Here is a list of writers whose stories I considered for selection while reading as Editor’s Eye in the past two weeks.  The names are in the order their stories appeared at Fictionaut, beginning August 11 and ending August 25, followed in parentheses by the number, if more than one, of stories that appealed most to me.  The main goal of Editor’s Eye is to feature deserving stories that have missed our wider appreciation.  Still, I want to include among the names on the first, longer list writers whose stories I considered featuring before I knew they would reach the Recommended Stories list: Jake Barnes (2), Chris Okum (5), Carol Reid (3), Daniel Harris (2), Michelle Elvy, Willie Smith, Neil McCarthy, Doug Shiloh, Amanda Harris (3), Gary V. Powell, Walter Bjorkman, Laurie Stone, P.R. Mercado (2), Bill Yarrow, Ben Ingram, James Claffey (4), John Olson, Sam Rasnake, Marcelle Heath, Roz Warren, Ginnah Howard, Jodi Barnes, Gary Hardaway (2), Svana Piast, Jerry Ratch (2), Felix Saparelli, Carl Santoro (2), FMLe, Jennifer Donnell, Hemrod McDowd, Rhys Nixon, G.E. Simmons, and Crabby McGrouchpants.  In recognition of those writers whose names have appeared already at Editor’s Eye, whose stories I also considered, I’ll list them here: Carol Reid, Neil McCarthy, Amanda Harris, P.R. Mercado, Chris Okum, Ginnah Howard, and Jodi Barnes.  I considered a total of fifty stories and selected ten to feature.

James Claffey’s “A Beggar in the Time of Hardship” deserves mention ahead of all other stories submitted these two weeks.  The story appeared then disappeared on or about August 11.  I hope the author has squirreled it away for further publication.  It deserves it.  I noted that the writing in its fine detail surpasses F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing mid-novel in my rereading The Great Gatsby.  “Veto the Mustard” is another of Claffey’s stories to whet the appetite.

Carol Reid’s “Sport” is one of the deserving stories Reid submitted since August 11.  I like extended analogy, and “Sport” works from analogy to let us imagine the narrator’s getting even in unrequited love, if love it is.  I view myself as someone who does not visualize comeuppance, but here I feel avid for the narrator’s decision to play it as a game to defend her honor in love.

Willie Smith’s “BEETLE MANIA” conveys our suspicions about boys, boys at work, boys at play, not the worst nor the best about boys in their early stirrings about girls, boys already rehearsing strains of combat and confusing their new hot suits with the art of war.  The style of the story is sure and the surface and rhythm accomplished.

Walter Bjorkman’s “Sweden 1958, I-IV” is a great poem or a poem great in its inception as a poem.  The use of repetition in its insistence that the year is an important one in the speaker’s life leads in four roman-numbered parts through a Swedish landscape and vista so scenic as to be like film or passages of description in the heart of a novel.

Daniel Harris’ “Dr. Wong” explores the universality of tooth pain and dentists with a trip to the Rain Forest and the deliverance of remedies in the wild.  Five Million Yen, Harris’ novel in chapters, 48 at present, is well worth following for its lively dialogue, vibrant characters, and situational analysis.

Chris Okum’s “Lobster: A Play in One Act” is among several fine stories Okum submitted since August 11 and perhaps the best.  Another is “Intercourse.”  Okum’s ear for dialogue and nuance is always fresh.  In “Lobster: A Play in one Act” a ludicrous social exchange becomes a scene in a play set at a wedding—full of honest surprise.

Jennifer Donnell’s “My Vajayjay, The Homing Pigeon” follows in the proud tradition of naming our vaginas, as initiated in Fictionaut stories past by Meg Pokrass’s “The Serious Writer and Her Pussy.”  Donnell’s story is interior monologue as spoken to the lucky audience, in part about the man on whom the narrator’s “vajayjay” has homed in.  If he has thoughts other than monogamy, the narrator’s vajayjay has back-up plans.

Ann Bogle’s short stories have appeared in The Quarterly, Fiction International, New World Writing, Wigleaf, Asymptote, Gargoyle, Big Bridge, Thrice Fiction, Altered Scale, and other journals.  Country Without a Name is forthcoming in an art print edition from Veery Imprints.


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

I’ve been sitting here staring at this blank computer page for days, trying to convince myself not to overthink James Claffey’s debut short prose collection, Blood a Cold Blue. I’ve given up on that. My head is spinning.

As I move through these finely wrought stories, a larger narrative takes shape, image for image, from Death’s lost battle with Birth to Death’s ineluctable reprisal. The purport of Blood a Cold Blue is nothing short of the well-examined life: a provocative, often grim and always honest, dissection of humanity.

An image-rich, compact and fragmented style nudges Claffey’s prose toward poetry in so many of these pieces. Bared of its grammatical clothing, the author’s more poetic prose is like the nude human form: stripped down to its essentials—this last bit stolen from Claffey’s “Liver Spots.” Here’s what I mean:

“Yellow stripes. A curtain. Summer dress. Strawberry blonde.

Remind me of years ago. Thinner. Prettier. Not much older.

Been there, seen that, walked the streets. Nice to put context

to abstraction. Young. Not so young. A beach, sand, toes, shine

of sun, the hills pretty distant, your skin quite pale.”

(from “Jam Jar”)

This stop-motion photographic realism—just one technique in Claffey’s richly varied narrative palette—intensifies the resonance of each fragmented moment. Most of the over 80 pieces of sudden fiction in the collection examine life through the realist’s lens; yet Claffey certainly does not limit himself to realism.

A bird trapped in a boy’s ribcage, a woolly mammoth in a post-apocalyptic basement, the Kafka-esque insect in “Carapace”—these occasional moments of magical realism lend balance to an otherwise elegiac collection. Elegiac. Yes, many stories in the collection are; but these are not “fabulist passages of an Irish childhood” (“The Tearing of Skin”). They are hauntings “illuminating every fear”: worried recollections of bedwetting, illness and the subtle presence of tyranny.

Claffey’s work is not merely an exhaustive examination of life, but also quite a specific treatment of life’s assault on the human body—the heart, the brain, the liver, the kidneys, the bones and in particular the ribcage—as if Claffey is presenting life as corporeal punishment for our sins, and the author leaves no part of the body unmolested. From the skull to the toes, his characters are made to endure the inescapable misery of life and the rigid hand of Mother Church.

The various images of the Mother in these stories are particularly harsh, bound to a stark Irish interpretation of Christianity: punitive, cold and superstitious—though Claffey treats the latter much less than other Irish writers I’ve read. These images are counterpoised by a gentler character: a nurturing woman, who feeds the narrator with a spoon-like arm in “Privilege,” who comes in dreams to give comfort, and who ultimately becomes The Virgin Mary. A reconciliation of sorts with both Mam and Mother Church? Maybe, but it’s only my reading of “My Mother’s Hands”; you’ll have your own.

The collection will compel you to think—maybe overthink—about corporeal decay, the deterioration of relationships, the unthinkable separation of religion and the archetype of Mother, and, yes, Ireland—oh, and of course the semiotics of birds.

Blood a Cold Blue (83 stories in 150 pages) is available from Press 53.


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Available from Amazon.

We are pleased to welcome fiction writer and poet Susan Henderson to Writers on Craft today. Susan Henderson is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets award. Her debut novel, UP FROM THE BLUE, was published by HarperCollins in 2010 and has been selected as a Great Group Reads pick (by the Women’s National Book Association), an outstanding softcover release (by NPR), a Best Bets Pick (by BookReporter), Editor’s Pick (by BookMovement), Editor’s Choice (by BookBrowse), a Prime Reads pick (by HarperCollins New Zealand), a Top 10 of 2010 (by Robert Gray of Shelf Awareness), a 2012 Book Club Choice by the American Library Association, and a favorite reads feature on the Rosie O’Donnell show. Susan blogs at and is very close to finishing her second novel. Her husband is a costume designer, filmmaker, and chair of a university drama department. They live in NY with their two boys.

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

I have some go-to books that I read whenever I want to get my heart beating and remember how much words matter: William Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Leaf Storm, and anything by James Baldwin. I’ve read those books again and again. Others greats: Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. There’s nothing like a perfect book to set things right again.

I also think, when you’re stuck, it’s helpful to watch award-winning movies to remember the importance of opening scenes (think “Witness,” “American Beauty,” and “The Wizard of Oz”) and the shape of a well-told story (think “The Sixth Sense,” “Mystic River,” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”).

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

Be willing to re-think absolutely everything about what you’ve written—where you enter the story, what you focus on, which character will tell the story, all of it.

Forget the saying about writers needing to keep their butts in the chair. Get up. Go for long walks, and do your “writing” by telling your story into the voice memo on your phone.

Read constantly and read books that are better than anything you could ever write. Read out of your genre. Read short and long fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essays to learn more and more ways to tell a story. Then go back to your work with a better tuned ear and a bigger box of tools.

Whenever you are writing the thoughts inside someone’s head, try to find a way to express those thoughts in the physical world and through action.

Think of your work-in-progress as a symphony. Make sure you have changes in mood and tempo and volume.

And I hold very dearly something Neil Gaiman said about editing, which I’ll paraphrase: If someone tells you there is a problem in your manuscript, they’re probably right. If they tell you a specific way to fix it, they’re probably wrong.

You only asked for one piece of advice, didn’t you?

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

I’m no longer afraid to call myself a writer. I’m no longer afraid when I discover that my writing process is different than someone else’s. I no longer worry about how long it takes me to write a story. I no longer assume my first draft is anything like how my final draft will look. I no longer show my work or seek feedback or share anything about the plot or themes to anyone as I go. I wait until I think I’m done, knowing that when I do seek feedback, I’ll probably discover I’m still more toward the beginning than the end of the process.

What do you feel is the purpose of poetry/literature?

To remind us that we are alive, to remind us of what’s inside and around us, to remind us of our many senses and the gamut of emotions we can feel, to remind us of our connectedness and the power of our voices.

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

Be in the moment. Enjoy a hundred things every day—the shape of the clouds, the sound of a child laughing, the feel of an animal’s fur against your lips, the way the house shakes when the train goes by, the temperature of the shower, the person with the crooked walk that you made smile, the memory of a long lost friend. Feed a squirrel, dance in your room, walk until your clothes are sweaty, look out and up and think, “Fuck yes, this is a good day!”

What do you feel are your favorite themes and why? 

I think my very private process that no one is likely to see on the page is that I take a fragmented sense of memory and try to make it whole. Another thing that probably doesn’t show on the page is that I like to work with themes and characters I feel conflicted about and explore them until I can discover what I truly believe.

On the page, I think I have a tendency to tunnel through darkness in search of light, love, or hope.

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

I’m really thrilled with the new novel I’m working on right now. Parts of it just opened up in a big, big way and I can’t write fast enough to keep up.

I spent a month in the town that inspired the setting of this new novel, and I have some photos of it posted here.

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:

Why I am here:

In mid-July, I was contacted by the wonderful Michelle Elvy, who asked if I would like to participate in the return of Editor’s Eye, seeing as how I had reached out about the feature almost exactly a year ago when I discovered a masterful short story that had been almost completely skipped over by the masses: “The Artist’s Conk” by Sara Catterall.

Let me tell you something about that story. I read it for the first time in August 2012, and again in August 2013 (and several times in between). To this day, “The Artist’s Conk” remains among the best short stories that have ever appeared on this website. It’s ~2,500 words of pure literature. It’s entertaining, there’s not a wasted word, perfectly paced, scintillating prose, a wholly profound tale of family and the detachment that is sometimes (intrinsically?) matched with love. And that ending? I’ll never forget it.

While there was no particular method to my selections—I clicked and read as many pieces posted over the last few weeks as I could—I know I missed some good ones, probably great ones. But I suppose the point of Editor’s Eye isn’t to show you all of the overlooked stories. That’s what the unending backlog of recent stories is for. My eight selections mainly were chosen for their ability to pierce my armor, to forcibly restrain me from clicking the back button after a few lines, to show me the world through the eyes of old souls, to make me jealous in a good way, in a way that tells me, “You have work to do.”

My selections:

He Gets Bored Easily” by Loyola Landry

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the twenty-five words comprising of Landry’s prose experiment is worth twenty-five thousand unsaid words. The subtext here is tremendous, immediately setting fire to the imagination. Who did he leave in the waiting room? Did he leave anyone in the waiting room? Why was he/were they in the waiting room? What does it mean to leave a waiting room? Could you leave your ailment behind, if you wanted? Would you care?

 “And So I Did” by Chris Okum

When it comes to the writing of Chris Okum, either you know or you don’t know. What I know: this guy is one of the most consistently under-read writers on this website (most of his stories at the time of this post’s composition have between 60-80 views—should be ten times that). He regularly posts strange, hilarious, dark, excellent stories. He’s been doing it for a long time, and only recently have I caught on. This is a brilliant example of what he likes to do:

I never once thought for a moment to not go along with what he was telling us to do, because he was Father, and Father knew best. But then he mentioned moving to the jungle, and that’s when I knew I had to leave. Because nothing good ever happens when a bunch of white people move to the jungle. You don’t have to be a genius to know that. All you have to have done is paid the smallest bit of attention. So when he said we were moving to the jungle the first thing I did was take my wife aside and tell her that we needed to grab our kids and make a run for it. But my wife wasn’t interested in leaving. All she was interested in doing was continuing her tantric sex lessons with Father.

I don’t even know how to begin to break that down. Like, what? It’s just so damn good.

Another thing about Chris Okum: his stories don’t live on this site for long, probably because they’re being published in big huge literary magazines that are paying him a gazillion dollars a word, at least, that’s what they deserve. So, get reading. Get wise.

 “Long Winter” by Steve Edwards

Full disclosure: I knew of Steve Edwards before Fictionaut. In fact, I invited him to Fictionaut. I first picked up his scent on Twitter, where he frequently dispenses wisdom of amusing, humorous, profound, or of wrenching sorts. He has a memoir about living in solitude, writing, and lots of other important things. That said, I’ve never met him in person and wouldn’t profess to know him personally, and although it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider him a friend, I know him through his work first. And so should the rest of you, because he is a damn talented man.

“Long Winter” is a bit lengthy by Fictionaut standards, clocking in at about 4,300 words, though it doesn’t feel that long at all. It feels like a twenty minute dream in which the reader is transported to Lafayette, Indiana, into the lives of two brothers—one divorced, the other caring for his mentally unstable wife. The reader sees them in the narrator’s new apartment; the reader sees them driving through the town they knew as kids; the reader is permitted to a statement of the conscious and unconscious desires of men who want to make a difference but just don’t know how, damnit. So, for you lengthists out there: this story is more like a beautiful hammer to the chest than a chore for the eyes. It really is literature.

 “Getting to Yes” by Joanne Spataro

This brief but packed story of yearning made me a little warm under the collar with its last few lines, set up perfectly by its lustful narrator. It’s the familiar premise of a friend who wants more, only setting herself up for disappointment, told with a refreshing perspective and wryness. I admire the frankness and self-aware tone that doesn’t play the games that she oh so wants to play.

I Confess to God in the Shower” by P.R. Mercado

More overtly sexual and existential (are those two not inseparable?) than the previous piece, this poem, as Matt Dennison (don’t let his aliases fool you) notes in the comments, sort of culminates from Mercado’s more recent work. He strips bare the anguish, presents it without frills or a shred of dishonesty. This poem dares you to look it in the eyes, in the soul, and smiles a bloody smile when you can’t.

Obituary” by Ginnah Howard

This story, to me, demonstrates the power potential of flash fiction as well as any. Again, in straightforward language, dealing with the things with which we do not know how to deal, cannot be prepared for how to deal, and suggesting more beneath the surface without overtly stating it. This is what flash fiction can do, at its best.

Sweet Caporal” by Carol Reid

You can always tell a language maven. They don’t stay covert for long, but they’re not so obvious, either: revealing themselves gradually like a tiger in the grass.

Sentences like this: “She was a magic gold piece in my pocket, a talisman against the blue solitary hours of being thirteen and not yet pretty.”

and this: “At school, Lorna was with Adam, too much older, with unfocused  stone-washed eyes that left us feeling deflowered with a look.”

are written by people who understand it is actions that best describe characters, that it is the defamiliarization of what the eye sees so plainly it may not otherwise see that differentiates the ordinary from the extra-. Carol Reid is one of those writers, and “Sweet Caporal” is proof.

Scouter” by Dale Marlowe

This piece blew me away. What we have here is flat-out storytelling, a writer who knows his subject, and delivers the goods. The prose in “Scouter” is taut and vivid, each word guiding you not only to the next word, but the next happening. Things happen in this story; they happen fast and they happen true. “Scouter” is a work of utter efficiency. At about 1,300 words, here is a war story that does what the best war stories do: it contains far deeper context beyond what is presented on the page. It’s quite a remarkable feat, really.

Happy reading.

Matthew Robinson’s writing has appeared in numerous journals such as >kill author, JMWW, The Rusty Nail, Dinosaur Bees, and others. He lives in Seattle, which is much friendlier than people give it credit for, works in theatre, and stacks his spare change in odd configurations throughout the house. He tweets @mtthw_rbnsn. Editor’s Eye is edited by Michelle Elvy.

Welcome to the newly revived series, Editor’s Eye. This is a Fictionaut Blog series that aims to highlight noteworthy work that may have slipped through the cracks of Fictionaut’s automated list of recommendations.

We’re running it much as you knew it in 2012 when Meg Pokrass kicked it off. Every two weeks, a distinguished visiting editor (remaining anonymous until the post goes up) will scour the site for lost treasures and will select a handful of outstanding stories that passed by readers too quickly.

To launch the new Editor’s Eye series, I’ve spent recent weeks digging into Fictionaut’s pages to find gems beneath the surface – stories and poems worth a second or third or fourth look. What a pleasure – and what a task – to select a handful of things from all the excellent reading I’ve done at Fictionaut this month.

It’s always a great experience reading at Fictionaut, usually late at night for me. I am very glad to take the time here to mention things that grab my attention when I come to these pages. Particularly noteworthy (all selected from July 2013) are strong opening lines (Jake Barnes’s Wasps’ Nest), a driving voice (Gary V. Powell’s Dirty Girls), the strange and weird (Steve Gowin’s Cutter) and the weird and strange (Willie Smith’s Oz on the Moon). I love powerful imagery (Beate Sigriddaughter’s Vincent van Gogh) and strong statements (P.R. Mercado’s The President is Giving the State of the Nation Address Today). I love stories that reveal the rhythm of lives (Pia Ehrhardt’s Watering). I love stories that bring me to my knees (Ann Bogle’s Story for Ned’s Edit). I like tiny things, wee vignettes that whisper or shout, depending on how you read them (James Claffey’s geisha). I like tension, and tension does not have to be readily or easily resolved – but it has to feel real (Foster Trecost’s Street Trash). I like poems that are about small things and large concepts all at once (Charlotte Hamrick’s Milk for Free). I like a simple ode (Ginnah Howard’s Flesh) and a thing that is neat in concept as well as on the page (Gary Hardaway’s Vanishing Point). I like a well-wrought memory (Amanda Deo’s Gene Wilder). I don’t much care whether a story follows the oft-touted framework of beginning-middle-end; I like writers who know how to play. It may be serious play or lighthearted play but stories and poems shine when the writer has had fun with them (Chris Okum’s Plum & Razor and Stephen Hastings-King’s Mobile).

I came to this task with an open mind, ready for anything. I found stories and poems that delighted and startled, that caught me off-guard or soothed. I found work with an edge or a vulnerability, I found work exuding confidence and grace. I found polished work and raw work. I found a little of all that, plus more.

I should point out that in my selections below I veered away from any writers whose work repeatedly dances on the Recommended page and writers with whom I’m already well acquainted.

Each editor in the series will follow the same basic guidelines – to select stories or poems that pass by the listings all too quickly to earn a place on the recommended pages – and each one will offer commentary about the selections.

So stay tuned for the next installment of Editor’s Eye mid-August, and enjoy the series as we move forward. Below are six selections worth checking out again.

And thank you, readers, for tuning into Editor’s Eye.

-Michelle Elvy
31 July 2013


Amanda Harris, Born to Lose

This story strikes deep and hard. It is barebones in its tone and telling, but it lingers long after you’ve left it. I came back to this story again and again because of its trimmed-down truth and its combination of rage and acceptance, the delicate balance between knowing something is wrong with this picture and knowing this is the way it is, plain and simple.  Stylistically, it’s a compact piece of flash, with a sharp shift in the middle, right between the fantasy of getting the teacher into bed and the reality of the brutish man this character needs.  This story delivers a punch, all the way to the killer last line. And it includes a link to Social Distortion, too, which connects us a little more to character, or author, or both.


Jodi Barnes, Take our marriage and replace it with blue cheese dressing

What’s not to like about this story? It catches you from the get-go (what a title! what a concept!), it buzzes with humor and honesty – two things I love in a well-crafted story – and it has a sense of play that makes the story and voice shine. I love the opening phrase ‘whether it’s on sale or not’, implying a kind of carefree attitude in what is really a very serious ode to love, in all its possibilities. The alternate world of hippie sauce, the fleeting moment in which two paths cross – in one universe or another – and phrasings that are original and delightful (“That you are downright joyful to have found your pungent dream manifest in a repurposed jelly jar”) make me smile. The pacing is perfect, and the whole thing comes down to the final sentence (taking up a substantial nearly one-third of the story), bringing us back to the present in a most satisfying manner. It’s a wholly unexpected blue-eyed-green-eyed love story, served with aplomb. Magic!


Miranda Merklein, One Thing and One Thing Only

This poem is carefully constructed as beautiful imagery and a strong story unfold from top to bottom. The opening lines shimmer large and mythical –

You emerge as words black in milk,
a veil lifted by my self-same hand,

uncorrupted by time or transportation,
Adam of alabaster, carrying two clay

urns of water above
all ground and sea, floating toward me…

And the poem dances from there, space and time collapsing or melting away, while also pulling everything together. There is something inevitable in this story, even as there are phrasings placed to shift mood and maintain distance (“Nevermind…” and “it does not matter”). There are other phrases that catch the reader’s attention for their rhythms and play: “my self-same hand” in the beginning and “your made-self hands” near the end, for example. The poem navigates between specific details (the unlikely mention of salmon, garlic, a treehouse) and images that suggest vastness (“desert fossils from Pangea or Syracuse”).  There’s mystery here (and in the author note). It’s a song full of longing and desire and hope, with elegant turns of phrase and a strong, soft closing that I will remember.


Curtis Smith, The Lake

I like a good then-and-now story. This one offers a glimpse at new love and rough beauty against a modern industrial backdrop and breaks your heart in all the right ways. I think I knew my heart was going to break when I started reading this, but I couldn’t help myself – I had to keep reading. That’s the beauty of this narrative. There’s nothing surprising, really: no shock-value, no ugly language, no vulgarity. It’s straightforward storytelling at its best. The reader is pulled along, one moment after another, one image after another. The writing is restrained and steady, with images and metaphors working in tandem to paint a complete life. And the specific images are placed in all the right places: the sun “warped and bloody from the city’s pollution”, the coming storm, the coffee and whisky breath. The story could almost end with the first section, with this beautifully descriptive sentence: “With the air full of rain and electricity, it felt like creation itself.” But then we’d miss the whole second half, with the change in season and tone, and yet another perfect last line.


Kait Mauro, Adam

This poem is subtle and moving, and it contains an understated calm that belies the tension and sorrow. It starts out with an opening that will draw the curious reader in but moves quickly into the realm of the personal, the private.  It contains both story and anti-story. There are layers here, beneath the words on the page. And there are moments captured that remain with the reader long after the lines have been read. This poem employs language that brings the reader right into the delicate moment, and it pays close attention to how words sound and feel on the tongue lips:

We slept like peony petals,

pressed together like ear bones -

pale, thin and curved.

I feel as if I am trespassing on something private and delicate and perhaps sacred. A moment that should not be lost. A poem worth reading several times at least.


Neil McCarthy, Eva at a safe distance

This poem should be noted first and foremost for its curious and subtly suggestive title. I love a perfect title. The implications of ‘safe distance’ tickled me and made me wonder why – because it’s necessary? because it’s as close as the narrator can get? because of fear or desire or both? It sets up with precision something crucial about the relationship between Eva and the narrator. It’s an observational poem, simple and straightforward in its portrayal. Go on and read it, readers: the descriptions create mood and distance and sustain a kind of intrigue and quiet (and possibly sad)) charm throughout. The characterizations here are sparse but strong – “like a schoolgirl whose mind is elsewhere”, “she speaks without breath”. I like the way the focus shifts from Eva to the narrator in the last stanza, and how we finally get a small glimpse of her past –

To her I must seem vacant, like one those stern Soviet

border guards she flirted with in her youth

I’m not sure I understand Eva or the poem entirely. In fact I know I don’t. So I like it even more.

Michelle Elvy edits at Blue Five Notebook and Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction.  You can also find her delving into creative conversations at Awkword Paper Cut. Co-ordinator for New Zealand’s National Flash Fiction Day, she launched FLASH MOB 2013 in June this year (with Christopher Allen and Linda Simoni-Wastila). She has published poetry, short stories, historical essays and creative non-fiction about travel, faraway shores, food, motorcycling, the kindness of strangers and raising children in unusual places for various literary journals and travel magazines. Her latest work is on exhibit this month in a gallery in Whangarei, New Zealand, as part of a collaboration between seventeen poets and visual artists.

Michelle’s latitude and longitude change regularly as she floats around the South Pacific on her 43’ sailboat Momo, collecting stories along the way. She edits manuscripts for a living and is grateful that the Internet makes her life choices possible. She considers it a privilege to link to clients across oceans and to cavort with Fictionaut writers and readers at all hours of the day and night.


Cattish is but one of the languages whose roots are explored in Morgan Harlow’s Midwest Ritual Burning (London: Eyewear Publishing, 2012).  In the poem, “A Partial Lexicon: ‘Fresh’ and Related,” the speaker traces derivations of “fresh water” and “fresh kill” through Old English and Old High German, but finds that their full meanings peak in Cattish.  Corollaries exist in Old Norse, Slavic, and Portuguese, as influenced by the Ermine and Meerkat, not under consideration here.

The languages of Midwest Ritual Burning belong properly to the animals, whose subtopics are trees and the moon, as in the poem “The Undeniable Mystique of Silver Birch Trees” in which the birches’ bark reminds the speaker of “the coppery knobbed knees/of gazelles” yet also of “the moss grown banks of streams/in velvet paintings, brash overuse/of texture and black light/nuance.”  The birches are animals.  The birches are trapped in paintings that remind anyone who sees them of the first trees of home.

What is and where is home in this volume of poetry that refreshes the reader in its being simply that, poetry?  This is poetry in more than one form that finds ancient ties to vision.

Home is Rome, as in the poem, “Hera and Zeus,” whose featured gods find in the moon two forms of love, his: the moon “as an alien searchlight” and hers: the moon as ballast to the world “with great chunks of it.”

There are animals older than the gods, such as the gorilla, to remind us of a past not yet recollected by the finest artists of a later Rome or England.  Many of the poems are ekphrastic.  The poet and the speaker in the poems are studying not only nature, not only woman and man, not only the older animals or language, but also the history of art itself.

Art includes literature.  Purveyors Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, Faulkner, and Longfellow place a claim on the living and become characters in time.  The living poet speculates about the recognitions of the dead in these events: water, trees, dark, animals.

Joan Miró is not a character in the poems’ rejoinders.  His surrealist gestures are, as in Harlow’s poem, “Joan Miró, Ciphers and Constellations in Love with a Woman, 1941”:

A string of broken friendship, a lifetime of it, followed,
friendships rejected, hundreds of would be friends,
her own father who needed her at the end but looked
at her in a way that made her understand he knew
it was she who would need him, as Hamlet had needed
his father.

In the title poem “a belated daffodil” serves as the focal point of Min’s shovel, the cultivating purpose of Davy’s and Min’s “burning hooves and horns” to nourish chickens with “ash rich in calcium.”  The funky Midwesterners and their activities near the barn remind one of Ashbery’s Flossie and Dad in “Obedience School.”

The reader can intuit something of Lorine Niedecker’s quiet natural progressions in Harlow’s poems, furnished in line and stanza patterns uniquely their own.

Ann Bogle has been a member at Fictionaut since July 2009.  She is fiction reader at Drunken Boat, creative nonfiction and book reviews editor at Mad Hatters’ Review, and served formerly as fiction editor at Women Writers: a Zine. She earned her M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Houston in 1994.  Her stories have appeared in journals including Blip, Wigleaf, Metazen, Istanbul Literary Review, The Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Fiction International, Big Bridge, Thrice Fiction, fwriction : review, THIS Literary Magazine, and others.  Her short collections of stories, Solzhenitsyn Jukebox and Country Without a Name, were published by Argotist Ebooks in 2010 and 2011. Books at Fictionaut features reviews of books published by Fictionaut contributors. 

We are pleased to welcome poet, fiction writer, and editor Rusty Barnes to Writers on Craft today. Rusty Barnes grew up in rural north­ern Appalachia. He received his B.A. from Mans­field Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia and his M.F.A. from Emer­son Col­lege. His fic­tion, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in over two hun­dred jour­nals and antholo­gies.  After edit­ing fic­tion for the Bea­con Street Review (now Redi­vider) and Zoetrope All-Story Extra, he co-founded Night Train, a lit­er­ary jour­nal which was fea­tured in the Boston GlobeThe New York Times, and on National Pub­lic Radio, end­ing its first ten-year-run in Feb­ru­ary 2012 and gearing up to relaunch in February 2014. Sun­ny­out­side Press pub­lished two col­lec­tions of fic­tion, Break­ing it Down and Mostly Red­neckMiPOe­sias pub­lished two chap­books of poetry, Red­neck Poems  and Broke. Sun­ny­out­side Press will pub­lish his novel, The Reck­on­ing, in late 2013. Cruel Joke Press will pub­lish his poetry col­lec­tion, I AM NOT ARIEL in Novem­ber 2013. If you want to know more, friend him on Face­book, or check through his recent inter­views. If you’d like to read his poetry and get poetry-related news, visit Live Nude Poems.

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

I have any number of go-to texts, and they’re all poetry. I pull out Bill Knott or Paul Blackburn or Kim Addonizio or William Blake, or lately, Allen Ginsberg and Clark Coolidge. Poetry is where my love of words is rooted, and I couldn’t do without a daily dose, at least. My fiction is relatively ordered by alphabet, but poetry (and thus my mind) by obsession.

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

Don’t mess with someone else’s writing unless you have (a) damned good reason(s).

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

I try to tell the truth, but I end up lying to get there inevitably. I don’t worry about the process much. I write it, it does what it does, it signifies what it signifies, and the only thing I can do is polish it. If I revise much in the traditional sense I might as well start over again, in terms of poetry. Fiction is completely different sometimes. It needs a further kick in the ass before it can be made to mean in the sense that I’d like it to.

What do you feel is the purpose of poetry/literature?

To distract us from the abyss.

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

I turn to Patrick Swayze for many reasons. In Roadhouse, he says to the wannabe bouncers: Be nice. It works for almost everything.

You’ve been at this art a long time, as both a writer and an editor.  Can you speak to what it takes to stay motivated in the current publishing landscape, what it takes to keep giving service to the community and keeping your own creative work fueled and strong in its motivations, even when faced with critics?  How, as an author, do you treat reviews and criticism that comes, when it comes, as there are few who can ever avoid such confrontations? How do you feel about self-publishing for literary authors?

 I don’t speak for others, but I stay motivated by reading my peers. I buy their books, sometimes when I don’t even like them personally, because it’s important to me to keep on top of what people, i.e., my peers, are doing. If they’re doing something cool, I’m motivated to outdo them in my own mind, or at least to stay even with them if they’re really good. I don’t have critics, really. I have my friends who like my work and I suffer the assholes that don’t. I love the idea of self-publishing for that reason. Who wants to criticize someone who publishes their own work? It’s like hitting a cripple. Having said that, I admit to crippled emotions at least, because I would rather self-publish my poetry books for those who get them and let the rest of the world race by like the amoeba they are than publish with someone else with whom I have to grapple and snarl about font and cover and reviews and price. And having said THAT, there are two or three presses who still have the poetry manuscript, and if they accept it, I would be happy to have them print it. I say this only because I know and trust them. But sending your book off to someone whose work you don’t know and who you can’t trust, ye gods, why would you ever do that?

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

Rod Siino and I are discussing terms for reopening Night Train in February 2014, which I am all hyped up about. I Am Not Ariel, my self-published book of poems, is coming out in November 2013 from my own Cruel Joke Press. My novel The Reckoning is coming out from Sunnyoutside sometime after that. I have another collection of short stories making the publisher rounds and have finished one poetry chapbook of off-sonnets called Dear So-And-So. I’m working on another chapbook which details the drama of an intercontinental, very one-sided, in fact nearly one-way, love affair. It’s called I Want You Right Now! And it is already published in hell.

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:

My one and only experience in Romania was five years after the fall of the iron curtain, the remnants of which were still weighty. Guns and gray were everywhere, and then there were stories of Ceaușescu and how he’d been the only person allowed to hunt bear. That night in the hills overlooking Brașov we ate bear from an enormous wooden board with raw garlic—because Ceaușescu was dead.

The Romanian government allowed Alex Pruteanu and his father to emigrate to the United States when Alex was ten years old (his mother had already defected), so it’s little wonder that Pruteanu’s narrative memory reaches back to salt mines and simple rural folk in his short fiction and verse collection Gears. While it’s impossible to fit all these stories and poems into a neat, ordered category, there is—as Pruteanu says himself—a theme of movement. I see this as usually young men travelling toward, for lack of a better expression, something better; yet I’m reluctant to say this assumes success. In fact, some of the US-set stories are about young men ruined by greed, drugs and perversion.

The 71 pieces that make up this pleasingly heavy collection are intricately crafted character studies, but they are also studies on culture and influence. This is not a collection you can read straight through in one sitting. The themes—oppression, existential angst, addiction and just staying alive in the modern world—are not light fare; which is not to say the stories make for difficult reading. The author’s prose style is remarkably readable.

Pruteanu’s stories about transient young men and The Old Country—a poor sobriquet, but maybe it’s fitting?—are more character/dialogue-oriented than the stories set in the United States, some of which (e.g. ‘Urban Legend’ and ‘The Informer’) read like a Tarantino screenplay transformed into a stream of consciousness narrative. Add poetry and an experimental piece one has to read upside down and backwards, and you’re holding in your hands an incredibly versatile collection.

These are stories of coming and going, leaving and arriving—of moving on? In fact, Gears is so global in scope that pinning it down is pointless. The opening to ‘Saints’, though, comes close to representing the collection’s narrative tone. Here you are:

First thing I ever did when I arrived in New Orleans was buy a bottle of cheap bourbon from the ABC to go with the cheap room in the cheap transients’ house on Josephine Street just at the edge of the Garden District. I set the bottle on the filthy table by the window and poured the golden juice into a small, dirty tumbler which I had packed in the duffel bag, and listened to Mahler’s 5th on my small radio.

I’ve chosen this passage because it demonstrates so many aspects of Pruteanu’s male characters, who are often highly educated Renaissance men who find themselves in transit, intoxicated and/or in rehab; but this passage also shows us the solid rhythm of the author’s prose.

The dialogue between mother and son in ‘The Osseous Tissue of Fish, Two Poems and One Song, How to Safeguard A House Key, They Drank Water Out of Jars, Where the Microphone is Hidden’—the title is almost as long as the story—effortlessly conveys the sound of these characters’ speech patterns. In fact, this is one of Pruteanu’s authorial assets: his natural ear for voices.

Great work. Important themes. Deadly, memorably serious.


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Available from Amazon.

We are pleased to welcome acclaimed and widely published poet Amy King to Writers on Craft today. Amy King is the author of five collections of poetry: Slaves to Do These Things, I’m the Man Who Loves You, and Antidotes for an Alibi (a Lambda Book Award finalist), all from Blazevox Books. Of her most recent book from Litmus Press, I Want to Make You Safe, John Ashbery described Amy King’s poems as bringing “abstractions to brilliant, jagged life, emerging into rather than out of the busyness of living.” Safe was one of the Boston Globe’s Best Poetry Books of 2011. The Missing Museum is forthcoming in 2014 from Kore Press. King teaches English & Creative Writing at SUNY Nassau Community College, is a board member with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, helps organize “The Count,” and moderates the Poetics List (SUNY-Buffalo/University of Pennsylvania), the Women’s Poetry Listserv (WOMPO) and the Goodreads Poetry! Group. She also co-edits Poets for Living Waters, an international poetry action in response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and other ecological disasters. In 2012, King was honored by The Feminist Press as one of the “40 Under 40: The Future of Feminism” awardees.

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

I don’t despair.  I go to Diane Arbus, John Ashbery, James Baldwin, Roger Ballen, Charles Baudelaire, Leonora Carrington, Anne Carson, Claude Cahun, Hélène Cixous, Hannah Hoch, Leonor Fini, David Lynch, Frida Kahlo, Alice Notley, Tomaz Salamun, Gertrude Stein, Cesar Vallejo, Remedios Varo, Carrie Mae Weems and Francesca Woodman to escape ego-ruts. Some here are visual artists; some also write.  I read the visual, I read the lives, I read the text.  I’ve left musicians and everyone else out.

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

Advice feels prescriptive in possibly unhealthy ways lately.  If you’re in my proximity, say, in the form of a student or a writer pushing buttons, I offer challenges.  Teaching has helped me evolve some cursory challenges like: reverse the order of each line, make the last the first, etc.  Omit every other line. Turn each adjective and adverb into a fortune cookie fortune.  Delete every third word.  Sculpt another poem with deleted words.  Change your addressee from the president to your mother.  Editing is writing backwards.  Editing is writing.

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

If perceptions don’t change, then death assumes responsibility. “Doing” is meeting the unstoppable force with the immovable object while writing a photo at the moment of handshake.  How you get there is to continue. “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”  Some call this curiousity. There are many ways to sidestep the takeover.  Enable the energy in paintings, music, objects, everything, along: words can unseat atoms.  I sometimes think in ekphrastic performances. Others, I choke back sense.  I carry on.  I continue.  I go on.     

What do you feel is the purpose of poetry/literature?

There are as many purposes as there are hearts with anterooms. There are as many anterooms as there are Russian dolls inhabiting them. Each doll’s heart has its own heart.  Each anteroom opens its heart. We are purposed with heart by opening anterooms. We are the dolls inside every heart.  How many is that?

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

Feel like this at least once when you write, if possible:

You may not believe in magic but something very strange is happening at this very moment. Your head has dissolved into thin air and I can see the rhododendrons through your stomach. It’s not that you are dead or anything dramatic like that, it is simply that you are fading away and I can’t even remember your name.

–Leonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet

Also, consider the feasiblity of the golden rule.

I love how you embrace the visual arts under the umbrella of your influences—as well as the function of organized chaos in your editing advice. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the careers of artists who continue to grow and morph, asserting their own right to move their artistic vehicles in whatever direction they’d like. Caryl Churchill, acclaimed playwright who prefers not to explain her work, is well-known for both sending along whatever she completes and having the liberation to avoid whatever aspects of a playwright’s life that she feels are intrusive to her creative will; it is almost as if she is using the enabled energy of a private creative space to protect that productive continuous self-reinvention as an artist that she prefers, turning out innovative work well into her golden years.  I think everyone with a strong will has strategies for keeping their art alive and vibrant. Do you also find that you protect your new projects or art strategies and shield them while they germinate such that their energy will not be diffused? How does your generative flow work? 

Just as water finds many paths, the generative flows in countless directions, depending on the day and the mountain or mind.  Sometimes talking shop with friends grounds perspective, builds momentum and vision; other times discussion roadblocks the work so that a glass of wine at a cafe table alone is a go-to.  Interaction through social media can act as a springboard; whereas workshopping with students might rupture the site where idea meets practice and the detritus shape-shifts, free-flowing for having begun with no agenda.  No one policy accesses a jackpot each time; I’m always on the lookout.

Flexibility has been my biggest asset, and likely renders my work less “marketable” for lack of an identifiable constant.  As in Wittgenstein’s definition of “games,” the work of “Amy King” varies, held together only by family resemblance.  Poetry is a permission with no agreed-upon purpose.  It is the physics between us, speculative and full of wonder, wrought through the medium of language.  Call it “negative capability,” “dérègelement de tous les sens,” ”ostranenie” or “duende,” it is the excess that matter does not contain, but gets at, if handled just so at precisely so.  Poetry spans many mediums; hence my pursuit also through the visual and aural and my continued attraction to its mercurial essence.

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

The Missing Museum will appear in 2014 from Kore Press.  Here are three poems:



                  —Samuel Beckett


I’m walking through a field.

I see the swell of craggy trees, pot-bellied leaves, an open book, goose shit.

Inside me is a landscape replica, a compass mapped.

A lantern swings in the distance, despite the porous wind.

This baby takes over my steps, steps into my shoes,

and I walk “childlike” among the grasses,

echoing the earthworms, braying like donkey ears

on actor’s cue.  A bicycle passes by these accidental burial grounds.

Pineapples and tea roots never enter my mind;

they remain adult remains, unable to vine into my baby head & heart.

A child in the distance hands over a rotten token,

invites me to the Loop-de-Loop.

He wants to pass unnoticed, wants me to distract the barker

with an adult-head face.  Initial imitation, I am learning a coastal folk dance

with him while the child rides circles in the air between us.

What once was glass could become a bread or the quivering crystal rabbit

sitting on the table before us now.  The stew bubbles midnight’s snack.

My body becomes pregnant and physically alive.

The child harbors inside:  we are all fields, elk songs replete.

I feed peanuts to goatface interlopers.  We go for the hunt,

me and the boy with antlers tied to our ears.

The silent river nearby learns the ropes of favorite dance steps.

Elderberries ripen their favorite positions, our last minute call for shots

of forest whiskey and deficient sap to nourish

these limbs; the disintegrating lamb crawls out of the pot.

Full from light and the river’s abundant edges, we relax

in the day’s next morning to play pigeon with the birds & rock for a pause.




I’m doing it again, conceiving my own grammar, avoiding

the hardboiled heads of law-masters. Every time my own

turns to thought, I make mono-matter for the masses

I imagine will break the Shakespeare of just another day.

This isn’t to say I’ve got anything more than what’s going

for me.  But let’s not praise too soon the mighty men

women aspire to – I take on my hunchback pack

the menial jobs in a recession where others fear to kneel.

Not to say those who hold back with macaroni and cheap nuts

aren’t inventing the new star splatter in the gaps

of how this economy will go local post belly up soon though.

We may even go a-bartering again. Some do something ancient then.


Remember the time you told me color comes alive

at Carlsbad Flower Fields in a sea of stinking crisp flower blankets

when the coastal hill becomes a handcrafted quilt?  I had never

been to California before.  I didn’t believe you

until I read Larry Levis threw the editorial page in the street,

watched him pull up Pierre Reverdy to see his knees and pissed

on the bed of green hay stitched around the hill’s swollen ankles.

This kind of working farm subsists because someone has refused

to give up the practice of peyote and painting in New Mexico

when New York City was supposed to be her only meal ticket, at least,

according to Steiglitz.  She left there forever and found loneliness

in the ancient wisdom called hope.  Both remain pivotal arts to date.


But back to how words go together.  We met over

the new tsunamis when people became

much like the Black Plague numbers.  Except there were more

expendables to date, so no need to call up the old country poor

to burn and lime the body count.  We began discussing how

to rid the hillsides of ash and bone fragments

as they were soon weighing the colors down and counting out

Hollywood’s insignia.  Even the presidents’ faces fell off.

The Americans stood alone then on the global market,

fishing for ways to get back the hatchets they once used at root.

They, as in we, were considered contagions until

the worldwide web was torn asunder and barriers against

nanobots improved.  Our children’s children echoed a nostalgia

for concepts waning:  half-drunk wine, smoky meats

and the symbolic gesture of touch.  A place where men wear

lime-green pants, brimmed hats, and candy-striped pullovers.

They protested, But God does exist as much as angels

and plans patterned by the local neighborhood board

to live the two-kids-house-dog-college dream or

any other golden fragment enlisted

as the future Who We Will Be Then.


We will be then, but before it happens, we keep happening now

in the limoncellos we sip, the late-night gut aches,

the false handshakes over business economies, the difference

between pianos played, apples eaten and profits on paper.

But we go better for the yellow fields rife with daisies that still exist,

jeans that hint at splendor, the swell of an unplanned smile

across a train platform, how the herbs and grains still feel as ancient

and right as when we, on afternoons, go down to meet the sun

at just the right angle, that space where we lose track

of grammar and the cost of what it is to have

not as much as the next town over, to bend closer and take in

the way your bent arm smells in the long hot sun,

opened by how the tiny soul fills out your skeleton

with the warming sounds of blanket words that I will listen to until.




 Because the light resembles marmalade,

the zeitgeist dips gelatinous between our ribs

and makes us speak.  My sister is not gay.

My daughter is not gay.  I enjoy the war

of this party.  My husband’s not gay.

My self is not gay.  I will never be as important

to you as your family.  Please, more chips & aperitif.

This gathering will be finger foods only,

nothing more substantial to speak the appetite

or test one’s endurance with manners.

I don’t have a dog in this fight; my sister

is post–gay only.  I’m merely a gnat sans trench coat

in a small bony space crossing letters out.

The anti-Vanna White.  Even if you don’t remember,

you sleep through memory nightly.  You sleep

through me and feel your Pinot Noir all the way

back to Napa Valley.  Because the total square root

of heat is light that turns a grape

into strains of bottled affection, I hold you

close, stroke your estimations, even before

the growls of this party deliver its host

from the assumption of body, pull us

into her white-hot affection, and whether we

believe or only gesture the Eucharist, our sex

goes gay for all objects in contact.

My husband goes gay, his nipples get bothered,

my brother is gay, he’s a leg length in bathtubs,

my grandmother’s grave echoes with gay—

her silky epitaph and flowers.  Gay is the next

pro-creation, save where the bombs and guns

illuminate people harnessed by fatigues

and futures without pay, futures without gay,

death in an imminent trigger. The unemployed also

party less gay when fairies are unable to boot-camp.

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: