Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yiyun Li "A Small Sacrifice" ~ The Threepenny Review

Appearing in The Threepenny Review, Yiyun Li's "A Small Sacrifice" starts with a wonderful conflict: the landlord has been texting, reminding Moyan every day, that her pet pig, named Tiny, must go.

Tiny has exploded in size, no longer, well, Tiny.

A married man gave Moyan the pig. A peddler had told him it was a breed that wouldn't grow beyond the size of the basket the pig was sold in.

She needed something young and lively around her when he was not with her, he said when they knew each other better. She wondered if he meant for her to keep a puppy, or a kitty, but when he came with Tiny, he said that he was tired of being looked down upon by all the cats in the world, and he was tired of having to look up at the world like a dog. A pig, the man said, looks into your eyes like a fellow sufferer.

Amid poignant impressions and honesty, as well as parallel images echoing conflicts and story meaning, the story ends with a thoughtfulness that is a triumph of writing.


Saturday, September 25, 2010


After more than three years of working together here at Our Stories, Alexis and I just met for the first time--on Skype. I've read his stories, his novel, his essays, and we've had numerous email exchanges about all things related to writing, but it was cool to finally talk live.

Since we're a literary journal, here's a quick character analysis using the good old modes of conveying character (i.e., DATED). If A. E. Santí were a character, here are some notes the writer who conceived of him might've jotted down ...

Description: the kind of guy your grandmother might be cautious of at first glimpse but who, if you sat down with him, would be able to relate to anyone. Dominant impression: relaxed, comfortable, esp. with rock star-ish hair fingered back from his face.

Action: thoughtful hand on the temple when asked what he's writing; gentle commands to the pitbull-lab that paced along the room.

Thoughts: (I got a mind map of A.E.'s ideas for the future of OS, so I can go with that.) Ambitious, gets (rightfully) high off future potential. Nothing but good will (except when boxing invisible N@#$%^#% Magazine opponents).

Exposition: um, doesn't apply

Dialogue: cooperative hedging, humble, quick to praise talents of others. Thoughtful.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Creative Writing MFA Myths Debunked – from Huffington Post

Creative Writing MFA Myths Debunked – from Huffington Post

In this article, Abramson, an alum of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, addresses many questions raised by a prospective MFA candidates during their inquiry as to whether to pursue that very specific degree/life experience. From competition in application process, to motivation for doing so, to the importance of the people (professors and peers) with whom you’ll be working, it is covered here. So, if you didn’t get in your first time around, maybe next time you should throw an application at Harvard Law School, too!
Sign in to HuffPost to follow up with questions and comments!

Also, here are links to the top fiction MFA programs in the country achieved on Our Stories’ site.

Read smart and write strong. And maybe think about law school. . .


Assistant Managing Editor
Our Stories: A Unique Literary Journal

Six Myths About the Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts

Seth Abramson, Poet, attorney, freelance journalist
Posted: September 7, 2010 02:55 PM

Something to Say

When I was child my favorite story was a piece by James Thurber that my mother used to read to me. It was called “Something to Say” and it was about an alcoholic writer named Elliot Vereker, an eccentric whose genius was confirmed by the number of terrible things he did; freeloading on friends, crashing parties, breaking light bulbs on the ground because he liked the sound of shattering glass, wrenching plumbing away from the walls and denouncing the achievements of those around him because they were all fools. Despite this he was loved and respected—seen as a guy who wrote something of substance. To my eleven year old mind, Vereker seemed the perfect role model.

The same year I fell in love with Vereker, my mother read me The Sun Also Rises, Portrait of the Artist, Waiting for Godot and The Canterbury Tales. It’s safe to say I came to envision a certain literary lifestyle as a child and set out to achieve it. Bums, wanderers, drunks, and lunatics populated my internal landscape. Mostly because they were to me, at nine or ten or eleven, incredibly funny, possessed of some great mystery.

I wrote every day as a kid, and every day as a teenager, and nearly every day as an adult. Writing and reading were worlds without hierarchy. Without rules. Where the sneakers you wore or the place you lived, or later, the jobs you had to take, didn’t matter. Writing was a place where experiences, euphoric, or mundane, or incredibly shitty, could be put to use. Could be made into something, instead of just making you into something.

I carried this feeling with me everywhere. It helped me leave home and leave school and leave the country. It helped me have a baby. It helped me work for a radical newspaper and leave work at a dead end literary magazine for a bartending job that brought me to the setting of So Much Pretty. And it helped me get through the days while working at a small town Daily—where people really do come into the newsroom to scream in your face when they’re pissed. Scream at me, part of you thinks. I know what the roof of your mouth looks like now. I know what it feels like to be bored and disgusted at the same time as worrying I’ll lose my job. That’s the kind of stuff you can’t make up.

Thurber wasn’t just doing a character sketch with Elliot Vereker. He was satirizing the idea of genius. The well worn concept that in order to write you have to be some kind of brilliant fuck up. Some kind of suffering monster. And this is probably what I love most about the story, how insufferable Vereker is—how he is an upfront loser, a cad with everyone but they insist he’s special, smart. His eccentricity is proof enough.

I have loved many eccentrics, and many drunks, all of them one kind of artist or another and I was for a time, in very good company with them. I love many of them still but I don’t buy the mystery. Don’t believe the hype. I think of these Vereker-esque personas a good deal these days while I am honing exactly what it is I should say to describe my life to people that may be interested. What will it be? The classic list of terrible jobs that shows real world chops and my commitment to writing all in one? The too cool for school story? There are, it seems very few templates, well worn mantles of “genius” available. Should I talk about ballet lessons or sleeping in train stations or my ethnic heritage? My politics? My child? What fable does the reader want about the writer? What piques interest and draws them to the novel, to the real thing. Because the real thing, after all, is what this is about—not persona.

The fact is this: You are what you do. There are few professions as exhaustively personal and revealing as writing—and this is true for fiction and non-fiction alike.

I can say many things about myself and already have in this short essay, but there is little I, or any other person you don’t really know, especially someone talking to a mass audience, can say about themselves that would reveal with sufficient depth who they are. If I tell you a story about who I am as a writer, it’s because I want you to read my work. If you want to know who I am, I promise you will find me there.

I want you to read my work because I have something to say. Not something about me. Something about us.

In the next several months I will be writing about these things; books, and personae, and what I do. Feel free to check back. I’ll be here.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Introducing Cara Hoffman - So Much Pretty

A few years ago I published this writer, tough badass writer by the name of Cara Hoffman. Her writing made me really, well, excited. As a publisher when you find something really incredibly written and with crazy talent you feel like you've discovered something, like you've been looking and looking for something to make sense of the world and shit and then there it is--staring back at you. Cara did that. Being an editor of a journal like this that happens a lot. I remember it very clearly with Cara and publishing her was a damn honor--as it is for every one of you all out there. We first published her story "Waking" in the Spring of 2007. Read it. If you don't I'm telling.

I knew she was someone who would knock a novel or two out of the park.

Well, it's happened.

Cara Hoffman's novel "So Much Pretty" is coming out in March of this year from Simon and Schuster. You should pre-order it because when it sells like a gagillion copies you're going to want to say that I told you about it and you listened. Really. I'm good like that. Then you can say, "I've got a first edition Cara Hoffman! Nanny Nanny Boo Boo." Really, I'm going to do a post about just that too, me making fun of everyone who didn't listen. I kid. I won't. Maybe I will, who knows.

Anyway, so here's Cara's big introduction to our Blog. Oh yeah, you think that's it? Nope. I'm bringing her onto the blog. What's good for the grander is good for the scooby dooer. Or something. Cara will be popping in our blog and posting stuff, guest blogging as they say. We're also going to be interviewing her. Our Stories is behind her work and we stand with her, she's a bad ass, like I said so it's easy standing behind her--but we're standing with her so if you take swings at her--you're taking swings at us. I digress, no one is swinging. I do that, read my essay Concrete if you're not catching my drift. Let me just get out of here.