Friday, April 29, 2011

Pic of the day

Location:Beautiful Saint Lou

Recommended Reading: Jeff Walker "Case against the Driver" ~ Witness

Jeff Walker's piece "Case against the Driver" appears in Witness and conveys remarkably vivid, surreal images as its narrator reflects on his driver, Koko.

"On most of my drives with Koko, there is at least one point where I catch my hand edging toward the door handle, regardless of the speed we are moving, and this little game makes me smile."

Koko transports foreigners, it seems, back and forth from a guarded compound and to the airport, through cities and villages, where disgruntled natives sometimes sling stones and grope through car windows with knives.

A very finely crafted, uniquely moving work of nonfiction. Highly recommended.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Jesse Goolsby's Blog for Our Stories

1. I teach Literature and Creative Writing at the Air Force Academy
2. Yes, we teach creative writing at the Air Force Academy
3. It shouldn't surprise you that my students write about being 18, 19, 20, and 21-years-old
4. We teach our cadets to question what they're willing to die for, and what they're willing to kill for
5. Those are two different things
6. These are the books I'm teaching in my War Literature class this semester:
    a. The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
    b. Phantom Noise by Brian Turner
    c. We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families by Philip Gourevitch
    d. The Assault by Harry Mulisch
    e. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway 
    f.  "Ruxbiaux Rising" from 2009 BASS and "Someone Ought to Tell Her There's Nowhere to Go" from 2010 BASS
7. What would you teach?
8. Everyday I struggle with the knowledge that my students will be culpable in the destruction of lives or property.  He or she might not be the one dropping the bomb, but at a minimum they'll work in the chain that allows that bomb to drop. I also know that our military doesn't pick our wars, but is responsible for carrying them out.  There are things worth fighting for.  We all know this.  But nothing is certain, and causes and morality and pursuits and politics make "defense of our country" tricky.  How then, do we foster moral men and women that are willing to bring to bear our instruments of power in an uncertain world? How does literature fit into this?
9. Read this:
10. I have a friend deploying to Iraq this week.  When's the last time you heard about Iraq on the news?  Been awhile huh?  How will America greet my buddy when he returns?  Will the only way you know about his tour--about his wife, five children, the fact that he's an incredibly gifted writer--is if there's an explosion and a quick write up on CNN? 
11. Here's a quiz I give my students the first day of War Literature.  See how you do:
    a. Name any living Iraqi
    b. Name three cities in Iraq.  Why do you know of them?
    c. Why did we invade Iraq?
    d. Why are we still there?
    e. Will Iraq ever become a democratic society?  Why or why not?
12. Big, tough questions.  My students will be going to Iraq. Soon. 
13. You could substitute Afghanistan for Iraq.
14. The other day one of my students asked, "Why do we only read depressing stuff?"  Before I could answer another student spoke up, "It's called War Literature. We don't unbomb people."
15.  And there's beauty in springtime Colorado.
    a. Cadets running outside.
    b. Cadets heading out for a night on the town.
    c. Cadets sitting in their rooms reading and playing video games.
    d.  And a story on my desk from a female creative writing student.  It's has nothing to do with war, and it's magnificent.  The prose is clear, but clever.  It's a story about being 21, about falling in lust, then out, about how saying "I love you" at the wrong time can end everything, right then and there. I put my pen down and read.  When I finish there's little I can do to help.  The piece is young and optimistic and detailed.  It has no hint of future IEDs, or waving goodbye to family, or dodging mortars.  It's about being 21, not 24, so for now, thank God, everyone is safe.   
Jesse Goolsby

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Recommended Reading: Nicola Mason "Cancer Party" ~ Blackbird

Appearing in the recent issue of Blackbird, Nicola Mason's "Cancer Party" launches off with a tone whose effect is both jubilant and melancholy.

Hey! There's a party going on, and everyone's invited. Cliff's got cancer, and it's not your average household malignancy—not your zap-and-run, slap-a-hat-on-it kind. Cliff's cancer is crafty. It's pushy. It's crass. It's a desperate salesman who shoves through the door with a vacuum no one will buy, who gives a demonstration so sloppy you find the attachments weeks later, one at a time, in all those hard-to-reach places. Deep in the stuffing of the sofa in the living room. Clogging the kitchen drain. Rattling through the A/C ducts like the last cashew in the can.

Just as moving as the tone are the many beautifully accurate, dead-on metaphors, such as,

Then come the doctors—bandits who unmask at bedside, their pink chins gleaming. And this is significant, because outlaws only show their faces to the safe bets. The ones who won't get away.

This is a rare story whose tone seems to embolden a reader even as she is invited to embody a guy who slowly learns he's got more than just indigestion. It's a brave tone, a story with an attitude that laughs at death (what else is there to do?) while seeming to enjoin readers to cherish what living there's left to do. It's a communal tone, one that makes a reader feel strength in family and friends and our shared vulnerability.

Check it out at one of our finest literary journals.


Ash Dogs, a novel

Incredible essay by Cara Hoffman

Please read this, important for us as human beings.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kseniya Melnik out with an essay at Granta

You should check this out, one of our amazing staff members just published this in Granta-- like stop what you're doing and read it now.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Disquisition on the hammer

I’m going to tell you what I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve been thinking about what a strange phrase this is: ‘You are more like a hammer than anything else.’ What is this person trying to say? Is this person trying to say that my similarity to a hammer is stronger than my similarity to any other object, or is this person trying to say that I am more hammer-like than any other person or thing – to his or her knowledge – is hammer-like?

Unfortunately I am unable to go back and ask him or her what he or she had meant by this phrase, because he or she has dissolved into the ether, in a most dissettling fashion. (I looked up ‘dissettling’ on the internet, and the internet says that it’s okay for me to use it.) I need confirmation. I can’t sleep at night. It’s as if a tiny, ogreish person is living underneath me, shouting out through the floorboards every time I take a breath (through my saxophone). tells me that every part of a regulation curved-claw hammer has a name. Besides the eponymous claw, it has a face, a neck, a head, a throat, a cheek and an eye. It has a handle as well, of course, but noting that makes it disappointingly less bird-like. Come out with it, you can’t imagine a bird with a handle, can you? A bird on a stick? Ridiculous. And delicious.

This brings up another point: why don’t they make feathered hammers? It makes me very angry. Feathered horses, check; feathered hammers, no chance. I am very angry. It all just makes me want to bash my hammer-headed face through the floorboards and smash that ogre, so that me, my cheek, my head, my throat, can get some sleep.

Perhaps that was what he or she was referring to, when he or she said that I am ‘more like a hammer, [etc.]‘. So angry.

[Extracted from the files of Knits a stinK.]

Two small office pics

Monday, April 4, 2011

Our Stories Published Author Althea Black

Last fall, while reading entries for our 2010 Generation XYZ Contest, I found a coming-of-age piece that began:

Moonstruck was playing at the Janus and everywhere you went, people were falling in love. Even the trees were wooing each other, pulling pink blossoms out of their branches like billets-doux. I was in love myself.

It was called “The Boathouse” by Althea Black, and the writing was solid, sophisticated, and lighthearted in the right places, despite the serious subject matter. It was just the sort of story we look to publish, and publish it we did, as a runner-up for the contest.

Althea has a freshly-published story published over at called “The Far Side of Moon.” I was delighted to find that, like “The Boathouse,” it is also set in Boston, and combines Althea’s signature mix of poignancy and humor: While the protagonist attempts to woo a lovely girl he meets while doing community service in a nursing home, his brilliant sidekick Ace brings a glow to the classic boy-meets-girl scenario with his many fancies such as his “thesis proposal to rewrite the Bible in the anapestic tetrameter of Dr. Seuss.” Go check it out.

Want more? Althea has links on her website of more of her stories published online and her short story collection, I Knew You’d Be Lovely will be available June 7.

Friday, April 1, 2011

~ These Strangers She'd Invited In ~ a new collection by Jac Jemc

Jac Jemc lives in Chicago.  She is the author of a chapbook of stories from Greying Ghost Press, These Strangers She'd Invited In, and a novel from Dzanc Books due out in spring 2012, My Only Wife.  She is the poetry editor of decomP and blogs her rejections at

Q: It's always great to see someone who's worked on the editorial board of Our Stories out there writing well and publishing. Could you tell everyone something about These Strangers She'd Invited In and what readers will find therein?

Thanks!  Agreed!  These Strangers She'd Invited In is a collection of 14 very short stories.  They're sort of profiles of characters with Russian names who are having trouble defining themselves in the context of others, or defining others in the context of themselves.  They live in an unidentified antiquity. 

Q: Tell us something about your writing process. How much is sort of "magical," if that's a fair way to put it, and how much forethought and planning?

Most of it is magic!  Honestly, I troll what I'm reading for words I like and jot them down and then I paste those words into new phrases and sentences and then try to play connect the dots with those phrases.   I rarely have more than a simple idea or theme in my head when I'm starting a story.  Sometimes I'll think, "This is going to be about foster care," or "This is going to be set on a trade ship," but that's about as far as I  plan ahead.  The rest comes out in how I connect the words and phrases and sentences. The story is in the glue.

Q: During your time contributing to make Our Stories a special place for writing, what would you say were the "deal-breakers" that prevented a story from being considered for publication?

I think the stories that I considered seriously for publication always presented themselves in obvious ways, and the deal-breaker for me was whether the person writing had their own voice.  Sometimes I had to read to the fifth page before I realized what the voice was and its strength, but the best writers always convinced me that their way was the only way to tell that particular story. I could also often tell when the writer trusted that the reader was right there with them. Having trust in your reader means you can do wacky things with subtlety and economy of language and wild metaphors, and never lose faith that they're still holding on. The stories that were easy to dismiss were the ones that didn't seem to have a unique life of their own - telling a story just to tell it - and also the stories that condescend to the reader. 

Best of luck, Jac, and thanks for being a part of OS!

Pick up THESE STRANGERS SHE'D INVITED IN here before they're sold out!