Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Elizabeth Kadetsky "A New Yorker in Melbourne: On Creative Nonfiction, a Conference, a Hired Bicycle" Brevity

Elizabeth Kadetsky's work of nonfiction, "A New Yorker in Melbourne: On Creative Nonfiction, a Conference, a Hired Bicycle," appears in Brevity and vividly describes the writer's reflections and experiences astride a bicycle in Melbourne.

"Perhaps it's my being a New Yorker that caused me to notice, first, about Melbourne, its rules."

The piece clarifies the writer's character, as well as two cityscapes, the NonfictioNow conference, and parallels between nonfiction writing and the making and breaking of rules.

Check it out.

River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Monday, December 3, 2012

Glen Pourciau "Trace" The Saint Ann's Review

Glen Pourciau's story "Trace" appears in The Saint Ann's Review and presents a rich, subtle family relationship and conflict in which two sets of parents overhear talking about each other's kid and wonderfully try to defend their conceptions of how their children feel.

The dialogue comes across as witty, and it clarifies motivation and feeling while revealing character depth.

A very good read . . .

River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Parallels to country's racist past haunt age of Obama" John Blake

John Blake's article gives a case for Obama existing, not as a post-race American president, but as a post-Reconstruction black American president.

"The Jim Crow laws that marked the end of Reconstruction stayed put for at least 60 years. It would take a century before the contemporary civil rights movement restored the political and civil rights of blacks. Some historians argue that the United States did not actually become a democracy until 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act."

"Restored" is a concept a lot of people forget about American history--since some historians at the time, especially after Jim Crow flouted earlier amendments, tried to forget as well as belittle. 

The "white backlash" that crushed hopes of an interracially run American government just after the Civil War, historians say, is repeating itself today in America.

An important discussion for Americans to keep having.

Scott Nadelson "Failure to Disappear: On Dennis Oppenheim" New England Review

Scott Nadelson's piece "Failure to Disappear: On Dennis Oppenheim" appears in the New England Review and meditates on an image of a moving, sometimes blurry hand before a black background.

Nadelson nicely likens the role of the viewer to a likewise enjoining role in life, after someone dies.

Check it out.


River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Claire Skinner "Against Writing Every Day" Michigan Quarterly Review

"Something clicked in my brain when Nate said that. Being about the work every day (or BATWED, for fun) is a suggestion I can get behind."

Claire Skinner's wonderful essay about the old edict of "write every day" is discussed and fretted over--replete with wonderful imagery, such as the dicing of celery.

Instead of WED, BATWED.

For all compulsive writers out there, heavy with guilt if you skip a day of hourly writing because of work or relationships or travel, this is a highly recommended read.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Two journeys" Washington Post

"This was Chinyere Brown's nagging worry: that the upward trajectory of her own life as a successful African American woman was occurring in a society that in some ways resented it."

Though not in a literary magazine, this article in The Washington Post helped articulate changes that have happened in America after Obama was elected. Having voted absentee from China during that election in '08, when I voted for Obama, I wasn't aware until I returned to Ohio that summer how different things had already become. I was baffled; it was all so vocal and unfair.

Just months after he became President, commonplace vitriol--that Obama was secretly Muslim, "post-American," or not American at all--seemed everywhere . . . on TV, in people's posts, from family members who hadn't used to say racist things, at least around me, with anger visible on their faces.

Has racism in America actually gotten worse?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shana Myara "Poolside" SubTerrain

Shana Myara's story "Poolside" appears in SubTerrain and concerns Naomi Kahane, a "fat girl" at a class pool party.

"Cotton batting, Styrofoam chips—there is no way to hide thighs in a bathing suit."

As classmates swim, banter, and sneak away for sex, Naomi's character is revealed through thoughts--of her own body's secrets, and of her own perceptive world of memories and feelings.

The narrative voice comes across as both perceptively playful and somber. This is an excellent story with a clear, rewarding, big-hearted narrative development.

River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sam Anderson "Junot Díaz Hates Writing Short Stories" The New York Times

Sam Anderson's piece "Junot Díaz Hates Writing Short Stories" appears in The New York Times. Anderson interviews Díaz about writing in general and about his new book of short stories, "This Is How You Lose Her."

What strikes me most is how the interview focuses on Díaz's relative slow speed at which he produces--albeit, at which he produces critically acclaimed works of fiction.

"This receptivity to all the possible sources of inspiration is what makes Díaz's work both so distinctively rich and, it seems to me, so difficult for him to write. It's like trying to distill the ocean down to a glass of water."

Díaz talks about writing, reading, knowing when you're reading to avoid, and other fascinating topics to anyone engaged in creative festivities.

Check it out.


River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Thursday, September 20, 2012


"The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," Romney said. "The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."

Romney might've missed the section on logical fallacies in English Composition 101.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Stephen Dixon "Dead" Boulevard

Appearing in Boulevard, Stephen Dixon's story "Dead" begins with a rhythmic-tattoo repetition in the first-person narrator's mind. An aged writer, he's in the hospital, fears dying, and has already recounted the names of great artists--who have already died.

"Dreams, awake, there's always something to be afraid of."

Dream of (literary) lions, dragons, and swords amputating his arms below the elbow befuddle the hospitalized writer's thoughts.

At the end of the long-, single-paragraph story, the writer connects with a hospital tech who helps him, and he continues to list the names of dead writers. 


River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Monday, August 27, 2012

Mike Heppner _The Man Talking Project_ Another Sky Press

Mike Heppner's collection of novellas, The Man Talking Project, was recently released through Another Sky Press.

In part one, "Talking Man," a worried father preemptively discourages his ten-year-old boy from taking an art teacher's praise on a painting to heart. Meanwhile, the boy's mother makes her own struggle as she rattles away in the kitchen on strange dishes, distracted and perhaps longing for a kind of escape. 

In part two, "Man," a partly fictionalized Mike Heppner earns a two-book deal, which seems to be a reward from countless days at novel writing until, gradually undeceived, he realizes the cold truth of large-scale publishing while, at the same time, his actions in marrying and taking care of an ill wife show deep empathy and humanity.

Part three, "Man Talking," pits a successful, professional writer with a struggling writer. The friendship, quirky and real, doesn't seem to help the novice, who while burning for the hope of writing something worthy and wonderful, loses the ability to sleep.

The final part of this "four-sided fiction" is called "Talking" and gives interview answers to friends and fellow writers who know Mike Heppner. The questions reveal some insight on publishing and writing.

This is a wonderful collection that anyone writing and trying to publish today needs to check out.


River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Richard Bausch _Peace_ Knopf

Richard Bausch's novel Peace exemplifies master storytelling.

Set during the Second World War, after the Italians have quit fighting and the Germans are apparently retreating, Corporal Marson, along with soldiers Asch and Joyner, bear witness to murder. This inciting incident in the novel haunts the characters; it tests and hollows them as they grapple with what it means for them not to have tried to stop it and not to have immediately reported it.

The rise, climax, and resolution of the novel concern Marson, Asch, and Joyner following an Italian civilian, whose wagon they dumped into the rain and who agrees to lead them up a hill, ostensibly for fear of being shot. The hill soon becomes a mountain, and the incessant rain becomes snow. With readers privy to Marson's point of view, the Italian guide sometimes reveals gestures and facial expressions that contradict his actions and call into question every word and action from him as he leads the Americans higher and higher--until they come upon a hill overlooking the Italian's town, where war-crime executions are taking place.

Betrayal, and Marson's loss and then redemption of a sense of essential humanness, follow.

Throughout, Bausch conveys characters masterfully. This is an example of one whole, perfect form of a novel, and Peace is an essential work concerning WWII.


River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Friday, August 17, 2012

Congratulations to Lyle Roebuck ~ long-listed in Carve Magazine's Raymond Carver Short Story Contest

Congratulations to Lyle Roebuck, whose story "A Prayer of Humble Access" made the long list in the recent Raymond Carver Short Story Contest at Carve Magazine.

As the magazine says, "[long-listed] stories were considered semi-finalists, read and reviewed by the editors. Appearing on this list means the story made it through at least 2 rounds of readings and was a strong contender to be a finalist."

Since we've worked with Lyle in the past here at Our Stories, here's a re-posting of a short Q&A we had with Lyle back in 2010:

Q: At Our Stories, we consider anyone we've ever workshopped a member of Our writing community, and when a writer later succeeds with that piece, well, we'd like to think of that as an indicator that we're doing something right. What did working with OS do for you and your work?

A: Good writing can only be improved through tireless revision and thoughtful editorial feedback; the latter is what Our Stories offers to those who submit. If, as a writer, you are open to considering objective criticism, your fiction will be better for it.

Q: What's next for you and your writing?

A: I'm sitting on a collection of about a dozen stories, plus a novel, all written over the past eight years. In 2011-12 I'm taking a sabbatical from my teaching job to travel and concentrate on writing.

Thanks for being part of our writing community.


River Dragon Skya new novel

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Why I Write" : David Rakoff

RIP, David.
(And thanks to Read Roll Show for the video find.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Peyton Marshall "The Other Hemisphere" Blackbird

Peyton Marshall's work of nonfiction "The Other Hemisphere," published in Blackbird, tells the story of a brother, Fields, who's changed since nearly dying of cancer and moving to Chile (which, as the narrator tells us, Pablo Neruda said was a country "invented by a poet")--and after Fields' marrying a cute, girly-in-a-way-the-narrator's-never-been way.

The narrator goes to Chile with her mom and dad who, in wonderful lines of conveying all sorts of character, seem older than she would like to remember: "In the months we'd been apart, they'd grown younger in my memory, sliding back through their fifties and into their forties. It bothered me to feet hem now accelerated through time, their thick hair turned to dandelion fluff."

As the wedding and celebrations unfold, the narrator realizes Fields, her older bro, seems to have forgotten what the narrator would like to remember--including a flammable sweater. And the final passages are some of the best anyone can find in a somewhat longer short-narrative.

Great read at a great literary journal.


River Dragon Skya new novel

Mark Slouka "Dog" Ploughshares

Appearing in Ploughshares, Mark Slouka's short story "Dog" starts with opening passages that describe, in gripping detail, a dog owner discovering something sharp apparently embedded in his dog's fur. Upon a little more inspection, he finds razor blades, and not just one of them.

Just as readers might be settling into a story whose opening seems to imply a conflict centered on who or what had been torturing the dog, the narrator's strange guiltiness and avoidance of animal hospitals ("All they had to do was put up with it for a while, endure it as best they could, and all would be well.")--all work together to communicate that, in fact, the dog symbolizes something much more than a dog.

I'll never forget the hauntingly vivid details and artistic strangeness in this story.

River Dragon Skya new novel

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mike Heppner "Sleeping Together" Small Anchor Press & www.mikeheppner.com

Leading up to the release of his new book of fiction, The Man Talking Project, Mike Heppner has made available a number of shorter works (fiction and non-fiction) for readers to enjoy.

Now available at his website, among others, is the story "Sleeping Together," and it features the wit and keen insight that mark Heppner's writing. In it, the narrator reflects on the act of sleeping with a new lover. As the relationship evolves, and as the couple becomes more accustomed to each other, habits in bed change--until a life-altering event afflicts the girl the narrator loves, and honest, articulate introspection follows and explains the extent and even sometimes limitations of human goodness.

Check out this and other stories at www.mikeheppner.com.



River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Justin Nicholes "It Never Happened" Summerset Review

A journal I've long admired, The Summerset Review just published my story "It Never Happened."

What an honor to be appearing in this journal's pages!

River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Phil Whelan, presenter of Morning Brew at RTHK in Hong Kong, discussing River Dragon Sky with Justin Nicholes, Editor

Justin Nicholes (Our Stories editor) spoke with Phil Whelan, presenter of Morning Brew at RTHK in Hong Kong, about River Dragon Sky yesterday. Here's the talk from the archives made available after live webcast:



River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Congratulations to Amanda Holmes and her story "Scorched"

"Scorched," Amanda Holmes' story that appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of Our Stories, will be used in the curriculum at John Cabot University and American University of Rome - in a course called "Writing Rome."

Congratulations to Amanda from the editorial board of Our Stories!

Check out her story here: Scorched


River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Justin Nicholes "Salt" Stickman Review

My story "Salt" just appeared in one of my favorite literary journals, Stickman Review. Since I was a graduate student in Wichita State's MFA, I've been loving this journal.

So happy to be appearing there.


River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Our Stories Editor Justin Nicholes' novel RIVER DRAGON SKY now available!

River Dragon Sky (2012, Signal 8 Press) available @ "River Dragon Sky"
A novel of people far from home and far from the selves of their origins, River Dragon Sky is the story of Junping, a Taoist street seer turned arsonist, Zhuan He, the girl he is sure is the daughter he abandoned years earlier, and Kal, an American who seems to have traveled to China for girls and kung fu.

Praise for RDS

“Justin Nicholes's River Dragon Sky is a handsome, brooding, noir-tinged chronicle of buildings licked by flames, charred remains, and scorched lives. With a sultry existentialism reminiscent of Bowles, this novel coolly propels its denizens toward inevitable and yet surprising ends.”
-Elizabeth Kadetsky, author of First There Is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance (Little, Brown and Company)
“Reading River Dragon Sky I kept remembering how you can only fold a piece of paper in half seven times. This novel is as dense a construction. Flaunting many edges and ready to untuck a secret at each fold, Nicholes tells a story that forces the reader to believe everything and trust no one.”
-Jac Jemc, author of My Only Wife (Dzanc Books)
"How to make River Dragon Sky: Start with Asian influences and add 2 oz. of Western impulse. Stir in 1½ oz. of the unpredictable and garnish with poetic tendencies. Pour through Justin Nicholes, serve over ice somewhere quiet where the words can wash over you, where you can drink this down, where you can slip into the ripe echoes of this feverish novel."
-J. A. Tyler, author of Inconceivable Wilson (Scrambler Books) and A Shiny, Unused Heart (Black Coffee Press)
"I absolutely loved Justin Nicholes' last novel Ash Dogs, and this one acts the chalk to the cheese—it's completely different in tone/ideology. It's great to see his China-influence come to the fore here, yet the strengths of Ash Dogs hold true. This is an innovative writer who pushes the perimetres in inspiring ways; I loved it. More please."
-Andrez Bergen, author of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (Another Sky Press)

Justin Nicholes (www.justinnicholes.com)
is the author of the novel Ash Dogs (2008). His fiction has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared or is soon to appear in Stickman Review, The Summerset Review, Prick of the Spindle, Slice, SLAB, The Medulla Review, and elsewhere. His essays have appeared in China Daily, Narrative Magazine, and Dark Sky Magazine.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Joeclyn Johnson "The Hasselblad" 2012 Richard Bausch Contest Winner at Our Stories

Winner of the 2012 Richard Bausch Contest at Our Stories, Joeclyn Johnson's "The Hasselblad" tells the story of Jodi, whose camera is described as precious to her as a "mechanical heart." The story begins with Jodi hitchhiking in the rain and being picked up in a Porsche by Renee, a rich girl just moved in from Los Angeles.

Renee is bored, and she takes Jodi (who recalls with nostalgia a woman named Aisha, whom she's trying to find) to dinner. From there, they ride out farther and drink.

At Renee's spacious house, Jodi finds time and space to meditate on loss and anguish.


River Dragon Sky, a new novel

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

J. David Bell "Keynote" The Summerset Review

Though I was only going to glance at J. David Bell's work of fiction "Keynote," it would not let me continue with my day without reading it at one go.

This story features a conflict between an older professor and a younger department chair. The first person narrator's voice ensnared me, as did the tangible tension and conflict. At times, a touch of E. A. Poe's Montresor seemed to peek through, with the logical description of dealing with a rival (and the occasional hint of fantastic vitriol--though this is quite subdued and very well done in Bell's story).

What a wonderful read. Check it out.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jac Jemc MY ONLY WIFE Dzanc Books

Reading Jac Jemc's novel My Only Wife casts a somewhat strange (in that good sense related to excellent fiction), thrilling dream. The novel works as a sort of character sketch, of both the narrator (the husband whose wife has gone away) and a frustratingly real, complex woman--his one and only wife.

The only other narrative that made me feel this indelible sense of drifting away into a vaguely intoxicating dream was Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.

Jemc's poetic, penetrating work of fiction accomplishes something special. I highly recommend picking this up. 


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mike Lacher "I'm Comic Sans, Asshole" McSweeney's Internet Tendency

Never, never forget the wonder that is McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

Today I read Mike Lacher's "I'm Comic Sans, Asshole," and was fully delighted. My lust of words and conviction that life is worthwhile have been renewed.

"Listen up. I know the shit you've been saying behind my back. You think I'm stupid. You think I'm immature. You think I'm a malformed, pathetic excuse for a font. Well think again, nerdhole, because I'm Comic Sans, and I'm the best thing to happen to typography since Johannes fucking Gutenberg."

Go. And read the rest.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Julie Bosman "After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses" The New York Times

"In a nod to the realities of the digital age — and, in particular, the competition from the hugely popular Wikipedia — Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools, company executives said."

A noteworthy sign of the paradigm shift.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Erin Anderson "A Lesson in Destruction" The Summerset Review

"Of all the masculine ways the military taught me to destroy, it was ironic that my most destructive act would be particularly feminine. I had not expected to kill anybody in the first place, not so soon after the end of the Vietnam War, but at nineteen, I did not yet know what I was capable of doing."

A work of nonfiction, Erin Anderson's "A Lesson in Destruction" appears in The Summerset Review and gives the writer's story after joining the US Army in 1979.

The pace of this narrative is rapid, and episodes are conveyed with moving clarity. The writer's life in basic training and then later in Germany are tangible and vivid. 

Expecting to use her language ability, the writer finds out the reality of life serving during peacetime--until her big mission.

This is a very good read. Check it out.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Elizabeth Kadetsky "The Memory Pavilion" Post Road Magazine

Having worked with her at Our Stories workshop and literary journal, and having read her work previously, it was a pleasant surprise to come across Elizabeth Kadetsky's work of nonfiction "The Memory Pavilion" in the always-stellar Post Road Magazine. The piece features the writer reflecting on dreams of a childhood apartment.

"Our building accounted for the largest single demographic of students at the elementary school, and took up a whole block. With the pretension intrinsic to the moment, it had been named The Pavilion."

The narrative centers on the health and declining memory of the writer's mother, who is described as dying a little bit more each day, and who is being taken care of by an older sister. Phone calls and the tension and stress inherent in these kinds of threesomes exude through the narrative's tone as well as through episodes sometimes explained through the prism of yogic concepts.

A densely meaningful, extremely worthwhile read. Check this out.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Interview with Marshall Moore, author of The Infernal Republic

Marshall Moore is the author of The Concrete Sky (2003), Black Shapes in a Darkened Room (2003, 2009), An Ideal for Living (2010), and his most recent release, the story collection The Infernal Republic.

We're pleased to present this interview we had with him in January of 2012 as his most recent collection of short stories is being released.

Q:  Can you give everyone a few words about The Infernal Republic? How did this collection come about, and what can readers expect from it?

MM: This is my second collection, following 2004's Black Shapes in a Darkened Room. (I can't believe 8 years have passed since then!) Most of the stories have been published in various journals, although several are unique to this book. It's funny: this collection was accepted for publication by one small press in the States in... 2008, I think. That publisher was overwhelmed, juggling his day job and his publishing commitments, and opted to drop it. He tried to help me find another press, but that didn't work out. Then another one (which I had found on my own) said yes. Without being unduly negative, let's just say that there were some gigantic red flags; I chose not to ignore them andwithdrew the book. These experiences were a couple of the factors that prompted me to found Signal 8 Press, so I really can't complain: as the publisher, I know the book's in very good hands!

Q: In "Urban Reef," the opening story, two acquaintances view and ponder over a man teetering on a building ledge in Portland. In this and other stories, setting wonderfully contributes to characters' emotions. How would you describe the diverse range of settings in this collection, which spans from Hong Kong to Hell?

MM: That's me being Southern, and one hallmark of Southern writing is the importance of place. Although I don't set my work there, and haven't lived in the South in almost 20 years (15 if you include Washington DC), I am a part of that literary tradition. I grew up with a strong sense of regional identity, and I think that manifests in my work. I tend to write about places I have lived or visited (although I haven't been to Hell in the literal sense!). I travel a lot, or used to, and have lived in a number of interesting cities, so it's inevitable that I'd use them in my work. Although I don't consciously choose setting as a compliment or contrast to the characters' emotions, the relationship's there, regardless. You can see this in "The Blue Bridge," which starts out in Seattle on a fairly dark note and ends in a much more cheerful place, Amsterdam. There's a fine line though: I don't want the stories to rest on common stereotypes about certain cities.

Q: In other stories, such as "Everything Has Been Arranged," "Marble Forest, Karstic Heart" and "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living," readers can enjoy surreal, sometimes dreamlike fiction. How does the element of the "strange" (meant here in that good sense a lot of successful fiction possesses) work in your writing?

MM: There's no single universe with a single set of laws or principles that guide how the weird stuff works. Although I admire writers like Stephen King who have assembled a body of fiction within a universe they have created, I haven't gotten there yet: I haven't written enough to have developed an overarching mythos of my own. The makings of one are there, and in the fullness of time -- if I am fortunate enough to have a long career, a readership, and a smidgen of relevance -- I hope that this is something I'll be able to create. I have to say, though: a story with an element of the supernatural is far more intriguing to me than one without. I don't think I could write a work of regular hysterical realism (which is where fiction seems to be these days) if I tried!

Q: Could you give readers insight into your writing process toward short stories? How is a story born, and when--if ever--does it feel "done"?

MM: This has changed over the years. It used to be that the whole thing would materialize in my head, more or less intact. I could plunge in and start writing. I'd finish one short story and dive right into another. When I look back on that time (roughly a decade ago), I am amazed by my output. I'm much busier now. Generally the seed of the idea appears in my head, and I have to wait until it is ready. This is instinctive: I'm not sure how to articulate it. It's like waiting until the tumor is big enough that you can have surgery. I think David Cronenberg said that. I do a lot of polishing after I get to the end, and at some point it feels ready, and I can send it out. Earlier on, I used to submit stories way too early in the process, and I think that has a lot to do with the rejections I racked up. Now, well, my output has slowed down a lot. It's okay, though, because I'm not in such a hurry to get published; with four books now, a fifth in the pipeline, and dozens of short stories in print, I can take my time and make sure I'm satisfied with each piece.

Q: What's next for you and your work?

MM: I have another novel in the pipeline, titled Bitter Orange. It'll be published sometime in 2013, probably in the spring. I wrote it while I lived in Korea. The book came about because of something completely random: I had an idea about a guy who would go out to do his Friday crimes. The phrase Friday crimes (which does not figure into the finished version of the book at all) stuck in my head. Being a Western expat in homogeneous Korea made me think a lot about visibility and invisibility: people there would often openly stare at me, because they didn't see white folks very often. I often felt invisible, despite all the gawking: invisible, but not really. Bitter Orange came out of the two things: what if somebody was invisible, but not in the conventional sense? The idea evolved: what if a guy could turn invisible but not in a superhero sense -- it only happened when he was doing something he knew to be wrong? This brought up interesting (to me, anyway) questions about the ethics of self-defense, revenge, and retaliation against corporations. Even though I wrote the book several years ago, it turns out that it's quite timely: there's a very strong anti-corporate sentiment in it. Ultimately, I think the book is about corruption and the extent to which you either reject it or make your peace with it.

After that, we'll see. I'm hoping to have enough short fiction finished for a third collection, but that's still quite a ways off!

Thanks for your time, Marshall, and this insight into your work.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Please Insert Title Here, Please: A Fantasy

Sometimes, I conduct imaginary writing conferences in my head. I’m the keynote speaker of course (my openers ranging from T.C. Boyle to Alice Munro to, if she’s lucky, the ghost of Flannery O’ Connor) and it doesn’t matter where we meet—the Met, Madison Square Garden, or, most recently, the Hollywood Bowl—because the point of the exercise is that I like to imagine what I would say at such an event, what wisdom I would impart in regards to the craft of fiction. It usually varies, depending on many things. Just last week, for example, after reading three separate novels and an essay that all included the exact same phrase, I might’ve advised young writers to forever banish from their tool kits the words “shock of (whatever color) hair”—truly the Kim Kardashian of figurative language, as it’s everywhere, means little, and I don’t like it.

Of course, I’m a young writer—youngish, anyway—but at the Hollywood Bowl, see, I get to be a seasoned veteran, which is what makes it so much fun. And in my most recent dream sequence, I found myself giving advice on titles. I’ve been thinking about titles lately, and there’s a reason for this. Last month, a short story of mine was published in the Indiana Review. And I liked it. I mean, I liked it okay. But what I really liked about the piece—what didn’t make me cringe upon revisit, all those months later—was the title. I thought to myself, If anything, you will have the best title.

Well. I was wrong. Trumped easily by one Mary Hamilton, who, no, I do not know from the ghost of Flannery O’Connor, except to say that the strength of her piece doesn’t end at one of the best titles I’ve come across in recent memory.
            But wait. Forget that. This is my fantasy. I’m the one headlining the Hollywood Bowl. I’m the one shouting for John Irving to fetch me a glass of cold, but not too cold water (did I mention the old wrestler is my personal assistant?) And so, following this thread, using my knowledge of nothing, I’ve compiled a survey for young writers everywhere (see: me), a survey that may have nothing to do with pleasing your woman, or man, but everything to do with coming up with that perfect title—that “Bullet to the Brain”, that “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”, that “Long Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” that “Good Country People”—that, you know, thing above your story that won’t have us humble readers running for the hills, pulling out our hair in…shocks.  

Here’s the thing: answer YES to any of these questions and the buzzer sounds, you’ve lost, and will be promptly shown out of the Hollywood Bowl, the writing profession, my fantasy, and left alone in the void of space where bad titles, like luggage, circle the earth in one endless orbit.
(Did I mention I’ve failed, and will continue to fail, my own survey?)

Does Your Title Suck?
A Not So Serious Survey for Me Other Fiction Writers

    1. Could your title pass for a fragrance by Calvin Klein?

Oops! Did you just submit “Drops of Chance” to the Atlantic? “Ocean Dreams” to The New Yorker? “Desertscape Horizon” to The Paris Review? Well, unless you’re this guy, go ahead and rethink that stinker.

  2.     Does your title shamelessly answer the question, What is the overall theme of this story?

The problem is, if your masterpiece—and it might very well be a masterpiece—“Love Conquers All”, or “Endurace Always Wins”, or “The Pain of Loss”, or “Money Does Not Necessarily Equate Happiness, People,” is one day assigned to students across the globe, then they won’t need to look beyond the first page to answer 99% of all test questions. And you want them, typically, to look beyond the first page.

Speaking of tests…

  3.    Could a 6th grade English teacher in Anywheresville, USA use your title as a multiple choice question in which the answer is c.) Simile?

I’ll admit, I’m a huge offender of this one. But never shall the world be punished to read my high school portfolio, which includes such gems as “Eyes Like Stone”, “Sadness Heavy as Thunder”, “That One Thing That Was Like That Other Thing I Saw Once”, and of course, “Anything (and I Mean Anything) Like Blood”.

  4.   Do prepositions constitute 75% or more of your title?

A quick tidbit from the most recent issue of Scientific American: Reading aloud titles such as “Of Where From Which We Came Before”, “With and Within the Before and Beneath”, “Nothing Besides About”, “Regarding That Which is Regarded” is one of the major causes of externally-induced seizures, second only to strobe lighting.  

  5.    Might Don Draper slap your title across a vehicle and market it as the new family sedan?

I suppose there’s a wee bit of intrigue to that 20,000-word “Cronata”, sitting in the bowels of your hard drive. Or “Illustra.” Or “Enamora” (could it be a character? a place? a curious feeling?); but the only story for which I’m willing to make an exception and actually read is the one simply titled, “Ford Focus”.

  6.   Does your title include a colon, followed by a not-so-subtle reference to genre?

“…: A Love Story”; “…: A Horrific Tale of Horror”; “…: Coming of Age”; “…: A Mysterious Mystery of Mysterious Events of a Quasi-Mysterious Nature”—whatever the case, the only person who will be thanking you is the dude who has to shelve this stuff at Barnes and Noble. But now he has nothing to do. And five hours left in his shift. Thanks a lot.

  7.    Does your title make it painfully clear that you’ve just finished reading anything by Junot Diaz, Lorrie Moore, or Raymond Carver?

Again, guilty as charged. And I wish I could promise you that I won’t hammer out a few more, “The Abridged and Marvelous Life of Roscoe Wow”, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Things and Such”, and “How to Do Anything You Might Not Have Previously Thought Required Instructions”, but I can’t. Call it an homage. And then roll it up and slap me across the head.

  8.    Could your title pass as anything showing on Cinemax beyond 10 PM?

Or more specifically, am I shoving “The Awakening of Terra” beneath the sofa cushion when my mom passes through the living room?

  9.    Can you feasibly imagine your title lit up across a giant marquee, followed by the words: STARRING ADAM SANDLER?

I’m looking at you, “Mr. Tom Can’t Lose”, “Townies 4 Hire”, “Plunky McGee Gets Lucky”, “CivilWar Land in Bad Decline”, “Haba Dabba Doo Doo” (though I’m sure Mr. Sandler pays a lot better than The Timbuktu Review).

And the worst of the worst.

  10.     Is there a pun in your title?

In which case, forget the literary journals…send that sucker to Hollywood and make some real money. I look forward to seeing you-know-who in the film adaptation of “Receding Heir”. 

Of course, I could be wrong. Titles, like this one, have turned on me overnight. Brilliance has corroded into pretension, melodrama, absolute ridiculousness. The important thing being, if you have a title, you have a finished piece. And in this writing game, that’s all you can ask for. To finish anything is to hang off that doomed ocean liner in the middle of your own over-budgeted fantasy and inform the world that you are, in fact, the king of it. Which brings me to my next survery: Do your characters say stupid things?

Twitter: @StevenLRamirez

Friday, February 3, 2012

Marshall Moore *The Infernal Republic* Signal 8 Press

Marshall Moore, author of the novel The Concrete Sky (2003), Black Shapes in a Darkened Room (2003, 2009), An Ideal for Living (2010), recently released a new collection, The Infernal Republic.

The Infernal Republic is an electric, eclectic collection of stories with topics ranging from Portland suicides to hell-dwelling demons.

In "Urban Reef," the opening story, a suicide bonds two lonely acquaintances in Portland, while "Everything Has Been Arranged" delivers a surreal, somber house-moving that hints at the diverse range of styles and subjects in the collection.

The surreal continues in other stories, such as "Marble Forest," about insomnia, family curses, and art-- "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" describes a psychic connection a psychologist shares with a shark.

Other wonderful experiences, such as embodying architecture in "215" and witnessing graduating levels of punishment in "Flesh, Blood, and Some of the Parts," give way to stories of relationships, such as in "Town of Thorns," about a gay man who, after being bashed, alters in troubling ways, and in "Toast, Belladonna, and the Heat Death of the Universe," in which a wonderful exchange of dialogue leads to attempted gunfire in a crowded restaurant.

These and so many other stories showcase Moore's craft.

Check it out: The Infernal Republic.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cathy N. Davidson "Strangers on a Train" Academe Online (Magazine of the AAUP)

Cathy N. Davidson's essay "Strangers on a Train" appears in Academe Online (magazine of the American Association of University Professors--AAUP) and recalls a five-hour ride on a train with the dean of her College of Arts and Sciences, who had been the dean of the department when Davidson was first hired.

Amid recollections, Davidson forwards a call to action: "humanities departments [. . .] could and would be central to higher education if we took our role in society and as educators more seriously."

This is a highly topical issue that will affect anyone going through or working in academics.

Check it out.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sandra Allen "Plow" Hayden's Ferry Review

Appearing in Hayden's Ferry Review, Sandra Allen's essay "Plow" details with captivating clarity and insight a series of memories and thoughts that occur to the narrator, and patterns the narrator beholds, while listening to the radio, and while reflecting on one of her old teachers, Cecily, who calls to say she's ending her marriage.

Throughout the essay, as the writer reflects on a friend's long-planned suicide, wonderful explorations of narratives occur, as well as the people in the world who seem to live lives worthy of stories.

"I read once about how much, as a species, we rely on patterns. The world is full of too much and without patterns we wouldn't see, say, a leopard face in the fauna, or a bullet, or an oncoming train. People who see more patterns than others we might call spiritual, or schizophrenic, or writers."

The final lines of the essay, in which the writer turns inward and explores, are among some of the best I've read.

Read this essay.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sascha Feinstein "Children of Paradise"

Appearing in Hunger Mountain, Sascha Feinstein's work of creative nonfiction "Children of Paradise" details a childhood viewing of the Marcel Carné-directed movie Children of Paradise. Boredom soon overcomes the writer, and the movie seems intolerable: "I don't know how old one needs to be to embrace metaphor and theme over linear plot, but I couldn't do that at eight, nor did I find ancient footage of amorous desire the least bit enticing."

With honed prose and masterful pacing, the essay made me laugh out loud, as well as nod my head in empathy, as Feinstein goes on to describe other movies viewed at the drive-in and exchanges during the movie with his parents.

A gut-splitting summary of a final movie experience punctuates this wonderful essay.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ian Bassingthwaighte "The Cardboard Dress" TriQuarterly

Ian Bassingthwaighte's story "The Cardboard Dress" appears in TriQuarterly and presents the first-person point of view of Charlie, who goes with his wife Adelle to dinner with another couple, Marcus and Dary. 

Charlie hates Marcus, and though at first he tells us he might be imagining the way Marcus gawks lustfully at Charlie's wife, later Marcus brings up wanting to swap lovers, and Charlie wants murder.

Instead, however, the story progresses with dreamlike momentum until, as Charlie says, "slowly we ruin each other."

Piercing, fervent prose. Check it out at TriQuarterly.



Ash Dogs, a novel