A Non/Fiction Prize FAQ

The Journal is happy to announce its new prose prize: The Non/Fiction Prize. We look forward to publishing an exceptional collection of essays or stories (or a collection of essays and stories) in 2015. Or a novella and stories. Confused? Details below.

Didn’t you guys have a prose prize before?

Yes! We awarded an annual Short Fiction Prize from 1997 to 2013. Our last winner was Elizabeth Elsami for her collection Hibernate. The Non/Fiction Prize takes its place.

So this is a non/fiction prize? Non-slash-fiction? What does that mean? Do you have something against my Draco/Harry erotic novel?

It means we accept all manner of short prose, both fiction and nonfiction. Essays or stories. Or essays and stories. As for slash fiction, we’re not against it, though it does present some thorny copyright issues. Nonetheless, this is still a prize devoted to short prose. Your novel, regardless of its subject, is ineligible.

What about a novella? Can I send you my novella?

We accept novellas (or novella-length essays) as part of a longer work, but not alone. So, if you have two or more novellas, or you combine your novella with short stories or essays, then we’d be happy to look at it. But all by its lonesome? No.

So does it have to be fiction or nonfiction?

Nope. We accept submissions that are a combination of essays and stories and novellas. Just be clear to mark which ones are stories and which ones are essays, so we don’t risk the embarrassment of calling your real life “inventive.”

Can I submit something if it’s been published elsewhere?

Individual pieces may have been published elsewhere, but the work in full should be unpublished. This includes self-publication and electronic publication. Delete your Tumblr! (Kidding. Don’t do that. It’s my favorite.) If you are including published pieces, you must also include an acknowledgements page that lists the title and place of publication for each published piece.

I’ve got a great translation of a brilliant Nunavutian writer who is little known in the US. Can I send that?

While we love writers who write in languages that aren’t English (and agree they need to be more widely read in the US) we do not accept translations.

How many pages do you want?

We want between 150 and 350 double-spaced pages in 12 point font. No funny business with the margins: 1” all around.

I have a whole collection of essays and a whole collection of stories. Can I send both of them?

We’re cool with multiple entries. There are a few provisos, however:

  • There should be no overlap between manuscripts, i.e. nothing that appears in one should appear in the other.
  • A separate entry fee must be paid for each manuscript.
 

Ah, yes, now that you’ve mentioned it: how much is the entry fee?

20 smackeroos. One crisp green-tinted portrait of Old Hickory. 5 Lincolns. Two ten-spots. A score of sin—

Wait, what? What are you talking about?

Ahem. I’m sorry. It’s $20 USD.

When’s the deadline to submit?

February 14, 2015. VALENTINE’S DAY, BABY. Afterward, take your special love, Literature, out for a nice meal.

And what’s the prize?

$1500 and publication from OSU Press under a standard contract. By my math, that’s a possible 7500% ROI. Couldn’t get that in the bullest of bull markets.

Where can I submit my manuscript?

All entries must be submitted via Submittable.

Do you allow simultaneous submissions?

We’re cool with your manuscript being submitted elsewhere while it’s under consideration, but if it gets accepted, please do withdraw it from our competition.

Anything else?

Send us your stuff! We know how difficult it is to get a book of short prose published, and we consider it an honor to be able to add at least one more great collection to the world each year.

Posted on 12.19.14 // News

Interview with Kyle McCord

Kyle McCord is the author of five books of poetry including You Are Indeed an Elk, But This is Not the Forest You Were Born to Graze (Gold Wake 2014) and Gentle, World, Gentler (Ampersand Books 2015). He has work featured in AGNI, Blackbird, Boston Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly and elsewhere. His third book was selected as one of the top five books of the year by the Poetry Foundation Blog. He lives and teaches in Des Moines, Iowa. His poem “[When a man loves a woman, he sits her down]” appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal. Recently, McCord spoke with associate poetry editor Mikko Harvey about his new book.

Mikko Harvey: The poems in You Are Indeed an Elk, But This is Not The Forest You Were Born to Graze harness the energy of narrative but are not, it seems to me, stories in any traditional sense of the word. They frequently digress and redefine themselves. I think this combination—a sense of moving toward a narrative ending, but exploding outward in the process—is what makes the book, strangely (strangely because the term is rarely attached to poetry), a page-turner. The humor helps too. Did you plan to write such a fun book, or did it just come out this way?

Kyle McCord: I’m glad you brought up fun because fun sometimes feels like the unacknowledged middle child of poetry. It has to ride in the backseat of the van behind Truth and Beauty who spilled milk in one of the cup holders. It has to hang out in the basement because Beauty is always hogging the bathroom, and Truth locked herself in the study.

The subject rarely commands page space in major lit mags either; I checked (just to avoid libelous claims), but there is no “The Art of Fun” coming out from Graywolf. But because I studied in an MFA program that emphasized irony, satire, mimesis, the reuniting of seemingly estranged dialects (commercial, romantic—big or little “r”—philosophical), all of which I think are fun, I treasure poems that are willing to risk irrelevance for the sake of play. I love Carroll, Dickinson, Tate because they aren’t afraid to be silly, to screw around on the page and see what you as the reader do.

But back to your question which I’ve stealthily avoided. Your observations here are spot on. I did set out to have fun. Apparently, inside my brain forest are some hundred spastic animuses, weird personas, who are just waiting to take the wheel in a poem. So, they get to drive for most of this book. Typically, the poems start in some place that’s pretty wacky for narrative, like “If you’re reading this, I forgive you for eating me first.” I typically attempt build on that narrative with the knowledge that the speaker will betray the initial impulse for some more alluring challenge. Why not turn the speaker into a game show host for “Love Connection?” Why not digress into the legal language of a will? I let myself chase these questions. That helps generate the explosive power you’re describing.

MH: What was your process like while working on this book? The poems are so exuberant that I imagine you writing each one in a single, wild burst—but maybe that effect comes from slow deliberation on your part.

Related to process—what tends to set your imagination in motion?

KM: There are two possible stories about this book. 1. I wrote You Are Indeed an Elk But This is Not the Forest You Were Born to Graze over three years or 2. I wrote You Are Indeed an Elk But This is Not the Forest You Were Born to Graze in thirty days on a bathroom floor in Riga, Latvia. Both are true.

I’m not sure if anyone else does this, but I write all of my poems in cursive longhand. I write messy too because slight misreads are great for unleashing the unconsidered language behind a poem. For two years I wrote these poems in a Moleskin notebook. I went to some exotic places during that time too which got my imagination moving: island resorts in the Caribbean, haunted museums in Louisiana, Oklahoma. So, I didn’t always have the luxury of time because I had to get off the speedboat or check out that weird noise in the shadowy gallery. Thus, some of the poems have this hurried feel.

In 2012, I won the Baltic Writing Residency, which was such an insane honor. Adam Day and Aleks Carlsons sent me off to the fanciest hotel in Riga, Latvia—the Hotel Bergs. I didn’t emerge, more or less, for thirty days except to take a train to Poland and to go see “Prometheus” twice at the big Cineplex. I would wake up, go sit in the bathroom because it had heated floors, and stare at the page and computer screen until something came to mind. Sometimes, I would read a book between lines. At the time, I was reading Chris Deweese, Heather Christle, Rebecca Hazelton, Dorothea Lasky, Matthew Zapruder, and books by about fifteen other poets. I’d wait till I hit a turn of phrase, a particularly attractive measure of syntax, or a friendly image, and I’d see if I could graft that into my poem. I emerged from the hotel with a hundred and some pages of poems that I spent the next year tearing and mending into what you see now. If I were to show you the poems in the Moleskin, I bet you wouldn’t recognize them. That’s how dramatically I reforged what was there.

MH: The book is divided into three section, each corresponding to part of the book’s title: “This is Not the Forest,” “You Are Indeed an Elk,” and “You Were Born to Graze.” Can you talk about how you approached the organization of this book, and how you see the poems coming together as a whole?

KM: To do that, I might have to talk about the title. In the winter of last year, I was paid one of the greatest compliments I can imagine. My fiancé, Lydia, was working at this horrible bank. To give you an idea what it was like, one of her customers, having heard that one could take pictures of checks and send them to the bank for deposit, emailed the bank a picture of a twenty dollar bill and demanded that it be added to her account. These were the kinds of customers she was routinely dealing with.

She kept a small slip of paper in her desk that just said “You are indeed an elk, but this is not the forest you were born to graze.” She said reading the title reminded her that this was the wrong forest, but she knew who she was and that she wouldn’t always be here. I can’t imagine a more insightful reading of the title. Each of the sections of the book is meant to focus on one of those three aspects she listed: place, identity, and purpose.

In terms of how the poems came together beyond that organizing principle, Alan Michael Parker has a terrific essay on building a book in three dimensions. I don’t want to simplify down what is an elegant set of ideas, but on a basic level, Parker suggests that it’s easy to think about what frictional or cohesive force poems generate next to each other on a page. What is more complicated is considering how the endings and beginnings of sections and books work together, how teleologic progression of narrative and ideas has to be considered from page to page but also across an entire manuscript. Sometimes those two types of interaction are in absolute contradiction. How do we as writer build multiple levels of connection in a work? That question was buzzing in my ear when I sat down with a giant pile of poems, loosely grouped into sections.

MH: In “[Last night I heard the frail music of nighthawks]” you write, “I wouldn’t be the hawk I am today / without my masters.” Who have been your masters? Who have you learned from? Feel free to take this question as literally or loosely as you wish.

KM: I’m not sure if you know this, but I’m obsessed with “Musée des Beaux Arts.” I wrote my dissertation on time and invention in ekphrasis. While researching for a class I’m teaching on ekphrasis in the spring, I found a Randall Jarrell poem that begins “About suffering, about adoration, the old masters/ Disagree.” Take that Auden! I’m fascinated with this idea that there are “the masters,” some pantheon of the dead (as envisioned by Eliot) bickering over agony and its purpose or hovering over me as I’m writing. Even more fascinating is the idea that no one can even decide if the masters have reached a consensus.

I’ve had the pleasure of studying with some really astounding writers and teachers: James Tate, Dara Wier, Peter Gizzi, James Galvin, Tessa Rumsey, James Haug, Corey Marks, Bruce Bond, B.H. Fairchild, and a slew of amazing fiction writers. It’s one of the virtues of spending so many years writing in academia. I could start listing friends who’ve completely destabilized my means of making words too, but we’d be here all day.

If any ghostly tribunal is hanging over me, I hope it’s Keats, Dickinson, and Yeats. They’re my masters of choice, I suppose. I mess around with the conceits of Romanticism so much that I imagine Keats would want to pop me one, and Dickinson and Yeats intimidate and scare me in that order. But they’re the voices of previous generations I return to most often.

MH: You studied ancient languages at Bethany Seminary. Did that experience impact your writing? It’s curious, because your poems feel so contemporary to me.

KM: This is a tricky question. Bethany is such a wonderful place with so many amazing people who went out of their way to take me into their community. There is at least one great story from that time that made its way into this book. While I was in seminary I was teaching at a university in Richmond. One of my students turned in this paper that I’m absolutely convinced he could only have written under the influence of intense psychotropics. One of the lines was “like a serpent among babies cast asunder in a barren waste of human excrement.” I knew instantly that this line had to be made into a poem.

There’s much more of Bethany in my last book, but much of the language of witness from this book comes from faith. In poems like “[In this scene, my co-pilot and I crash the moonbuggy]” and “[It happens like this]”, the narrator is building an ethos built on the credibility of personal observation and experience. I’m sure I’m channeling some of my year living in voluntary poverty and working for the Church of the Brethren. The last line of the book is probably worth considering in that light too.

MH: What do you hope is next for your writing? Do you have your sights set in a new poetic direction?

KM:I’ve got a new book coming out with Ampersand Books in 2015, and I have a book of ekphrastic poems that I’m planning to start shopping in the new year. Most of those poems are out in the world.

I’ve started filling up a Moleskin again, but more slowly this time. I run an art and reading series in Des Moines, and I’m teaching six different courses at three universities. Plus, I’m getting married to one of the most brilliant women on the planet. So, I’m busy, which is good.

The poems in this book move and turn so quickly. I’m not sure I can keep up with them anymore, so now I’m writing some pastorals, self-portraits, and elegies. Often, I find myself looking for a poem that I see as a masterful work of art, then I’ll write and write to see if I can do it better. I just read this Stanley Plumley poem in American Poetry Review that almost made me cry. I think that might be the next lovely horizon for me.

Posted on 12.12.14 // Interview // News

Our Nominees for the 2016 Pushcart Prize Edition

We’re very pleased to announce the following stories, essays, and poems as our nominees for this year’s Pushcart Prize. (Which, we are told, will be published in 2016.)

 
Poetry:

 
Fiction:

 
Nonfiction:

 

Congratulations to all our nominees! And we’d also like to give a big thank you to all our contributors for this year. Your excellent work made our jobs easy but our nomination decisions very difficult. Thanks again!

Posted on 12.02.14 // News

Call for Photo Essays

The Journal is currently seeking outstanding photo essays to feature in our online fall and spring issues. To submit, please visit our online submission manager and send a pdf document that includes the images and text in a single file. Please include up to eight pages of art and a short bio and/or artist statement. We offer a monetary payment of $100 upon acceptance. We are looking for photography that shows curatorial intent and direction.

The Journal is the award-winning literary journal of The Ohio State University, and was established in 1973. It is published four times annually: our summer and winter issues appear in print and our fall and spring issues appear online.

You can visit our online archives to preview the type of work we’ve published in the past.

All best,

The editors

Posted on 09.11.14 // News

Summer Reading: Online Editor Lauren Barret

My summer began with a few happy weeks devouring the works of John Le Carre. I consumed them one after another, almost mindlessly, like potato chips: first Tailor Tinker Soldier Spy, then a couple of his early novels, A Murder of Quality and A Call For The Dead. It was fun and reassuring to see how he developed as a writer, from writing relatively simple mysteries like AMoQ and ACftD to bigger, more psychologically astute spy stuff like TTSS.

Alas, my Le Carre love ran aground on the rocky shoals of his gargantuan novel The Honourable Schoolboy, the second in his famed Karla trilogy.  I would tell you what it was about, but I can’t remember. I can remember that it was 600 pages, George Smiley and his Russian rival Karla rarely appeared, and I read the last 300 pages deeply resenting every single word but determined to finish it anyway. Its bloat would not get me down! The overly long descriptions of some mundane aspect of life in a foreign city would not defeat me! The endless hinting at a terribly obvious conclusion (“I suspect the main character’s investment in this woman of dubious character is not going to work out well!”) would not stop my forward progress! I would see my way to the not surprising or interesting conclusion if it was the last thing I did! (Also, if I stopped, I would have sunk a considerable amount of energy into it with nothing, not even an entry in my Goodreads 2014 Reading Challenge, to show for it. My vanity could not allow such a thing.)

In late spring, I learned that my grandmother’s health had taken a serious turn for the worse. Once freed from the clutches of the academic calendar, I started spending weekends, and then whole weeks, at my childhood home in Kentucky.  There wasn’t all that much to be done. But I wanted to be there, to do whatever I could.

Tending to someone who is dying is tedious but unpredictable. One day they respond well to medication, or to rest, and the next they don’t. One day they feel good enough to sit outside for a bit; the next they can’t even manage to look out the window.  It’s terribly hard watching someone disappear by tiny increments, to see them lose almost everything they love about the life that won’t yet leave them.  I spent a lot of afternoons chatting with my grandmother when she felt up for it, or flitting about the Internet in a distracted haze, but I also spent a lot of time reading.

Seeking refuge, I found it in nineteenth century Russia. Earlier in the year, I had read this great New Yorker piece by Josh Rothman about Tolstoy and Anna Karenina’s mistaken reputation as a great love story.  I found a pristine mass market paperback of the novel languishing on a bookshelf in my mother’s house.

I started, mostly, as a lark: how far could I get? Tolstoy’s chapters are remarkably short, which made the going relatively easy. Only a few more pages, I told myself, and you can stop. And then, once that chapter was done, I’d see no reason not to read another. And then another.  A few more chapters and I’d be at the end of a section, which had a nice finality to it.  And so I made my way,  learning about Anna and her unhappy marriage to Karenin, and about Levin and his rather grandiose ideas about farming.  In my own work, I always wonder if I’m boring my hypothetical reader, if I’m sharing too much about something inconsequential. Tolstoy, it would seem, had no such qualms, and I was delighted to see him spend an entire section on Levin mowing his fields with the peasants, or on Vronksy visiting his horse in the stables. While the chapters flew by at brisk clip, the overall drift of the novel itself was languid and slow.  Vronsky and Anna meet at a party, but dance around each other for another 100 pages.  Kitty breaks Levin’s heart and they do not see each other again for what feels like an eternity.

What struck me most, however, was Tolstoy’s remarkable ability to sympathize with his villains (who are, without a doubt, villains) and his refusal to makes his heroes and heroines too perfect. Karenin, Anna’s passionless and calculating husband, is all that stands between her and happiness in her relationship with Vronksy. He’s unkind, and ungenerous, but also, somehow, wholly pitiable. Similarly, Levin, while honest and decent and full of good intentions, is also drably conservative and painfully self-pitying, especially when it comes to women.  At the end, I was glad he had found some measure of happiness (however accidental), but was also glad to leave him to his work and his wife.

Scene that made me LOL:  Kitty and Levin’s strange nineteenth-century version of text speak in the scene where they declare their mutual admiration by writing out sentences using only the first letter of each word.  Those two really are MFEO.

 

Posted on 08.29.14 // Summer Reading

Submissions For The Wheeler Prize Open on Monday!

Submissions open September 1st for the annual OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Prize in Poetry. Online entries only, so please send us those puppies via Submittable.

Each year, The Journal selects one full-length manuscript of poetry for publication by The Ohio State University Press. In addition to publication under a standard book contract, the winning author receives the Charles B. Wheeler prize of $2500.

Entries of at least 48 typed pages of original poetry must be electronically submitted during the month of September. All manuscripts will be read anonymously. Your name and other identification should appear only on a separate cover page. Manuscripts must be previously unpublished, but poets may be at any stage in their careers. Some or all of the poems in the collection may have appeared in periodicals, chapbooks, or anthologies, but these must be identified in the acknowledgements page.

A nonrefundable handling fee of $28.00 will be charged for each entry. Entrants will receive a one-year subscription to The Journal.

The winning entry, screened by the editorial staff of The Journal, Assistant OSU Press Poetry Editor Pablo Tanguay, and final judge and OSU Press Poetry Editor Kathy Fagan, will be announced the following January.

Submit via Submittable starting September 1st: https://thejournal.submittable.com/submit

Karin Gottshall is our 2013 winner for her second collection, The River Won’t Hold You. Gottshall lives in Vermont and teaches at Middlebury College. Her first book, Crocus, won the Poets Out Loud prize and was published by Fordham University Press in 2007. She is the author of three chapbooks: Flood Letters (Argos Books), Almanac for the Sleepless (Dancing Girl Press), and Swans (Argos Books). Corey Van Landingham was our 2012 winner for her first collection, Antidote. Previous winners over the past twenty-eight years include: Rebecca Hazelton, Edward Haworth Hoeppner, Kary Wayson, Lia Purpura, Mark Svenvold, Bruce Beasley, and Mary Ann Samyn.

Posted on 08.29.14 // News

Summer Reading: Associate Fiction Editor Gwen Cullen

I used to work in a children’s library. The best part my year there was helping to create the Summer Reading Game, which was meant to teach young readers how to use library resources, talk about books they read, and get people to give them stickers. (My highest achievement, I think, was the medieval-themed year. It’s nice to know you’ve taught a generation of elementary schoolers the Dewey decimal number for dragons.) I’m going to attribute to eight summers of Summer Reading Games the fact that I always feel better if my summer reading has a theme. This year I went with historical fiction, partly in honor of the transporting power of books, which is a pretty important principle of children’s libraries, and partly because this is how I acquire a (potentially alarming) lot of my historical knowledge.

It makes sense that when writers write about history, they often focus on the power of writing and books in determining what the meaning and significance of events will be, but I was still surprised at how consistently these issues popped up across these novels. It was just as interesting how often the writers I read were keen critics of placing too much faith in these texts—that doing so risks being fetishistic, divorced from reality, at best incomplete. Other than that, I would say the big theme to emerge was that history has been pretty sad so far.

A lot of these had been on my to-read list for a while, and certainly speak for themselves without my recommendation, but I’m going to go ahead anyway and strongly urge checking out any and all of the below you haven’t read.

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Jazz is about the murder of a young woman in New York City in the ‘20s. The novel traces the early lives of the main characters back in time through the Great Migration. There’s no reason to read my thoughts about the novel’s astounding construction and its relationship to music when Morrison’s are available online, but one thing that blew me away while I was reading was Morrison’s description of living in a city. I get the sense when reading a lot of writing about cities (and parties, for whatever reason) that it’s difficult subject matter to write about without sounding a little vague and unhelpfully romantic. But besides capturing the visceral experience of moving through a city, Jazz conveys so much about what contemporary cities mean, historically and socially, all without the setting eclipsing the characters in a relatively compact novel.

Iceland’s Bell by Halldor Laxness (trans. Philip Roughton)

In his introduction to the Vintage edition of Iceland’s Bell, Adam Haslett points out that the lack of psychological interiority in the novel sounds like (and can be) an obstacle to contemporary readers. But a lot of what I loved about the book was how frequently Laxness did things that sound like pretty bad ideas (a long passage in the middle of the novel in which two characters summarize what has happened so far, sudden switches between the past and present tense) in mesmerizing ways. It was kind of thrilling to read something so unconventional and so successful—a nice reminder of how plastic fiction is. The plot is vast and hard to summarize, but it centers around an effort to preserve the ancient books of Iceland under Danish imperial rule in the seventeenth century, and its debate on the absolute value of books that has lodged itself in the back of my mind in a major way. Additionally, there are trolls.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Beyond the fact that the stories move a few decades back in time, the title of the collection refers to the passage of time and there are several stories in which the specific moment in rock music Egan puts us in is key, so I’m calling this theme-compliant, if not exactly historical fiction. I think I’m still learning how to read collections of linked stories, because I did ultimately feel like I’d been prematurely dismissed at the end of the novel, but perhaps this was in part because there’s so much delightful stuff here. I liked the equivalence between the past and future as the narrative skips around time. It’s gutsy, calling attention to the way in which historical fiction can be just as fantastical and about-the-present as speculative futures, but also weirdly comforting in the reassurance it offers that there will be a future, that the past surely must have felt very uncertain and frightening at times, too.

Libra by Don DeLillo

I’ve been meaning to read this fictional account of the plot to assassinate JFK since a period of really intense Kennedy obsession junior year of high school. As much as I admired the novel, I’d offer the caveat that reading about the use of paranoia to justify evil and the far-reaching impact of clandestine plots shaped by paranoid men, it’s easy to feel like your mind is turning into an ouroboros who’s had way too much coffee and never wants to read the news again. But the meditation on the power of text creating history is complicated and well worth the read. (For a quick “oh, what a difference twenty-five years makes!” reverence comparison, pair with X-Men: Days of Future Past’s reimagining of JFK’s assassination.)

Bonus historical non-fiction:

The Bible: A Biography by Karen Armstrong

Armstrong moves through an astounding amount of material and time (beginning roughly 1200 BCE) in this book about the development of the canonical sacred texts of modern Judaism and Christianity. However, there’s a lot about the methodology that you’d have to dig into material cited in the endnotes to learn, which is a little frustrating. I don’t suspect Armstrong’s methods, but am intrigued to know how historians do draw conclusions about the attitudes with which people would have read a book, millennia ago.

Non-historical, non-literature double bonus:

I also watched many, many episodes of Murder, She Wrote. I would argue that, overall, it holds up.

 

 

 

Posted on 08.29.14 // Summer Reading

Summer Reading: Associate Fiction Editor Katherine Evans

This was an extremely eventful summer for me—I got married, went honeymooning in Kauai, and visited with family and friends back in my home state of Virginia. My husband and I are also in the process of moving out of his place in Los Angeles—in fact, I am writing this post while surrounded by boxes and crumpled newspaper. You can probably understand why my reading list is mostly a hodgepodge of books I’ve been meaning to get to and stories I’m planning on assigning for my creative writing course this fall. I revisited lots of old favorites by Ron Hansen, Flannery O’Connor, Richard Ford, Amy Hempel, Breece D’J Pancake, and Mary Robison to name just a few. When I wasn’t agonizing over which short stories to teach this fall (I can’t choose them all?), I read (and in some cases re-read) these wonderful novels and collections, in no particular order:

  1. The Maid’s Version, Daniel Woodrell
  2. Long Man, Amy Greene
  3. Friend of My Youth, Alice Munro
  4. Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro
  5. The Moons of Jupiter, Alice Munro
  6. Nothing Gold Can Stay, Ron Rash
  7. The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
  8. Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor


As you can probably tell, I went on a bit of an Alice Munro bender. I wholeheartedly recommend that you do the same. I’ve also just started reading Josh Weil’s novel The Great Glass Sea. I absolutely loved his novella The New Valley, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting this debut and I’m pleased to report that so far it’s wondrous—it’s at once futuristic and reminiscent of Russian folklore and wholly original. In terms of movie viewing, I’m sad to say that I just haven’t hit the theater much these past few months (in all fairness, movie tickets in Los Angeles are pricey). I did get around to seeing Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves. Most importantly, I’m caught up onGames of Thrones and now understand why my husband was so depressed after viewing The Red Wedding (never forget!).

Posted on 08.29.14 // Summer Reading

Summer Reading: Poetry Editor Megan Peak

I spend most of my summers back home in Texas, where the heat makes you a little lethargic and more than thankful for air conditioning. This summer, when I wasn’t outside gardening or biking with my family, I was reading Lauren Berry’s The Lifting Dress, an amazing first collection that chronicles the emotions and internal anxieties of a girl after a traumatic event. Set in the south, full of wasps and red landscapes and budding teendom, this book creates worlds that are familiar and foreign, ruined and redemptive, tender and wise. I’m set to read Bianca Stone’s Someone Else’s Wedding Vows. I also try to read some prose during my time off since I don’t have much time during the year to read that. My favorite was Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, which is going to be a movie with Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, and Sarah Paulson (my idol!), and Adichie’s Americanah.

Summer is the time for binge-watching, and I did exactly that. From True Detective to the second season of Orange is the New Black, I found myself quite inspired and satisfied with the stories and plots on these shows. McConaughey and Harrelson were fabulous together in the grungy swamps of Louisiana. Poetic dialogue, eerie landscapes, despicable characters. Let’s just say I finished that series in about two days.

In terms of music, I found a great band via my father’s excellent taste. I’ve been listening to the indie-pop band PHOX, who are originally from Wisconsin. Monica Martin’s voice is killer and songs like “Slow Motion,” “In Due Time,” and “Evil” have been on repeat for the past month. Great summer songs—catchy, poetic lyrics with a good-looking six-piece band. Check ‘em out!

 

Posted on 08.28.14 // Summer Reading

Summer Reading: Fiction Editor Kate Norris

As much as I love to read, reading as a writer is a fraught experience. I rarely read purely for pleasure anymore, but instead am always analyzing what I’m reading, trying to sort out what works and how, what doesn’t and why, and which techniques I should be attempting in my own writing.

Recently, a young writer was talking about how reading often leads to a crisis of confidence for her, and I reassured her (at least, I hope this is reassuring…) that this feeling never goes away. If anything, it just gets worse over time for me, because the more I learn the more I know just how much better than me some other writers are.

Oh how I miss the confidence of dumb teen me!

All I can do is work through this insecurity, because I can’t turn it off. Writing ends up being something akin to faith, if only in myself (The only kind I have. See you in hell?) and my own ability to make whatever I’m working on good in the end. Reading good books is the ultimate test of that faith.

So here are two books I’ve read recently that made me feel extremely insecure—the highest compliment I can offer.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters

Jess Walters does an amazing job capturing not just his female characters, but particularly how his female characters perceive the men in their lives. Among the large cast of characters there are two selfish, destructive man-children—Shane Wheeler and Pat Bender—that are at various times perfectly skewered by women in their lives. But Walters doesn’t treat any of his characters with disdain, even when he’s portraying them at their most ridiculous. Every character gets their due, and although the end is perhaps sentimental, no one gets more redemption than they’ve earned.

Beautiful Ruins reminded me a bit of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Although Beautiful Ruins isn’t billed as a novel in stories, it functions in much the same way, with each chapter moving between different reoccurring characters and times. Overall, Beautiful Ruins moves more linearly within its separate time lines, and in the end things are brought together tidily, but many of the chapters work as independent stories. Chapter 4, “The Smile of Heaven,” for instance, reads like a complete short story, and a fantastic one at that.

What I find most intimidating about this novel is its scope: it spans decades, continents, and the perspective of several characters. It contains fragments of a play, a novel, and a character’s autobiography. Yet although the novel is expansive, it is also intimate. Beautiful Ruins is often described as a funny book, and it is, but it isn’t frivolous, and even the more overblown characters like Michael Deane don’t read as caricatures.

Beautiful Ruins is being made into a film (Of course it is! How could a book that deals partially with the scandal that occurred on the set of Cleopatra not be optioned?) and I’m very curious to see how on earth they’ll be able to adapt this sprawling story for the screen.

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Dare Me is narrated by sixteen year old Addie Hanlon, varsity cheerleader and “lieutenant” to her best friend Beth Cassidy’s squad captain. Although they’re best friends, their relationship is uneasy, and the fissures between them become cracks under the regime of a new, strict cheer coach.

A book that examines the intense, fraught relationships between teen girls? Yes, please! There is nothing I love reading about more. And Abbott’s characters, both teenage and otherwise, are rich, complex, and wholly believable—perhaps the most important criteria for me.

But in Dare Me, the element I found most intimidating was also the one thing I really disliked about the book: the voicey, writerly language. I typically prefer language that doesn’t call undue attention to itself (I would rather pay attention to character and story than how pretty a sentence is.) even in third person, where any florid writing can more easily be attributed to the author than their point-of-view character, but Dare Me is written in first person so Abbott’s language feels particularly egregious. A quick perusal of some Goodreads reviews shows that I’m not the only one who was frustrated by the language, which was not only unbelievable coming from a teenage girl, but also imprecise at times.

But dammit, sometimes the language is just so cool. When Addie describes a light “coning halogen”, part of me is like ‘yeah right, what teenage girl talks like that’, but another part is frustrated because I know I couldn’t write like that even if I tried. It also feels somehow small-minded to judge Dare Me based on the yardstick of realism when it’s neo-noir. The super stylized and completely unrealistic dialogue of a movie like Brick, which is also high school noir, doesn’t bother me at all, so why should it bother me here? Because I’m fickle and unfair I suppose.

Dare Me is also being made into a movie and I think it could make a great one, especially if the rumor that Natalie Portman will play the cheer coach is true.

If you’re reading this hoping to gain some insight into my editorial tastes, here’s the TL; DR version: send me some sprawling mean girl noir minus any noir style, set on a movie set.

Just kidding!

Kind of.

Posted on 08.28.14 // Summer Reading // Uncategorized

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