Authors Talk: Timothy Reilly

Today we are pleased to welcome Timothy Reilly as our Authors Talk series contributor. Timothy talks about what inspired his story “Nosferatu” and what genre it might fit into.

The story takes its title from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That said, the story is not fantasy, nor “so-called magical realism.” Rather, Timothy evokes the vampire myth to put the reader in a particular and strange mindset. Timothy closes by briefly discussing the origins and benefits of this mindset.

You can read and listen to “Nosferatu” in Superstition Review, Issue 19.

Contributor Update: Dallas Woodburn

Dallas Woodburn

Today we are glad to share that SR Contributor Dallas Woodburn’s debut collection of short stories, WOMAN, RUNNING LATE, IN A DRESS, is scheduled for publication in March 2018 from Yellow Flag Press as the winner of their Cypress & Pine Short Fiction Award.

Dallas Woodburn, a former Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University, has published work in Zyzzyva, Superstition Review, The Los Angeles Times, Fourth River, Flyway, and Monkeybicycle, among many others. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she won first place in the international Glass Woman Prize and second place in the American Fiction Prize. She is the founder of Write On! Books, an organization that empowers youth through reading and writing endeavors.

Guest Post, Hannah Brown: Laughter, Not Zero, at the Bone

The spring after my father died, a large bull garter snake undulated across the floor of what had been my father’s office in the basement. “The Old Boy’s gone,” my brother said, “so the snake must have figured it was finally safe.”

*  * *

I had learned to walk in the dewy grass outside the back door of our farmhouse in Hastings County. I have a dim memory of snatching something moving. My hands were always quick. I headed back to the house and knocked on the door. I don’t remember what happened next, but I do remember my father outside, his face red, fiercely chopping with the axe. My mother said I had entered the kitchen with a small garter snake spiraling around my forearm, its head licking the air by my hand.

My father’s horror of snakes was a weakness my mother enjoyed. When he took her and her mother to Florida the first time, they bought a papier-mâché snake, a little piece of string between each of its sections. If you pinched one of the sections between thumb and forefinger, both its head and its tail sections writhed. The conspirators placed it on the dashboard, and my father studiously ignored it all the way to Tampa.

When they parked at the motel, my grandmother picked it up. “Why, what’s this, Bill?” He ignored her question, which sent my mother and her mother into gales of laughter— then, and every time they told the story.

I was fifteen and about to graduate from high school, and had read some mischievous information about interpreting symbols. I decided to make another open foray in my ongoing battle with all adults. My father, who had gone out with my mother’s older sister before he went out with my mother, was sitting with my aunt at the kitchen table.
It was large enough for eight of us at every meal: breakfast, lunch, and supper, every day, no breaks, no ceasefires. There were eight of us, six children and my mother, and him. Unlike city children, or children who lived a happy distance from the local school, we went home for lunch—and so did he. He was a fierce man, tall and well-built, with an inclination for the fancy. When he went away to university, one of his first purchases was a suit of tails.

There he sat, smoking a cigarette with my aunt. She was also fierce, an accomplished artist, who could kick her foot up over her head on a moment’s notice. She smoked without cease, but my father only smoked one cigarette, and only with her when she visited.

“I have a personality test, “I announced. “If you’re not too chicken.”

Neither was. They both willingly took the pencils and pieces of paper. My instructions were to draw a snake. My father was finished first. His snake looked like this:

 

Father's Snake Drawing

 

 

My aunt finished in a few minutes. This was her snake:

 

Aunt's Snake Drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

“So, what’s your interpretation, Hannah?” My aunt was pleased with what she had drawn, but not for long.

“The more coils your snake has, the more sexually frustrated you are.”

My father laughed out loud.

* * *

My mother picked up the garter snake with the bacon tongs and threw him in the ditch across the road. She looked aghast when she said a little bit of tail had broken off, and then smiled and coyly asked me if I wanted it.

 

Intern Post, John Chakravarty: Small Failures

The submission process must be the most impersonal part of a writer’s career. The author has just spent days, weeks, or even years writing, editing, and workshopping the best piece of fiction they can muster. But without an audience, it’s just a piece of journal writing. Professors and other writing professionals will encourage the author to “get your work out there” and “you need a few rejection letters under the belt.” So this piece of written human soul gets crammed into an email and whisked away to a faceless submission editor.

Finding places to submit work to is the first part of this impersonal interaction. The best way to find a literary journal that will like your work is to read journals that have similar work to yours. The problem is, that the pieces that they are publishing may either A. be much stronger and more practiced or B. not anything like what you write, in terms of style. SmokeLong Quarterly is my favorite online journal, but my written work has not measured up to their level so far. I find this uneven balance when I am submitting work where I’ve either spent a lot of time reading a journal and realized that there’s no way my work stacks up. Or I’ve never heard of the journal, and think they must just be publishing anyone, why would I bother. Scanning through lists and call for submissions can feel like job hunting with incredibly vague parameters.

However, the worst part of this process is the rejection email. There’s never a right time or place to receive the email and it’s never quite worded the right way. A rejection email that sticks out in my mind said, “while we loved the absurdist normalcy of the piece, we regret to inform you…” I appreciated the time it took for them to write something personal about my work, but it left me questioning what that meant. I spent the next few days workshopping the email, trying to get a positive deconstruction of the narrative and what the character was trying to say to me. Needless to say, I didn’t get anywhere.

Being on the other side of this as a submission editor had a similar disconnect. We had almost three hundred fiction submissions. Three hundred is a relatively low number for some journals, but it set a record for Superstition Review. I found myself stuck looking at a neverending list of titles from strangers. They show up like an excel database, or some customer list. It’s very different than sitting across from someone in a workshop.

Writing the rejection email I ran into a similar conflict. Based on the rejections I’ve gotten the email should do the following; thank the writer for submitting, tell them no, and ask them to read the journal anyway. Which always feels inauthentic when on the receiving end.

The value in submitting can’t come from personal connection. Instead, it has to come from a place of personal growth. Only by submitting (and being on the other end) can an author learn to make mistakes and to take risks. Keeping a piece of writing private keeps it safe and for some people that’s enough. Exposing a piece of writing forces the author to grow their craft and skill by releasing that inhibition. Social media has exposed the extremes of our society. Most often, we only see something that is of extreme success or extreme failure. Small failures have to happen for any professional to grow. For writers that comes in the form of rejection letters. These are only small failures, and they must be overcome in order to grow. I hope that Superstition Review gets six hundred fiction submissions next semester and that many more small failures get to occur.

Authors Talk: Jack Garrett

Today we are pleased to feature author Jack Garrett as our Authors Talk series contributor. Jack attempts to understand his story “What Are You Doing?” by self-interview.

From the punctuation in the story’s title to the length of the lines to Jack’s singing voice, no part of the story is left unquestioned. What inspired Jack to create the story’s characters? Does Jack enjoy living alone? How do we know when we know something or someone? Such breadth makes this Authors Talk an interesting change of pace and a unique look into Jack’s work.

You can read and listen to Jack Garrett’s story, “What Are You Doing?” in Superstition Review, Issue 19.

Contributor Update: JoAnna Novak

Cover for Noirmania by JoAnna NovakToday we are excited to share news about past contributor JoAnna Novak. JoAnna’s upcoming collection of poetry titled Noirmania will become available February of 2018. Noirmania has already received high praise from Peter Gizzi, author of Archeophonics, who says: “In taut percussive muscular language JoAnna Novak wields a fierce hammer. Here are tuff poems cast in a bright element in the 21st-century telling it like it is. It is sonic, strong, and wicked; and so good.”

You can read “Teeth of Nature” and “Self-Portrait in Efflorescence” by JoAnna in Issue 13 of Supertition Review.

Congratulations, JoAnna!

Guest Post, Kerry Cullen: On Heroes

POWOne particularly boring day in 9th grade Chemistry, I wrote a story about my group of friends defeating our evil teacher. I folded it in a note, and passed it along the back row, where the story’s heroes read it one by one, stifling laughter and sneaking glances at the blissfully unaware teacher. We had recently decided we were all superheroes–vigilantes, to be specific. Everyone got a nickname and a power, debated among the group. I still didn’t have a name or power, and I was too self-conscious to make up my own, so I asked a friend.

He screwed up his face, thinking. “What are your skills?”

“I dunno.”

“Well, you’re good at writing. You could be the journalist that follows the superheroes around!”

“So like, a secret superhero disguised as a journalist?”

“No,” the boy said, already shaking his head. “No, that wouldn’t make any sense. If you had powers, you’d be fighting the bad guys with us. You can’t have powers.”

“So I’m not part of the team?”

“Not technically,” he said. “But without you, who would know about all the stuff we’re doing? You would give the townspeople hope! Someone has to do it.”

I refused.

 

I’ve always wanted to be a hero. I’ve always wanted to be one of the people out there in the world doing the courageous work that ordinary people don’t have the guts for. When I was an evangelical christian kid, I wanted to go into international missions. I wanted to adventure, take risks, go to unusual places. I was excited for the Second Coming–I wanted to live in a time of upheaval, to defend my faith against monstrous beasts. If not that, then I wanted to be a nun, to live an extraordinary life of prayer. When I moved away from religion and into LGBTQ rights activism, I wanted to be a different kind of hero. I wanted to go on a hunger strike in prison. I wanted to chain myself to a building, to put myself in physical danger for a noble cause.

 

I’ve always wanted to be a fiction writer, too. The most common advice given to fiction writers is also the best: “Ass in chair.” Stay where you are; keep writing. Of course you need to live a life in order to write, and in order to be a healthy human being–an often underrated pursuit among artists, but a necessary one nevertheless. A good writer, though, should be perpetually conscious of the work, always ready to use their few solitary moments to sit down and dig into the deepest marrow of their soul. It doesn’t look romantic, sitting in a chair all day; it’s not a hunger strike or a sit-in or an exotic adventure.

 

But it certainly requires fortitude. In one of W.B. Yeats’s last poems, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”, a writer near the end of his life ruminates on the stories that he used to write about, great tales of adventure and triumph, vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose. But in his age, the writer realizes that what he has left are not the mythical creatures and characters, the circus animals, all on show. Rather, it is the unglamorous murk of human emotion that he must write from. He concludes the poem, saying

 

I must lie down where all the ladders start

In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

 

I asked a professor in college once: how do you dig into the darkest parts of yourself for writing, and also live a healthy life? He peered at me over his fingertips, with his uncanny pale blue eyes, and said, “I am always vigilant.”

 

To be a writer is to be vigilant. To be vigilant is to be watchful, awake. To keep a vigil is to stay awake in prayer. To be a vigilante is to be ‘a self-appointed doer of justice’.

 

These days, I want badly to be a self-appointed doer of justice. Villains are everywhere and multiplying, and a clamoring part of me wishes that I could abandon my work and my ordinary life and even my writing to go on some death-defying, valorous adventure–ideally somehow involving magic? –that would mold me into a true hero, capable of quickly and concretely changing the world. I want to single-handedly save lives. I want to do something noble and powerful, worthy of an incredible story. Of course, if my impulse for action is contingent on story, my underlying desire is probably more about the tale than the act.

 

I’m not talking about small acts of goodness: calling senators, writing letters, doing volunteer work in a community, being kind and attentive to the people in your life. All of those and more are humbler works that come from less glory-hungry urges, and that, if done consistently, don’t make up merely one adventurous plot arc to tell and retell. Rather, they make up a whole life of daily, mundane choices, like waking up every day, getting your ass in that chair, and putting pen to paper.

 

The only thing I’ve wholeheartedly kept from my former Christianity is an immense respect for and love of prayer. A favorite author once called prayer an ‘act of love’ and I’ve felt that definition ring true more than any other. For me, writing and prayer are inextricably linked–both a deeply embedded part of my childhood, both a salvation, reconciliation, meditation. Both annoying, sometimes. Both easy to procrastinate on, both unglamorous, both private, both practices that everyone else seems to do with more ease, more beauty, more reward. Both practices that thrive in questions and not answers. Both vigils. Both staying awake.

 

To be a self-appointed doer of justice, vigilante-style, you need answers. You need clarity and security in the knowledge that what you’re doing is right, or at least mostly right, or at least pointed in the general direction of the greater good. We will always have heroes and villains in this world, self-appointed doers who believe that they are on the side of justice. Who have been told what the side of justice is, and have decided to fight for it. Some fight for the weak and downtrodden and underserved. Some fight for their god. Some fight for their money.

 

And following them are the journalists, the storytellers, the poets. The people with more questions than answers, the people whose job it is to give the townspeople hope, or fear. The people sifting through what their leaders are doing to find the truth under it. The people who lie down where all the ladders start.

 

This world needs heroes. It needs writers, too.