Editorial Preferences in Fiction: John Chakravarty

Reading submissions for Superstition Review allowed me to think about the stories I love to read. I’ve found that the best stories have a character I can connect with, and also an interesting problem.

There are so many elements that can make a piece of writing good. The first thing that comes to mind is characterization, which means creating round characters, with both internal and external struggles, and a full life that exists outside the page. My sister says that when she finishes a good book, she sometimes misses the characters and the time that she’s spent with them. One of my professors will always remind us in class not to say the word character, because writers are actually creating souls.

But it’s not enough to have an interesting character sitting in a room doing nothing. What makes a character truly endearing and relatable is their problems and how they choose to deal with them. Even Nick Carroway and Jay Gatsby without their dramatic love affairs would likely not hold a reader’s attention very long.

This is where I feel we get the human experience: when we read about someone relatable that has a problem foreign to us. Or someone that is completely foreign to us, and how they’ve overcome their problems (or not). Stories are about what a character wants and what they are willing to go through to get it. These struggles create an empathetic connection between the reader and the outside world.

Scientific American recently highlighted a study that found reading literary fiction helps young students to learn empathy. The experiment presented young groups with various types of reading; literary fiction, genre fiction, nonfiction, and nothing. The young readers that read literary fiction were significantly stronger at inferring others’ thoughts and emotions. Through seeing someone else’s trials and tribulations, a person is able to learn better how to interpret other people.

Interesting souls with interesting problems create the basis of fiction that empathetically moves readers. These are the kinds of stories that I love; stories that help to build an understanding of the world around us.

Fiction Editor for Issue 20 of Superstition Review

Bio: John Chakravarty is an undergraduate student at ASU majoring in English and Creative Writing. He is the Fiction Editor at Superstition Review. He also interns at Four Chambers Press reading submissions. When he graduates he hopes to write, edit, and publish for the comic book industry.

#ArtLitPhx: Young Authors’ Studio Workshops

Young Authors' StudioThe Young Authors’ Studio is a free writing program for kids in grades 5-12, designed to bring young writers together to learn the ins and outs of writing in a wide variety of styles and genres. ASU mentors, taught by Wendy Williams, will lead 6 free writing workshops throughout the months of October, November, and December.

The mentors will guide the students through writing activities, and the program will hold a public Performance and Writing Gallery at the end of the semester. This opportunity is open to first-time writers or experienced writers – as long as they’re in grades 5-12!

The Parent Information Session will be held Saturday, September 30 from 9:30am to 10:30am in SANCA 130 on the ASU Polytechnic Campus (see map above, 7271 E. Sonoran Arroyo Mall, Mesa, AZ 85212). You can RSVP to the Parent Information Session through the Facebook group or by emailing young.authors.studio@gmail.com. They recommend that you RSVP as soon as possible because space in the program is limited!

The workshops are from 9:30am to 11:30am on the following dates:

    • October 14: Narratives
    • October 21: Music & Poetry
    • October 28: Art & Writing
    • November 4: Drama & Writing
    • November 11: Genres
    • November 18: Revision & Rehearsal
    • December 2: Performance and Writing Gallery

Be sure to check this program out if you know any interested young writers!

#ArtLitPhx: ASU MFA Reading Series feat. Elliot Winter, Annie Vitalsey, and Meghan Kelsey

The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University is hosting a special 8-part reading series featuring brand new work from ASU graduate students! Each reading will host 3-4 students at The Watershed, a beautiful waterfront restaurant and bar.

Watershed LakeviewThe next installment of the series will take place on September 28 from 7:30pm to 8:30pm, though you can come earlier to mingle, drink, and eat. You can find The Watershed at 5350 S Lakeshore Dr, Tempe, Arizona 85283.

The featured readers for the September 28 event are:

  • Elliot Winter, Poetry
  • Annie Vitalsey, Fiction
  • Meghan Kelsey, Poetry

Stay tuned for later installments of this reading series! You can find more information on the event’s Facebook page and on the Facebook page for the ASU MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Guest Post: Chris Munde

The Winchester HouseI realized I wasn’t ready to write a poem about decorum when I couldn’t tell how an epigraph from the Budd Dwyer suicide video would play to the average person. In particular, I wanted to quote the press secretary’s plea for onlookers to “show a little decorum, please,” since it made me realize how strange the act of demanding/measuring civility is. That use of such a line might come off as disrespectful did occur to me, though, and I was forced to do some measuring myself.

With tastefulness just out of reach, I couldn’t plan any further until I eliminated all of the other weighted words that might muddy my understanding of the one. “Aesthetic” was out, since it brought too broad of a focus, and since I‘d lost Eco’s “On Ugliness” to a basement flood. The same went for “Ethics,” which should be a part of everything, and so should be the cedar dinner table, and not woodchips in the meal. “Taboo,” as a near-synonym for “bad taste,” might provide me with the dangerous shelter of circular reasoning. Gone too were excuses; I vowed not to namedrop or allude to Bataille in some attempt to blame my own lack of taste on a literary precedent.

I then thought of others’ approaches to decorum, and of the way I tended to process them, and turn them out in the cold in various states of dress. For instance, when processing a friend’s death, I had made a list of drug overdose scenes in films of all kinds. When I returned to it later, I considered how the scenes ranged from visceral bursts of close-up special effects to a single shot of a shoeless foot in a doorway. I found myself shopping the list for certain types of impacts, and was struck most by a scene from In a Glass Cage, in which the director instructed the child actor to behave like a fish out of water after his character had been injected with gasoline. This scene, I felt, defied good taste in an interesting way, as any apologetic attempt I might make to soften its imagery by adding context (“Don’t worry; it’s another child who administers the injection,” or “he does it to impress his adult captive, a paralyzed doctor”) only deepened the tastelessness. That I feel the need to apologize after describing this scene, which I did not create, says as much about decorum as does the scene itself.

Therefore, apology seems to be what holds decorum together. If I get caught mouthing a scream into a restroom mirror, I might apologize for doing it and the observer might apologize for seeing, even though he’s not done anything socially wrong. Some people even push apology into the realm of atonement, like Sarah Winchester, designer of the labyrinthine Winchester house. She required builders to continually add on to the house to appease the ghosts of those who were killed by Winchester firearms, until the house became a hodgepodge of doors to nowhere and staircases into solid ceiling. It’s what “I’m sorry for everyone else” might look like in concrete form.

Though this didn’t put me off decorum altogether, I was (and am now) more inclined to risk tastelessness if the alternative is a thousand doors to nowhere. I plan to continue to use the line from the suicide video, though probably not as an epigraph; I’d want to control the context, so that it worked to honor truth, instead of repulsing readers with irreverence. I could think of it as mapping the terrain: Identifying the staircases that always lead to a bloody nose, only using them when I need a bloody nose, stumbling down uncharted ones. I might practice my quiet scream in the restroom mirror (my late friend, of course, not there to excuse me), and see what dialogue comes in absence of an apology.

#ArtLitPhx: ASU MFA Reading Series feat. Douglas Payne, Warren Glynn, and Edward Derbes

The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University is hosting a special 8-part reading series featuring brand new work from ASU graduate students! Each reading will host 3-4 students at The Watershed, a beautiful waterfront restaurant and bar.

Watershed LakeviewThe first installment of the series will take place on September 14 from 7:30pm to 8:30pm, though you can come earlier to mingle, drink, and eat. You can find The Watershed at 5350 S Lakeshore Dr, Tempe, Arizona 85283.

The featured readers for the September 14 event are:

  • Douglas Payne, Poetry
  • Warren Glynn, Fiction
  • Edward Derbes, Fiction

Stay tuned for later installments of this reading series! You can find more information on the event’s Facebook page and on the Facebook page for the ASU MFA Program in Creative Writing.

Guest Post, Ashley Caveda: My Body Is Not A Metaphor

A photo of the author.Paralysis is so often a metaphor. A simile to express shock or fear. It is a word you use, but you probably don’t mean it the way that I mean it. I mean to say my spinal column was damaged after my six-year-old body jackknifed during an automobile accident and that was the last moment I felt the skin below my chest or moved my legs of my own volition. Unless you count feeling my skin with my fingers and lifting my legs with my arms to move them where I would have them go. I do count this. Do not discount this.

I liked to write as a child. My words took me everywhere my body could not. I lived lifetimes amongst the stars. I visited the depths of the oceans and made my home in Scottish castles. I am the first person to set foot on Mars. I was a writer, my family told me.

My high school guidance counselor asked my mother if perhaps I would consider a career in radio. No one would have to see me. No one would have to know. The failures of my body would not matter. I could transcend my physical form through language. And in the beginning were my words and my words were with me but they were not me. They were only a part of me.

I fell twice this year exiting the shower. I almost didn’t call for help. My words failed me. My legs were twisted, my strength dwindling, my abdomen sore. My body threatened to break if I lost the half-grip I maintained on my chair, suspended. I couldn’t pull up. I couldn’t fall down. Instead I called out. My friend came. She raised my naked body from this in-between to its proper place again, seated. I never touched the floor. I don’t know if my tears did. You can’t understand. But let me try to explain myself to you.

I hold fast to the arms of my friends so I do not lose my balance. I read the news and I imagine the end of the world. I know my body has no place in it.

Mine is not one of those paralyzed bodies that found a way to do all things, extending itself beyond its limit. My rotator cuffs are worn and they ache. My legs spasm, seemingly without cause and without remedy. My fingers grasp and stretch and feel, even if what they feel is pain.

Paralyzed in the same manner, in the same second as I, my brother James’ body fails him too. He told me about a game he played with his friends. Everyone in the room was to select the person whose life they would never want. They all pointed at my brother. They pointed at the body that would ruin them. It was supposed to be a joke.

I’ve hated my body more than you’ve hated my body. But I need you to know something. My body is not an anchor or a prison. My body is not a metaphor. You don’t get to call it a metaphor. I am the only one who gets to do that.

A photo of the author.Look at me. My life is not a ruined life. My brother’s life is not a ruined life, even though you don’t want it. My flesh is numb, but it is still here. I am beautiful even when you don’t believe it. Even when I don’t believe it. I may be the person you carry from the burning building, down flight after flight before the walls crumble in on us. You may want to discount me. But I am alive. My lungs fill with air and my chest expands and my palms press into the tread of my tires and I keep pushing. My body propels me forward in ways my words alone cannot.

My whole diaphragm shook with laughter until tears fell the day my father and I staged pet robots for a scavenger hunt photo op. In 7th grade, my arms wrestled the boys and won, pinning their wrists to the desk. My mouth savored sweet cherry after sweet cherry until my stomach churned, overfull. My knuckles grazed the walls of the Colosseum in Rome, making me a part of its history. My head was covered with prayers and hands anointed me with oil before a surgeon spread my back open like a book. My body hurtled through the heavens in the corkscrew curl of a rollercoaster and all I remember thinking is This is delightful. My face was kissed by Conan O’Brien at a taping of his show, beloved by me since I was girl. He told me I looked really beautiful and I believed him. My older siblings carried my body in my bathing suit across the sand and I floated in the ocean, waves rolling over my shoulders. At Epcot, the Mission: Space centrifuge spun, compressing me, simulating a force of gravity two-and-a-half times beyond that of our Earth, holding me down until the pressure relented and I was not sick like my cousins were; my body was well. It understood how to break free from the atmosphere even while their able bodies did not.

I am not nothing. I am more than the words you are reading. I am somebody, not nobody. A body. My body. The only body I have. It needs so much care but has given me so much in return. Inconvenient and alive. I hate it and I love it and I wish I were just my words but I am not and I am so grateful to be more.

#ArtLitPhx: Four Chambers presents Get Lit with Rosemarie Dombrowski

Get Lit Graphic

Inspired by the literary and philosophical salons of 17th century France, Four Chambers presents Get Lit: a night of conversation, community, and drinking with Phoenix Poet Laureate and ASU Lecturer of English Rosemarie Dombrowski, PhD.

This month’s event will take place Thursday, September 7th, from 7pm to 8pm. It will be held in the Reading Room inside the Rose Room at Valley Bar (Basement, 130 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85004). Valley Bar is located on Monroe St down the alley between Central and 1st Ave. Space is limited, so arrive early to make sure you can get a seat!

For more information about the event, to RSVP, and to stay tuned for the discussion topic, head over to the Facebook page. You can also click here to find out more about Four Chambers Press.