Guest Post, Elizabeth Sheets: The Illusion of Ascending

dad readsI’ve always been a reader. I don’t know if this is my parents’ fault or not. Recently I found a crayon drawing and questionnaire book I made when I was in elementary school. On one of the pages it asks what my parents do during the day while I’m at school. My answers were: My Dad builds Rockets. My Mom sits on the couch all day and reads love stories. I don’t think that was entirely true, I mean, my Dad read books too. In any case, I do remember that prior to puberty, trips to the mall were exciting for two reasons: first, because I could climb up and sit in the conversion vans in the car dealership that was actually in our mall; and second, we got to go to Walden Books. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so we didn’t buy a lot of new books there, but it was a thrill just to be there and look around. I knew that eventually the books on those shelves would find their way to our city library.

As a kid, I was fairly well read. Once I got beyond Dr. Seuss, I enjoyed Roald Dahl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Scott O’Dell, Louisa May Alcott, Franklin Dixon, Carolyn Keene, the Choose Your Own Adventure Series, and of course, Judy Blume. There are a few in that list some might consider literary, but many fall into the category of good old genre fiction. I still have many of them because I saved them for my children. And now I’m saving them for my grandchildren, because I don’t think I was as successful as my parents were at passing down the love of literature.

As I got older, I dove harder into genre writing. Once I could get books from the library that didn’t have the purple dot on them, my literary world was blown wide open. I devoured everything from Jean Auel, Piers Anthony, and Marion Zimmer Bradley to Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice. Some of these authors I still read today. Because they’re good, and because I can get lost in the worlds they bring to my mind’s eye.

Once I started my degree program, my literary world was blown open again. Even with all of the reading in my youth, there was much that I missed. Memoirs? Whatever were those? Well, all of those English Lit classes filled me in, and filled me up to the brim with writing on every social topic I could imagine, and a few more besides.

Writing classes and workshops introduced me to the short story, and the idea that writers who don’t get paid are somehow of more value than those who do. I’m not much for martyrs, but I bought in. In my few years in school, my professors helped nurture in me a love of the short story, and an appreciation for the craft of drawing them out of myself and others. And so now, my private library grows full of chapbooks and short story collections. To my list of favorite authors I’m adding Roxane Gay, Aimee Bender, Stacey Richter, Matt Bell, Dan Chaon, Tara Ison, Margaret Atwood, and so many more.

But for all my education, and my editorship with a literary magazine, and my degree in English and Creative Writing… I still read Anne Rice. In fact, she might just be my very favorite person ever (not that I know her personally, but I do follow her on Facebook, so I feel like that counts… anyway).

I’m reminded of this funny thing that happened recently.

modest houseMy husband and I raised our children in a suburban neighborhood of the sprawling Phoenix Metropolitan Area. We had a modest income, and a modest house. We drove practical cars, and our kids went to public schools. There was a house of worship a half mile in any direction from our house. Our neighbors were diverse. To the east was a family of folks who spoke little English, had obnoxious barking dogs, and always had parties in the front yard instead of the back. To the south were the drug dealers. The husband rode a very noisy Harley and cut his entire lawn holding a Weedwacker in one hand and a beer in the other. His wife had no teeth and only wore a bra on Sundays. (I guess they weren’t very good drug dealers.)

We lived in that house 15 years, and our kids came up just fine.

And just a couple of months ago, we moved. Since our income has doubled, so has our mortgage and the square footage of our new house. Our new block is glorious. The neighbors all cut their grass on Wednesdays, and everyone drives a new car. There are bunnies and quail everywhere, and no one parks in their lawn.

School just started a couple weeks ago, and as I was driving past the elementary school on my way back from my morning Starbucks run, I noted that the crossing guard drives a Jaguar. A Jaguar.

This is it, I thought, we have definitely arrived. All of that hard work, education, ladder climbing, etc., has all paid off. Finally. Now we can live among the educated folk. People like us. Cultured people. People who read. If the people across the street are drug dealers, well they’re damn good ones because their kids drive BMWs.

And then I turned down our street. It was a Thursday. Blue barrel pick up day. About three houses in, out came a neighbor down his drive way, pushing his barrel out to the curb. He was wearing a pair of very snug fitting, bright red boxer briefs. His hairy belly was spilling over the waistband, and his tangled bedhead hair pointed in all directions from his unshaven face. He looked up as I drove past. Smiled.

I about choked on my chai.

But it’s okay. I’m glad I saw him. It’s a great reminder: there’s room on the block for everyone.  He cuts his grass, he parks in the garage. Maybe his wife builds rockets.

Guest Post, Chauna Craig: Thanks and Ponies

Thanks and Ponies: The Art of Acknowledgment

 

Acknowledgments pageI am that reader who devours every word between the covers of a book—the dedication, preface, prologue, epilogue, notes, and everything in between. I even pay attention to the copyright page, like the one in Justin Cronin’s The Passage that catalogues the novel under the subjects Vampire-Fiction, Human experimentation in medicine-Fiction, and Virus diseases-Fiction, story clues that not even the book jacket copy gives away.

I especially enjoy reading the acknowledgements. While every other part of the book ultimately belongs to the reader, an author’s acknowledgments offer a glimpse into her own life. Who or what we acknowledge reveals what we value in writing and life. Who does the author recognize, care about, appreciate? Does she thank family, friends, mentors? (Most everyone does.) A place of employment? (Only if they provided time or money for the writing project.) Sorority sisters with spare couches? (Angela Flournoy). La Virgen de Guadalupe Tonantzin? (Sandra Cisneros). What about the person who bought the writer his first dictionary? (Junot Diaz scores big points with me here.)

I’ve been named in book acknowledgements, and it’s usually an unexpected honor from a former student or a writer whose manuscript I read, someone who wants to remind me I’m a small part of their work, a member of their tribe. Now that my short story collection approaches its publication date and it’s my turn to appreciate the village it takes to bring a book to a reader’s hands, I’m terrified I’ll forget someone I’m expected to thank, like when Oscar winners ramble the names of everyone from their director to their barista but forget to mention a long-suffering spouse. Alanis Morissette, in her song “Thank You,” takes an even wider view, recognizing everything from India, a country of over a billion people, to more abstract concepts like disillusionment.

But an acknowledgments page has a specific purpose: to give recognition to whomever or whatever supports the writing and production of a book. That narrows it down some. India has no role in my story collection and needs no thanks, and I don’t always appreciate my moments of disillusionment. Still, give credit where it’s due. Writers don’t create books alone. Sure, the actual act of writing is solitary. You alone plant your butt in a chair, turn on a computer, open your document, and conjure words. You pace the floor and cry on your own, and you alone decide to push past the urge to play Candy Crush or Pokemon Go. When you fail, which every writer does, over and over, you do that all on your own too.

But you never succeed on your own, as the very custom of acknowledgment reminds us. Every writer who keeps sitting in that chair depends on the invisible community of people carried into the writing space. Maybe it’s the teacher who taught you how to “nibble the pig” so your project seems less daunting (thanks, Ron Carlson, for all those years I kept a picture of a roast pig on a platter above my computer to remind me it was only possible to eat that thing one bite at a time). Or the relative who bought you books every birthday. Or the small town you thought you hated and wanted to leave, while the people there hang on in your mind, populating your pages.

The acknowledgments page is where writers honor the people and places that nurtured and mentored them. Writers frequently mention professors, workshop members, even the program administrators who made their MFA years easier. Junot Diaz, in four pages of acknowledgments in The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, goes well beyond that, thanking his many clans and the people who “bought me my first dictionary and signed me up for the Science Fiction Book Club” and also “Every teacher who gave me kindness, every librarian who gave me books.”

Acknowledgments also credit those people who provide whatever the writer needs to shape a book and usher it into the world, everyone from trusted friends who read and comment on drafts to agents, editors, designers and publicists.  And I discovered in a quick survey of books in my personal library that those people deserve not only gratitude, but small horses.  Justin Cronin offers “thanks and ponies” to his supporters, and Jenny Offill promises her “crackerjack editorial, publicity, and production staff at Knopf”:  “I owe each and every one of you a pony.”

Some writers share gratitude specific to a book’s content. Margaret Atwood, in Oryx and Crake, thanks the people from whose balcony she saw “that rare bird, the Red-necked Crake,” and Alice Munro’s acknowledgements for the collection Too Much Happiness focuses solely on the people and books that led to her discovery of Sophia Kovalevsky, subject of the title story.

Nearly every author saves their final thanks for those intimates who, as Margaret Atwood describes her husband, Graeme Gibson, “understand[s] the obsessiveness of the writer.” No surprise there, as those are the people who respect your closed door, nurse you through every “art attack,” and celebrate those small victories peculiar to writers, like a “good” rejection note. They deserve public recognition and your private appreciation—every day.

My acknowledgments page is already with my publisher. I still have a small window of time to add names. But really I think of those acknowledgments as formalizing what the people who support me—or any writer—should already know and feel, whether it’s between the covers of a book or not: their value exceeds what mere words can say.

Thanks. Just thanks. (But no ponies—they really don’t make good gifts.)

 

Thomas Morton Memorial Prize

The Puritan ReviewThe deadline to enter poetry and fiction submissions to The Puritan Magazine‘s annual literary contest, The Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence has been extended until October 10! The judges for this year’s prize are Margaret Atwood (for poetry) and Zsuzsi Gartner (for fiction). In addition to publication in Issue 27: Fall 2014, each winning author receives $1000 as well as a prize pack of books drawn from 17 donating publishers, each valued at approximately $750.

 

Guest Blog Post, Rikki Lux: New Superstition Review Goodreads Account

GoodreadsAs an English Literature major, I’ve studied Hemingway, Nabokov, Bronte, Chaucer, Shakespeare…and the list goes on. There’s something all of these writers have in common: they aren’t living. Their voices are frozen in the past.

Can you think of any living authors that you love to read? There was a time when I couldn’t list many. On the Superstition Review intern application, our editor Patricia Murphy asks for three of your favorite living authors. When I saw that I thought, “Living? Why? All the good ones are dead!” Looking back, I can’t believe all of the authors I was missing out on reading. If you browse through the contemporary authors in Superstition Review’s Goodreads bookshelves, you’ll see these authors are writing lots of books and they are all a part of a thriving literary community. If only we would put down Faulkner, Fitzgerald, or Frost, pick up one of their books, and join the conversation. When I began to use Goodreads, the social networking site for readers, I found that Margaret Atwood, along with some of my other favorite authors, has an account there as well.

Contemporary authors are not only writing books: they’re tweeting, collaborating with a publisher on a Q & A session, or speaking to college students. Simon J. Ortiz is speaking to my Literature of Immigration and Diaspora class this semester. Michael Ondaatje came to ASU’s Tempe campus to hold a public discussion. Margaret Atwood is an activist of environmental preservation in Canada, and she uses Twitter and Goodreads to connect with her fans and promote environmental awareness. Alice Munro is the literary voice of the Canadian middle class – she is referred to as “the Canadian Chekhov” – and her new collection of stories was just published. Dickens or Dickinson can’t fulfill that kind of presence.

When I joined Twitter, I was delighted by the presence of authors, literary magazines, and book presses. It was like browsing through a virtual bookstore: I followed Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie, Anne Lamott, Sherman Alexie, Roxane Gay…and that’s just the writers. Almost every university literary review is on Twitter, plus Tin House, Willow Springs, McSweeney’s, and The Paris Review. I followed The Penguin Press, Red Hen Press, Random House, and Graywolf Press. Authors, magazines, and presses are tweeting like they aren’t worried about censoring themselves or fulfilling an image of distant formality. They talk; their followers talk back.

Every time the little blue mark pops up on the bottom of my Twitter feed, it means I have connected with someone. One time, that blue mark appeared because Margaret Atwood had retweeted my tweet. It was incredible – an accomplished, famous writer who has over 300,000 Twitter followers took the time to retweet my tweet. I took a screenshot of my tweet on her profile, uploaded it to Instagram, and updated my Facebook status (it read: One of my tweets was retweeted by Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite authors. No big deal…just kidding, it is!). In my 15 minutes of Twitter fame (at least, it felt like fame to be on Margaret Atwood’s profile for, literally, 15 minutes before I was lost in her sea of tweets) I experienced how literary culture powered by social media makes writers and literary organizations accessible.

One of my projects this semester was to add to our SR Goodreads bookshelves all of the books by SR Contributors from all of our nine issues. I created bookshelves that hold fiction, nonfiction, and poetry written by Superstition Review contributors. With nine issues of Superstition Review released to date, the number of books quickly rose to well over 1,000. I became better acquainted with so many contemporary authors.

Some Superstition Review contributors have a vast list of published works, such as Sherman Alexie, T.C. Boyle, Adrian C. Louis, and Madison Smartt Bell. Other contributors have a smaller list of works on Goodreads, but their readership is growing as they use Goodreads and other social networking sites to create an online presence. The SR Goodreads account is a great way to follow their careers.

As I worked on a Goodreads project for Superstition Review, I noticed that literary magazines and presses are also using Goodreads, like other social networking sites, to extend their online presence. Goodreads’ target audience is passionate readers, so the site can be used to showcase works that magazines and presses have published while making connections with readers and other literary organizations.

Willow Springs and Featherproof Books have bookshelves titled “we published it,” The Paris Review has their blog connected to their Goodreads account, and Superstition Review includes all of their various social networking links on their Goodreads profile. The Goodreads literary community shares the goal of extending readership of their magazine, blog, and the authors they have published, while increasing traffic to their other social networking sites.

With the emergence of Goodreads, the options for following and connecting with authors, literary magazines, and presses is vast. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and Goodreads are all channels of communication within the literary community: which do you prefer and how do you use them?

You can visit our social networks here:

Blog: http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/blog/
Facebook: http://facebook.com/superstitionreview
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/SuperstitionRev
Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/111992497499045277021
iTunes U: https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/superstition-review/id552593273
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Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuperstitionRev

SRAWP: Margaret Atwood’s Keynote Speech

I’m terrible at sitting through speeches. I can sit in a lecture hall and watch a PowerPoint, participate in productive class discussions, and I take great chemistry notes. But when it comes to listening to a single speaker stand on a podium without any sort of interactive media, I usually end up thinking about the ceiling or dinner or Words With Friends or something equally not speech-related. The speaker’s well-prepared words waste away right outside my eardrums. It’s pretty embarrassing, the sad state of my attention span.

Thankfully though, this was very much not the case with Margaret Atwood’s keynote speech at this year’s AWP conference in Chicago. Maybe it was the opulent theater, or that I had already eaten, or that her stories are some of the most influential works in my personal reading and writing career…but I was absolutely rapt during the entire event. Her words were well-chosen, hilarious, and put together in a speech just long enough to make it worth the windy walk, short enough to keep me out of Lala-land. Here, then, for all the folks who couldn’t make it, or those who did but were on their phones (tsk tsk), are the main points I took from her time on the podium.

 

MARGARET ATWOOD on THE CRAFT OF WRITING

 

  1. Reading is just as important as writing. Writers who don’t read don’t actually want to write, they just want someone to listen to them talk about their life.
  2. Spelling is the least of your worries as a writer. Leave those sorts of details to editors and that bouncing paperclip in the corner of Microsoft Word.
  3. Part of studying the craft of writing is ripping things up and starting again.
  4. “Artsy-fartsy” vs. “Craftsy-waftsy”: There is a difference between the art and the craft of writing. “Art” implies an elitist state of being, while “craft” is the proletarian act of doing. Even if you are a gifted artist, you will not develop without getting down and dirty with the crafting of your skill.
  5. Writing is a tool, and so can be used to make, fix, or destroy things. Make sure that you are always using the right tool for the right job. That is, your voice, style, and tone should fit the content and emotion of your work.
  6. Keep your literary “key signature” and “tempo” in mind while writing. Is your piece in a “major” or a “minor” key? How fast should it go; where should your story speed up and slow down?
  7. What is your voice? Who is speaking to whom? How much does your reader get to know?
  8. When faced with writer’s block, try some of the following:
    1. Change the tense or narrator.
    2. Alter your first scene.
    3. Go to the movies.
    4. Some words from Charles Dickens to keep in mind: “Make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.”
  9. There will always be someone who doesn’t like your work. That doesn’t mean that there are any fewer people who do.

 

SRAWP: 2012 Recap by Samantha Allen

Superstition Review Editors roamed the corridors and booths of the AWP Annual Conference and Bookfair to find both past contributors and literary legends. We found some familiar faces and made some new connections, and we wanted to give our readers a front row seat to the action. This AWP Recap comes from SR Intern Samantha Allen.

In her keynote address, Margaret Atwood talked about the old English root of the word “craft.” Craft, she noted, is the en vogue word for what writers do; chances are you have encountered the phrase the craft of writing many times in recent years. “Craft” comes from a word that means skill, implying a strength that comes from practice. Ms. Atwood reflected that craft is not something inherent, like artistic genius, but something you must work at.

This rang true for me as I attended the panels at my first AWP conference. As a creative writing student, I’ve always had a sense of how much work goes into being a writer. But it wasn’t until I sat among crowds of writers scribbling away at their notepads that I understood how devoted they all are to the craft. Around 10,000 people attended the AWP conference this year, 3,000 of whom were students. And almost every one of them is or aspires to be a writer.

Admittedly, in the weeks leading up to AWP, I was nervous. I worried I would be overwhelmed, or get lost, or lose the ability to form articulate sentences in front of important writers. The first morning of the conference, interview editor Erin Caldwell and I were so apprehensive we didn’t notice when the cab driver gave us the wrong change, fleecing us out of $10. Then we sat down at our first panel. After a few minutes of frantic note-taking, the anxiety disappeared. Everyone else was jotting down notes with the same level of devotion, laughing at the same nerdy jokes, flipping through the schedule of events with the same look of awe-struck frenzy. I had a sense of coming home; I was among my people.

Being among so very many of “my people” was an especially profound experience when a panelist would read a passage from a classic work aloud to make a point. During one panel on points of view in fiction, a panelist read a long excerpt from Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. While he was reading aloud, I was utterly transported into the work, and when it ended, I could tell I was not the only one who felt as though I was waking from a dream. The communality of this experience – sitting among a crowd being entranced by a story – was moving in a primal way. The discussion of the technical elements that created that moment of transcendence was rendered far more impactful by the experience of being in a community. Moments like that made it easy to branch out and make friends. I learned that it’s a big world, but also a small and welcoming one.

Now that I’m home and have had a chance to think about my first time at AWP, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to the supporters of Superstition Review. Of those 3,000 or so students at the conference this weekend, we encountered only one other publication run by undergraduate students. No other publication we met at AWP, however, gives undergraduates the same experience working with renowned writers and high-quality work that Superstition Review does. Seeing so many other publications represented at the seemingly endless bookfair reminded me just how unique we are. We are the first undergraduate-run magazine to publish a long list of nationally recognized authors, and every person we met who was familiar with our publication expressed admiration for our mission. If it wasn’t for our readers and contributors, I never would have had the incredible experience I was lucky enough to have this weekend, and for that I thank all of you.

What We’re Reading

Here’s what Superstition Review interns are currently reading.

Corinne Randall, Poetry Editor: Right now I am currently reading my FAVORITE Shakespeare plays, Othello. Like all good Shakespeare tragedies it has a sad ending but it’s powerful through and through.

Samantha Allen, Art Editor: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It’s a blend of literary fiction and sci-fi, a character-driven story about “Snowman” — formerly Jimmy — who appears to be the last man on Earth. Through Snowman’s flashbacks, the reader sees a near-future image of a North American city segregated into the slummy ‘pleeblands’ and the enclosed communities owned by corporations engaged in research on genetic modification. Though Atwood includes some seemingly-fantastical elements in her novel, her research is so thorough and impeccable that through her narrator’s detailed explanations, the outlandish feels entirely realistic. Her emotionally intense prose and air of scientific authority make Oryx and Crake a very compelling read.

Ljubo Popovich, Poetry Editor: I just got into Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. I recommend his long novels: The Savage Detectives and 2666. Also his collections of short stories are excellent. The one I read was Last Evenings on Earth. He writes about lives of writers in South America and Europe. He founded the poetry movement InfraRealism in South America and is considered the heir to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s literary triumphs. I also read Masuji Ibuse’s collection of short stories, Salamander and other stories. This Japanese writer is [rather] unknown in the United States. But his historical novel Black Rain, about the events leading up to and following the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is considered one of the greatest novels to come out of Post-War Japan. His prose is very easy to read and very beautifully rendered, even in translation.

Jake Adler, Art Editor: Guyland by Michael Kimmel. It’s a sociological study about how today’s boys in college are failing to grow up, thrusting themselves deep in frat life and “guy code.”

Tana Ingram, Fiction Editor: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. It’s about a day laborer, Robert Grainier, in the American West at the start of the twentieth century. The book follows Robert through difficult trials of his own set against the changes taking place in the country as “progress” sweeps the nation. Johnson does a good job of transporting the reader back to this turbulent time and place in America’s history.

Marie Lazaro, Interview Editor: Just Kids by Patti Smith. So far the way it is written is beautiful and the story is easily captivating. It explores a new side of Patti Smith, gives insight to the personal relationships she had with her family during her childhood and gives a look into her bond with Robert Mapplethorpe.