Guest Post: Cream City Review Interviews Author Tom Williams

Tom WIlliamsTom Williams is the author of the novella, The Mimic’s Own Voice and the forthcoming novel Don’t Start Me Talkin,’ due out in February 2014 from Curbside Splendor. He’s also the Chair of English at Morehead State University and this year’s judge for cream city review‘s fiction contest, among other things. CCR‘s Mollie Boutell recently caught up with him to chat about writing, music, and beer.

 

 

 

Cream City Review: Give me three stories everyone should read.

Tom Williams: This is such a difficult question. Why only three? And which three? How to choose and not sound deliberately obscure, a literary log-roller, or hopelessly conservative? My solution: a first, second, and third-person story by people I do not know:

1. “The Moths,” Helena Viramontes. US Magic Realism, sad and triumphant, rite of passage, incredible ending.

2. “Soul Food,” Reginald McKnight. Will honestly flip your lid when it comes to notions of what second person does or should do, and was published in the ’90s, well before the quasi-literary, post-apocalyptic, zombie genre was getting its footing. And it’s in second person! With a first and last line you’ll not soon forget.

3. “Murphy’s Xmas,” Mark Costello. Simply put: Costello is the best short story writer you do not know. And this holiday classic makes Fear’s “Fuck Christmas” and The Pogues’s “Fairy Tale of New York” look like Hallmark cards.

CCR: I love that you included a second-person story. Sometimes I feel like Lorrie Moore was the last person allowed to use it. Speaking of Lorrie Moore — she said “a short story is a flower, a novel is a job.” What’s a novella?

TW: When I was writing The Mimics Own Voice, this is what cheered me every day: Melville’s line from The Confidence Man: “It is with fiction as it is religion: it should present another world, and yet one to which we feel the tie.” And that reminds me of a scene in Animal House, where Pinto (played by Tom Hulce) and Professor Jennings (played by Donald Sutherland) have this pot-stoked conversation:

Pinto: Our whole solar system could be like one tiny atom under the fingernail of some other giant being. Oh. Oh. This is too much! That means one tiny atom under my fingernail could be . . .

Jennings: One tiny universe.

This strikes me as a perfect analogy for the novella: a complete and complex object—a tiny universe–that fits neatly under a fingernail. If the short story is too brief for you and the novel too long, yet you want both the perfection of form and the complexity of life, there’s that middle form that you either call the long story or the novella.

CCR: If you could make a soundtrack for your soon-to-be-released novel, what might be on it?

TW: Mollie, this is the softball. My forthcoming novel is called Dont Start Me Talkin, which is also the title of a song by the book’s principal muse, Sonny Boy Williamson II, who your readers might know lived for some time in Milwaukee in his later years, while he was recording for Checker, in Chicago—where my publisher is located. And in addition to borrowing that title, at present, each of the twelve chapters of my book have Sonny Boy Williamson titles as their titles. So the simplest thing would be to go to iTunes and download His Best, by Sonny Boy Williamson, and listen to such numbers as “One Way Out,” “Fattening Frogs for Snakes,” “Good Evening Everybody,” and “Help Me.” And then listen to Big Walter Horton, Little Walter, James Cotton, Sugar Blue, Charlie Musselwhite, Satan and Adam, and any other blues harpist of note.

CCR: We will. Now, your best advice for someone, say, entering a short fiction contest?

TW: Send the story that’s currently making you worried; the one that appears to be finished but has something to it that keeps you from sending it out might be the one that’s busted through all the limitations one invariably muscles into one’s work. If a story seems “your” story, it might be one that only works for you. If it’s one that seems to trouble your aesthetic, your standards, your sense of what it is that stories essay, it might work for others. Send it out to a contest sponsored by a magazine you like to read and then don’t periodically check the contest journal’s website for updates.

CCR: What’s your favorite Wisconsin beer?

TW: This question is even harder than the one about three stories people should read, because there are so many good Wisconsin beers, including the macro brews of Miller, the resuscitated majesty of Pabst and Schlitz, the serious old school wow of Point, the craft intricacies of New Glaurus and Sprecher, the unbelievable freshness of Hinterland and Titletown. All of this is to say that while I lived in Wisconsin, it was not the best time of my life, but the beer was ineffably wonderful; but the one that caught me first and best was a Leinie (not of the new vintage but the old)—a can of what’s now called “Original,” with its less than politically correct Native American in profile logo. It came dripping with ice from a cooler on a summer day and I can still feel the tang at the back of my throat. And suffice it to say when I think of Wisconsin beers, it’s the one that first surfaces in my mind.

Cream City Review’s contest postmark deadline has been extended to January 15. Stuff your story (and the $15 entry fee) into an envelope right now and send it along to: cream city review
 c/o UWM Department of English,
PO Box 413,
Milwaukee, WI 53201.

Paris Literary Prize Accepting Submissions

The Paris Literary Prize, an international novella competition for unpublished writers, is now accepting submissions for 2012. The Prize is sponsored by the De Groot Foundation and Shakespeare and Company, Paris’ renowned English language bookstore.

The three Paris Literary Prize awards are The Paris Literary Prize Award of 10,000 Euros and two runner-up awards at 2,000 Euros each. All three winners will be invited to a weekend stay in Paris to attend the Prize ceremony and read from their work at a special event at Shakespeare and Company.

Last year, the winner of the Paris Literary Prize was Rosa Rankin-Gee for The Last Kings of Sark; the two runners-up were Adam Biles for Grey Cats, and Agustin Maes for Newborn.

Submission deadline is September 1, 2012.

 

2012 Paris Literary Prize Open For Submissions

The Paris Literary Prize, an international novella competition for unpublished writers, is open for submissions. The Prize is sponsored by Shakespeare & Company and The Groot Foundation.

Shakespeare and Company, the famed Paris book shop on Paris’ Left Bank, has a long-standing tradition of opening its doors to aspiring writers and in keeping with that philosophy, the 10,000€ Paris Literary Prize is open to writers from around the world who have not yet published a book.

We have long been admirers of the novella, a genre which includes such classics as The Old Man and the SeaAnimal Farm, L’Étranger and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The Paris Literary Prize celebrates this small but perfectly formed genre while giving a unique opportunity to writers whose voices have not yet been heard.

There are three Paris Literary Prize awards:

The Paris Literary Prize award: 10,000 Euros
Two Paris Literary Prize Runner-up awards: 2,000 Euros each

All three winners will be invited to a weekend stay in Paris to attend the Prize ceremony and read from their work at a special event at Shakespeare and Company.

Last year, the winner of the Paris Literary Prize was Rosa Rankin-Gee for The Last Kings of Sark; the two runners-up were Adam Biles for Grey Cats, and Agustin Maes for Newborn.

The submission is open and must be submitted by September 1, 2012. The Prize Ceremony will be June 15, 2013. For more information, see https://www.parisliteraryprize.org/

Reading: Patrick Michael Finn

On Friday, November 4, Phoenix College is presenting a free reading and book signing by award-winning author Patrick Michael Finn.

The reading and book signing will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Phoenix College, 1202 Thomas Rd, in room H102.

Patrick Michael Finn is the author of the novella A Martyr for Suzy Kashasovich, which won the 2006 Ruthanne Wiley Memorial Novella Competition. His collection of short stories, The Darkness Under Our Feet, is the 2009 Hudson Prize winner.

Patrick’s short stories have appeared in Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, Third Coast, Quarterly West, The Clackamas Literary Review, and Houghton Mifflin’s The Best American Mystery Stories 2004. Awards for his fiction include the Third Coast Fiction Prize 2004, AWP Intro Award, citations in the 2005 Pushcart Prize, and The Best American Short Stories 2008.

Patrick has taught at the University of Arizona, Western Nebraska Community College, and the University of North Carolina, Asheville, and founded the Chandler-Gilbert Community College writing program in 2007, which he currently directs. He lives in Arizona with his wife and son.

For more information about the reading, contact Lisa Miller at 602-285-7348 or lisa.miller.@pcmail.maricopa.edu.

 

Melissa Pritchard discusses Superstition Review reading and other works

On November 8th the Superstition Review Reading Series will feature Melissa Pritchard at Arizona State University’s Tempe Campus. Her reading will take place at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Union’s Pima Auditorium. Pritchard has published several books such as Phoenix: A Novel, Late Bloomer and Devotedly, Virginia: The Life of Virginia Galvin Piper. She has also published her essays Finding Ashton and A Woman’s Garden, Sown in Blood in O, The Oprah Magazine, and The Collagist 4, respectively. I had the opportunity to discuss the upcoming reading and Pritchard’s latest novel The Odditorium.

Superstition Review: How is The Odditorium different from your other works?

Melissa Pritchard: The Odditorium is a collection of seven stories and a novella. Most are based on unusual or enigmatic historical figures, all look at the ways architecture exerts subtle or unsubtle pressures on human consciousness. So they are different in those ways from most of my previous stories. More than half of them do not approach narrative in a traditional or conventional way. I experiment in one story, “Watanya Cicilia,” with a pastiche of historical documents, songs, research and fiction, contrasting the Wild West Show and the real, genocidal story of the West. “The Hauser Variations,” based on the life of Kaspar Hauser, a German boy kept in an underground dungeon throughout his childhood and then mysteriously released into a second tragic fate, is based, in terms of narrative strategy, on Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In another story, “Patricide,” two sisters meet in a haunted hotel in Richmond, Virginia, its courtyard said to be a place where Edgar Allen Poe once played as a child. In this hotel, one of the sisters goes mad. So I was less interested in the traditional structure of plot and expected emotional release than in ethics, history, architecture and the effects of these upon both historically based and purely imagined characters.

SR: What has in been like working with Bellevue Literary Press?

MP: We are in the earliest phases; I accepted their offer to publish The Odditorium in January, 2012, and had a lengthy phone conversation with the publisher, Erika Goldman. I was so impressed with her aesthetic understanding of the collection, her excitement over the departures I had taken in terms of subject and form, I became convinced this was the proper home for these pieces. The BLP website is terrific, too, as is their history with Bellevue Hospital and New York University’s Medical Center. They publish elegant books at the nexus of art, science and medicine, and only publish two fiction titles a year. One of this year’s fiction titles, Tinkers, by Paul Harding, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, resulting in a flurry of attention for the press, with articles and interviews in The New York Times, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and other media venues. It’s a tiny press operating out of Bellevue Hospital, and they do terrific work. I come from a family of surgeons, doctors and nurses, and have always been fascinated by science, medicine and the history of medicine, so this could not be a better place for this book, as a number of the stories deal with medical histories, issues and questions.

SR: How has your time at ASU influenced your writing?

MP: Because my time to write is limited, I have to be disciplined. Sometimes I find it quite difficult, having time and energy to both write and teach. A fragile balance at best. On the other hand, teaching keeps me awake to current trends in literature, to remaining relevant to students year after year, and I am blessed to work with some incredibly gifted students, both graduates and undergraduates. I always say my students teach me in equal proportion to what I teach them. At least I feel that. Also, ASU has always been tremendously supportive of my outside work–traveling for research, traveling to conferences, traveling for reportage or for humanitarian work, which I also do. I am extremely grateful for the university’s support.

SR: What are you most looking forward to as the Superstition Review reading draws near?

MP: I have a background in theater, in acting, so I always love reading my work aloud in a public setting…for me, it is as close to performance as I come these days. I love an audience and I love hearing the piece I’ve chosen come alive in the room, seeing the reactions of the listeners, answering questions afterwards. It is truly a wonderful exchange. This past summer at The Glen, a writing workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, part of Seattle Pacific University’s MFA Program, I read my collection’s title story, “The Odditorium,” to a full house. It is a comic piece about Robert Ripley of Believe It or Not fame, and other audiences have responded with laughter and lively commentary afterwards. This audience was dead silent. The room was dark, I couldn’t see anyone. I kept reading, on and on, by the little glow from the podium light. Afterwards, no one even asked questions! I was horrified, sure I had failed, sure the story had been a failure…I wanted to crawl under a carpet had there been one. What I found out later, was that the story had gone over so well, people couldn’t react, they went silent–stunned. I won’t repeat the praises I later heard, but then I became overwhelmed the other direction–was my story really that good? So one never knows, and one always doubts. Also, I’m always a little nervous before a reading, hoping it goes well, that I don’t disappoint people who made the time and effort to come to my reading when there are dozens of other things for them to do….I am also always scared no one will show up, and thrilled to pieces when they do. Finally, I’m looking forward to meeting all the staff and interns at Superstition Review. They’ve even managed to arrange to have copies of A Public Space #11 mailed from New York to be available for sale on the night of the reading. (I’ll be reading a story, “Ecorche, The Flayed Man,” from that issue.)

SR: What are you currently working on creatively?

MP: I’m in between three pieces right now…a non-fiction piece about my miniature dachshund, Simon, a speech about Sr. Airman Ashton Goodman and the Afghan Women’s Writing Project that I will be giving at the Air Force Institute of Technology in December, and a novella set in 19th century Florence, Italy.

SR: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

MP: Read voraciously. Read the best work you can find. Read what interests you. Be observant. Practice empathy and compassion. Know that what you write ultimately reflects who you are. Write every day, even if only for an hour and be humble in your practice while aspiring to greatness. Be gentle with yourself, and always reward yourself in some small way after a writing session. Leave the writing at a place where you are eager to return the next day.