Authors Talk: Marilyn McCabe

Marilyn McCabe

Today we are pleased to feature author Marilyn McCabe as our Authors Talk series contributor. In her podcast, Marilyn discusses the inspiration behind the poems from her project “Yield,” one of which was published in Issue 18.

Marilyn reveals how she quit her job and life in an urban setting and moved to the country alone. Out in the country, she began to feel like the last and/or first person on earth, “and it was from that imagining of being the first woman, a solitary Eve, that [she] began writing the poems of Yield.” She started rethinking the Judeo-Christian myth, exploring time as a human construct, and evaluating the nature of community.

You can access Marilyn’s poem in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.

Guest Post, Eric Maroney: The Limited, Forever Living Thing

Man Reading Torah“Rabbi Meir said, anyone who engages in Torah study for its own sake (‘lishma’) merits many things”


We are always torn apart. Behind the face we present to the world, there is a fracture. Two rudiments in our nature spar: the craving for control, and the dread of disorder. These opposing states, so closely linked, cause us no small misery, but the dynamic is so much a part of our ingrained habit of thinking that we constantly try, though with little success, to smother it with all manner of distractions.

We frequently wake up early in the morning with a crashing, dawn-clarity in the form of the question: What can I do about some awful problem? What we are really asking above and behind this question, is “can this problem be contained or controlled?” And if not – if the problem can’t be mended – how do we live with our sense that by not resolving this difficulty, and by allowing it to stand shamelessly unresolved, life’s great promise of joy will unravel from its spool? Further refined, we can distill the question to its rock hard core: How do I live with pain, grief, anguish?

We have all encountered such moments. But nothing distresses the quest for control more than a crisis of health. The body lurks, waiting; it conceals sickness under skin, tissue and bone. Beneath the veil of our physical stability, a system bubbles toward disorder. My own crock boiled over when I was twenty-nine and diagnosed with cancer. At a time of life when people typically view mortality though a long lens, my death seemed more immediate. I had no resources to deal with the reality of death: therefore my responses were limited. My mind contracted under the idea of death. My notions were hedged by binary postures: fight, win, move on, or fight, lose, die.

Pressed in this vice, I ultimately found it most reassuring to learn to abandon the notion of continued life. This brought a measure of peace. Death is the ultimate negation – a blunt, inescapable fact. Somewhere on a cosmic script, the conclusion is written in indelible ink: you will die. So by embracing death, by laying down at its feet, I let go of the struggle against its oppressive strain. I was still bound to life, to be certain, but only by sheer threads.

In the first few years after surgeries and treatments, I devalued existence. This attitude worked under a certain set of narrow conditions. But as I expanded my horizons after the disease, this stance evolved into a crisis of conscience. How can we live without embracing life? Clinging to death is a poor long term-solution, for even after the cancer was in remission, there was still the fact that I might die at any moment. Death simmers inside of us. My unbending cheapening of life did not solve the problem of death – it merely postponed it. I had driven myself to the verge of an existential cliff. In order to continue to live, I had to change the mental formula that had been useful since I was diagnosed with cancer – because the thin gruel of indifference to life cannot sustain a flea.

If we face suffering, sickness, depression and death, we can turn to something well beyond us: religion. In the years following a great crisis, I turned to Judaism. But my reason for this move, I believe, veers very far from the common expectation. Religion did not provide me comfort. A Jewish life did not offer me hope of a healthy body as a reward for my virtuous actions, or the recompense of an enchanted afterlife beyond a bodily existence marked by pain and suffering; nor did I seek the protection of a powerful and providential deity who could answer my prayers.

On the contrary, Jewish practice catapulted me beyond the bounds of reward and punishment to a real “space” where my deeds are free from the expectation of reward. This is a crucial point: by practicing Judaism, I can relinquish control to the realm of pure Jewish action. In the language of Judaism I perform the mitzvoth, the Jewish religious requirements, not for any payoff, but, as is said in Hebrew lishma, for and in themselves. This perspective has steered my apathy and indifference into more disciplined channels.

I practice Judaism to practice it. This sounds like an echo, but the seeds of this practice produce sturdy foliage. With Jewish ritual practice detached from reward, I can pursue a goal without the restraints of expectation. My mind and heart practice Judaism’s ritual demands with detachment. Detachment, of course, has pejorative implications – a lack of caring, a stance of aloofness – but it can also emancipate; and in a paradoxical turn, the freedom of detachment can transform our indifference into a more vital, lasting form of care. And the practice of lishma, of doing a deed in and for itself, can be exercised everywhere. By living life lishma, the mind is freed from the stark habit of thinking that the two rudiments in our nature spar: the craving for control and the dread of disorder.

In lishma, we transcend the need to control the events of our lives. Order happens, disorder happens – they are states that come and go and we have no control over either. But no matter what happens, we perform our duty and live life. Our imperative to action is action itself. With patience and practice, even life’s gravest challenges and abrupt transformations become shaded in different hues. Events take on the color of the moment, rather than the stain of our anxiety for specious stability. When we are no longer distracted about the issue of control, we are able to free ourselves from the slavery of expectations. And by doing so, we are able to see ourselves in the light of the singular, precious instant.

ASU Book Group: ‘Pachacuti: World Overturned’ by Lori Eshleman

Lori Eshleman Wednesday, February 24th from 12pm-1pm, ASU instructor Lori Eshleman (College of Letters and Sciences) will be giving a book discussion on her novel Pachacuti: World Overturned (Bagwyn Books). This discussion is open to all in the ASU community and will be held in the Piper Writers House on ASU’s Tempe campus. 

Lori Eshleman, who has taught at ASU since 1994, has always been drawn to those spaces in time where cultural and religious traditions have encountered each other, from the European Middle Ages to colonial Latin America to the American West. Her new book of historical fiction explores the overlap of complex issues of race, gender, politics and religion through characters whose lives become entwined during an uprising in the Andean kingdom of Quito in the 1700s.

For more information on the event, click here.

Technology and the Space between Publisher and Author

The most rewarding experience I had while interning at Superstition Review came, rather not surprisingly, during the selection process for our most recent issue. I say not surprisingly because it is during this process that you get the opportunity to give an author the thing they have been searching for: publication.

What did surprise me though were two works that the fiction editors discussed during the selection process and how we were able to work with the authors of those pieces in order to get them published in Issue 11. Both of these pieces would have more than likely received “nos” if we had not been able to work with the authors, something that I was not previously aware was even possible. I had never before thought of the freedom that technology afforded the literary world and the opportunity it offered in erasing the barrier that seems to exist between the publisher and the author.

The first example I want to talk about is the piece by Jacob Appel, “Burrowing into Exile.” Appel originally submitted a story called “A Display of Decency” which looked at a young man’s struggle with religion. It was well written and a good read, but the piece was drenched in baseball paraphernalia and took place in the 1940s. The general consensus was that this created a setting which might be difficult for our particular readership, which tends to be younger. In fact, one of our fiction editors did not recognize many of the references in the piece. This decision about how any given story fits a publication’s aesthetic is one that all literary magazines have to make (and trust me, as a writer this is a difficult lesson to learn). This could have easily been the end of this story: a decline due to incompatible audiences. Instead we contacted Appel and solicited another, more contemporary, piece from him. This is something that I do not think would be possible without the immediacy available through the internet.

Our second “on the edge” story was from an undergraduate student at Utah State University. Since we tend to publish mid and late career authors, we get very excited when we find work from undergrads that make the top of the pile (we don’t publish any ASU undergrads since we have a non-compete agreement with the ASU undergraduate literary magazine LUX).The editors involved in the selection process saw the potential of Kendall Pack’s story, “Make Your Own Lawn Darts (and Rediscover Happiness) in 8 Easy Steps.” It was equally clear that, as submitted, Pack’s piece was not quite where it needed to be in order to be published. There were rough spots and inconsistencies and neither the author nor the publication benefits from bringing a story to the public which is not really finished. This could have easily led to a rejection letter for Pack as well, but the freedom of Superstition Review’s setup allowed us to contact Pack and offer him publication contingent on his willingness to revise his submission. What could have easily been just another homeless story became Pack’s first publication which can only be seen as a great success story.

This ability to become an entity which can work hand in hand with an author to get a piece to publication level is one of Superstition Review’s greatest strengths. As a writer, I am well aware of the distance that often exists between the writer and the publisher, an expanse that is so large that agents are sometimes required as go-betweens. But the landscape of publishing is changing and no longer is an author required to mail out manuscripts and wait months to years before hearing back (at least this is becoming a near extinct process).

Technology has the capability to erase the gap of information between the publisher and writer, something that has not really existed on a wide scale until now. No longer is it a requirement that a publication send out a faceless rejection letter that tells the author only that they have not been selected for publication. Now, with the ability of submission programs to organize all submission along with the comments of the editors involved, it is easier to go back and see which submissions were on the cusp of publication. We can then look at these submissions and see why they were turned down and make that a part of our rejection letter. In an industry where so many variables can lead to a piece not being published it is an invaluable tool to be able to offer the writer at least a slight indication of why a piece was not selected. Or, even better, there is an opportunity to not only disclose these reasons but allow the author the chance to correct these mistakes if they so choose.

Obviously this cannot always be the case. Some large publications just do not have the time to look through all their submissions and tailor a specific response, but they at least have the option to tailor one for the submissions that are on the edge. It will also to take time for these technologies and the assets they offer to catch on. However long it takes, it does give me a great sense of hope for the future of publishing and I see a time where publishers and writers can work as closely as peers in other fields. I can see the benefit of writers and publishers establishing professional relationships that provide brief points of contact concerning the craft of writing.

Bonus opinion: without delving too deeply into an already cantankerous subject, I see these constantly evolving technological tools as a gateway to a future where biases can be circumvented by using submission programs to cloak the identity of submitting authors. This seems like an unbelievable boon to an industry which so recently suffered from a humiliating setback.

Guest Blog Post, Eric Maroney: Writing Under the Burden of Unity

I write with my fingers crossed. Because every time I write, I counter a cardinal point of the Judaism I practice and believe: that everything is one. That the reality we all experience — the very texture of this life we live, with its distinctions and sub-divisions, its segregations and partitions — is wrong.

I am a non-dual Jew: I do not conceive of God as a separable entity or force, somehow detached from the world and its multitudinous forms. Instead, God is the World, and the World is God and God is One. In Judaism’s most treasured statement of faith, which goes Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, we find the very script of this vision. God is One. Everything is One. Everything is God. This is a supremely mystical take on Judaism; it represents a minority voice in a religion that stresses the polarity between the sacred and the profane. When everything is one nothing is evil. When everything is one nothing is separate. When everything is one, the things we see in the world, and their manifest separate existence, is not true.

And here is the problem: this vision of uncompromising unity is the very antithesis of writing fiction. Writers broker in division and distinction. Writers take the elements of language and expression and reduce them to the most basic level. We must write one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one book at a time. This is a discreet enterprise, and it is based on the view of the wholly separable nature of reality. By contrast, the mystical view happens in a moment; it is the illuminating notion that everything can be absorbed in one overwhelming instant. Writing, instead, comes in drips. And one must digest it drop by drop. It is a discreet enterprise.

For the writer, to say that everything is one is to say not much at all. The statement reduces the very act of writing fiction to absurdity: words, sentences, paragraphs, characters, plots, and conflict become pantomime — mere reflections of a reflection. Writing becomes an illusion patterned after an illusion, which can be seen as basally unimportant. And here lies a problem that is worthy of great struggle.

To write fiction and be a non-dualist is to play two games that risk canceling each other out. So my aim is to play with great subtlety. In every story I write, I proceed as if the world is composed of wholly separable objects, often in conflict with each other, almost always nearly in direct contradiction to each other — while at the same time maintaining that this is a kind of illusion. The trick of upholding the illusion, no matter how dangerous or misleading, is critically important. The point is to suggest not just that this illusion plays a vital role in creating a compassionate Jew and a good human being, but to acknowledge that because the illusion is itself a part of the oneness of the world, even it has deep value.

Always, I  hint in my writing that there is more to our life than the unsettled sense of a reality in conflict. Often on the level of language, in the composition of characters, and the sense of the plot, I allude that this is not all there is; that beyond what is being read, and far beyond what the characters strive for and seek, is a greater vision of unity that can be had only with great effort and dedication. Fiction itself may be capable of only inadequately displaying that unity, but it can get close enough to offer hints and suggestions.  Inviting a reader to ponder the infinite edge of any story is the goal of my writing. I believe I have created a successful story when I am able to leave the reader silent at its end—momentarily aware of a vastness and connection and unity that can only exist when the words stop.

Dispatches from Delhi: Report 8

Two nights ago, my grandmother asked me if I wanted to accompany her to Jabalpur, a city in the Madhya Pradesh region of India, to receive blessings from and pay respects to her guru on his birthday. Coincidentally, this event just happens to occur under the next full moon in one of India’s most culturally significant cities. In fact, Jabalpur’s colloquial name is Sanskaardhani or “culture capital” because it was once home to the Kalchuri and Gond dynasties and developed a syncretic culture as a result of the intermittent influence of the Marathi and Mughal empires, combining Hindu, Muslim, and Jain cultures and influences into one singular area. Due to this differential cultural mix of religious faiths coupled with the region’s dominant dependence on rural agriculture, Jabalpur remains largely unchanged in its spiritual significance to the Indian community at large. It is home to a large community of holy men, women, and orphanages of abandoned children all either well versed in or currently learning the various aspects of Vedic literature.

When she told me all this, my grandmother and I got into a discussion about faith versus reason, her obviously discussing the former, and me in my 20-year-old naivety pushing the latter. The whole argument actually started because after pushing all this history aside, the question kept nagging at my mind: why did she need a guru in the first place? I am not at all denying the experience that it would provide me with and it would be an unforgettable part of my growth at this point in life. But at 75 years old, she has already achieved a sufficient amount of financial success and emotional fulfillment in her life without ever seeking the guidance of a spiritual teacher.

So what had changed in the past few years to facilitate this change?

She said that nothing had changed, that things were the same. I said something had to be different. She said no and said that as she got older, she realized that the events in her life, however driven by human factors like her father and husband and children, still answered to the divine intervention of an ultimate superpower; call it God, Bhagavan, whatever. I asked if she really believed her own power of thinking and choices and environmental situations had not achieved the changes that created her present. She said no, that destiny had ultimately chosen her path for her, and no matter what she might have done to deter from or adhere to that path, it was all preordained by this ultimate superpower. As such, she felt the urge to find a guru who could use his knowledge of Hindu canonical texts like the Vedas and Mahabharata to provide her with insight on how to continue living well through the most ancient codices of the world’s oldest living faith.

I was more or less confused because my grandmother was applying reason to faith in a way that they did not necessarily contradict each other. She was not saying that her thoughts and actions had no bearing whatsoever on her life, but that there was a guiding hand behind each and every one of those thoughts and actions that had laid out a plan for her, a plan that stood as a simultaneous consequence and refutation of her conscious decisions. I am looking forward to this trip because I am not an incredibly spiritual person in the textbook sense of the word, but I want to understand my culture as it is: faith AND reason, spirituality and philosophy, a way of thinking and a way of life. I am still a little “iffy” about the whole thing, but I am not one to be so close-minded to such a grand new experience.

Interview with Cary Holladay

Cary Holladay grew up in Virginia. She is the author of five volumes of fiction, including A Fight in the Doctor’s Office (Miami UP 2008) and The Quick-Change Artist: Stories (Swallow Press / Ohio UP 2006). Her work has appeared in New Stories From the South: The Year’s Best. Her awards include an O. Henry Prize and fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the NEA.

She teaches at the University of Memphis, where she is Director of the River City Writers Series and a First Tennessee Professor.

Interview with Cary Holladay

Superstition Review: In your story, “Land of Lightning,” why did you decide to use Tinsley’s voice for the narrator?

Cary Holladay: Because Tinsley has lost so much—his wife, his marriage, his daughter. All of that grief has tested his strength of character and has brought him to a state of wondering—about being a husband, being a father, and what it means to send your daughter off to war.

SR: Burton Laughinghouse is a name and a character that really sticks out in the story. Why did you decide that the name would be fitting for him? How does it embody his character?

CH: “Laughinghouse” is a name I heard or read somewhere and was captivated by. I have a weakness for unusual names, but using them in a story can be risky, like a joke. The name embodies Burton Laughinghouse’s character in an ironic way; he’s playful but selfish, a disruptive force, a con man. His love of birds is real, but he exploits the people who befriend and assist him.

SR: There is an element of religion in the story when the characters speak of God, praying, and the devil being present in Glenna’s life or when the devil was asked to leave. What do you believe it brought to the story and what importance does religion have for the characters?

CH: It’s such a part of them that they feel the pull of its compass no matter what they do. Glenna, especially, feels the burden of her sin for having injured Ned Page. She feels guilt for being attracted to Burton Laughinghouse. Religion is part of the personal mystery that these characters carry with them.

SR: The incident with Glenna Dancy and Ned Page with the arrow was briefly mentioned in the beginning of the story but is really brought to life at the end. Tell us why you decided that this story would make for a perfect ending. What way did it tie the whole story together?

CH: That incident grew out of the fear I felt in high school archery class. A bow and arrow is a powerful, primitive, effective weapon. To aim and let that arrow fly at a living target is to pronounce a death sentence, or at least pose severe danger. The scene tied the story together because it expressed the contradictions in Glenna’s tormented inner self—her sexuality, her anger, her ego. She’s combative. Like Tinsley’s daughter who died in a helicopter accident in Iraq, Glenna has a warrior’s heart.

SR: What are you writing now? What are you reading?

I’m finishing a collection of stories set in Virginia’s horse country and have begun writing a novel about the pirate Blackbeard. I’m reading buccaneer legends, lore, and history.