Contributor Update, Michelle Ross: Find What’s Been Missing In “There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You”

Today, we here at the Superstition Review are emptying out the valves and shining the brass so that we can properly trumpet the release of Michelle Ross’ debut collection of stories There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You. This collection has already garnered a list of accolades and praise that you can really march to, most importantly the honor of the 2016 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Michelle Ross was featured in our 17th issue wherein she provided us with “Stories People Tell.” That story and many more are all contained in her There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, which has been hailed by critics and readers alike as “fearless,” “exceptional,” and “the kind [of stories] I want tattooed on my skin.”

To pre-order this fantastic collection of stories, click here.

To learn more about Michelle Ross and her work, visit here website here.

Pre-order this book!

Michelle Ross’ debut collection, There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You.

Guest Post, David Meischen: Hiding in Plain Sight

Hiding in Plain Sight: How Ambient Noise and Clutter Feed a Story

 

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf poster“Clink. Clink.”

We’ve spent an hour and a half with them at this point, with repeated eruptions—Martha savaging her husband, George setting off timed explosions from his store of resentments. Then suddenly: the voices go silent, no sign of George and Martha, of Nick and Honey, the bested guests. Moonlight through tree branches, a yard we see from above, as if from a bedroom window. In the background, stringed instruments, serene. Then Martha’s voice calling for the others and, before Elizabeth Taylor appears onscreen, the sound of ice cubes in her drink, something we’ve been hearing since the opening scene: director Mike Nichols’ brilliant use of ambient noise.

The dialogue dazzles, of course, thanks to Edward Albee, in this case so perfectly delivered that sometimes as I watch “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”—at least a dozen times I’ve indulged the pleasure of this viewing—I take the words, the execution, for granted and marvel at what the director is doing to riff on what the words are getting at. In the scene referenced above, I am not surprised to hear ice cubes clinking before the camera reaches Martha, meandering drunkenly across the yard to her car. The camera has not followed the station wagon here from the foursome’s drunken dancing excursion, but it feels as if we’ve seen the inebriate braking—front tires up over the curb at an angle so that the vehicle lists slightly, passenger-side turn signal winking, winking, winking, rear passenger door flopped open. Nichols doesn’t waste the turn signal. Martha staggers around the car, opens the driver’s door, reaches in, and the turn signals wink back and forth between each other before they blink out. Martha wanders the yard, then, calling out intermittently, her drink glass clinking the while. Finally, the screenplay gives a nod to what the director is doing: Martha says, “Clink. Clink.”

*

I recommend “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” to fiction writers. Consider it a tutorial in the uses of your characters’ environment, the details of their surroundings—indoor clutter, appliances, items of food and drink, features of the outdoor landscape, sounds so common (clinking ice cubes, anyone?) a writer might overlook them, and so forth. Always in this film there are things for George and Martha and Nick and Honey to do while they speak the language of wreckage.

In what is for me the funniest moment, Elizabeth Taylor leans into a cluttered refrigerator, opened by Richard Burton, grabs a drumstick from a platter of chicken sitting inside uncovered, grabs a salt shaker from the messy table Burton is clearing, salts and devours her piece of chicken, her mouth open as she chews, talking around mouthfuls. Then the perfect capstone: Taylor returns to the refrigerator, still open, tosses the chicken bone onto the same platter, and shuts the door, all without pausing in her run-on monologue about a movie Martha can’t remember the title of. We see a woman, her husband, their relationship, their way of life here. If you didn’t know a word of English, the details would tell you all you need to know.

*

A decade ago, I took a weekend fiction workshop with Daniel Mueller, author of the stunning short story collection How Animals Mate. Our focus was landscape, Mueller’s mantra:

Let the landscape of your story tell your story.

If a story stalls, look around. Something in your story’s landscape, its environment, will get it moving again.

As an exercise, Mueller asked participants to picture an odd item, oddly out of place in its setting. We went around the workshop table then, each participant volunteering such an item, all of us recording the items on our own list. Our assignment was to select an out-of-place item from the list and write a scene for it.

I chose a wristwatch buckled to the branch of a tree. I already had fragments for a story about a boy named Berndt whose father has committed suicide. For Daniel’s assignment, I imagined that Berndt’s father had taken off his watch on the morning of his suicide and buckled it to a mesquite tree branch before slashing his wrists. The scene I wrote was set several weeks later. Berndt is on his way to feed pigs on the family farm, when morning sun flashes off the crystal of his deceased father’s missing watch. Berndt unfastens the watch and beats it against the mesquite trunk until the crystal smashes, crying and cursing his father. This scene became the closing scene in a story about a mysterious watch and the riddle of a father who owned it. My challenge was to make the watch real and then to build a story around it, leading to the father’s suicide and his son’s subsequent discovery of the watch buckled to a tree.

What might have been peripheral, unimportant, became the story’s vehicle. The story of a watch becomes the story of a difficult father. A son puzzling over the watch itself provides a way of expressing an inner life that is not accessible to or expressible by the son himself. I loved writing this story, loved unfurling the watch’s story, letting the watch carry the bigger story of son and father. Unanswered questions about the watch stand in for unanswered questions about the father. The discovery of the watch, in the closing scene, provides a believable stimulus, without sentimentality, for the protagonist’s anger, his grief. When I was done, the watch even provided a title, “Center Wheel, Balance Wheel, Escape Wheel” (available at Prime Number).

*

This approach carries one of my first published stories, “In the Garden,” online right here at Superstition Review. A husband and wife converse over breakfast in their backyard. By increments, without intending to, they say things that can’t be taken back, irreparably damaging their marriage. Talking heads cannot carry a short story, at least not one I am capable of writing, so early on, a mockingbird sings out from a live oak near the breakfast table. Then the household tomcat slinks in from the creek. Turns out his name is Tyger, which opens a window onto the protagonist and his wife. The yard has room for a tomato garden, the wife’s—and a pesky squirrel hanging out among the cages. A newspaper at center table has a photo of Ronald Reagan above the fold, spurring an exchange that gives away the year—1982—when the husband says, “Look on the bright side. Two more years and we’ll vote him out.” The husband has a bit of a thing for his best friend; the wife suspects as much. This is a breakfast just for two, though—no reason for the best friend to drop by. Except then a repairman arrives to address hail damage on the roof. Wife notices that husband has noticed the repairman. Both turn at the sound of the repairman’s hammer. Then this: “A patch of sweat, like the map of a harbor Blake wanted to explore, darkened the blue of the man’s shirt in the space between his shoulder blades.” And so it goes. The conflict reaches a peak vicariously, when the mockingbird dive-bombs the squirrel and the cat leaps at the bird’s sudden accessibility.

*

Ambient noise is my personal catchall for the material stuff, auditory and non-, that surrounds us, often without our notice, the material stuff upon which we can launch credible and engaging stories. This “noise” includes any and all sensory details, any and all physical aspects of the landscape, any and all items at hand in your characters’ environs. A caveat, though. Ambient noise is not a fiction writer’s sole tool. A story can overwhelm itself and its readers with this kind of detail. Nothing impedes narrative momentum like a margin-to-margin thicket of details. Nothing is more tedious.

*

Watch “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Let yourself revel in the many ways by which the characters interact with facets of their environment—ice cubes, drink glasses, liquor bottles, cigarettes, a platter of fried chicken, a child’s swing hanging in the tree outside, door chimes, a chain lock on the front door. . . .

Read good stories. Here I’ll mention only two—and very short. In “Say Yes” by Tobias Wolff, a husband and wife wash dishes and prepare for bed. That’s it. But the meandering path of talk over dishes leads this couple into a hypothetical question about mixed-race dating, with an answer that changes everything. A younger couple, five years married, figures at the center of “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw. As they walk New York City on a lovely day, the wife catches the husband more than once distracted by the girls of the title passing by on the street. Questions lead to defensive answers, and as in “Say Yes,” things are said that cannot be taken back, that change everything between man and wife.

Immerse yourself in the quiet noise of Wolff’s story, in the vibrant noises of Irwin’s city walk. Then settle into the noises that will tell your next story.

 

Editor’s Note: David served as co-editor of Wingbeats and Wingbeats II, collections of poetry writing exercises from Dos Gatos Press.

SR Pod/Vod Series, Recording: Author Katie Flynn

Katie FlynnThis Tuesday, we are proud to feature a podcast of SR contributor Katie Flynn reading her short story from Issue 17.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes channel, podcast #230.

You can follow along with Katie’s short story in Superstition Review, Issue 17.

More about the author:

Katie M. Flynn is Fiction Editor at the Indianola Review. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Carve, Flyway, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, and elsewhere. She’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice and holds an MFA from the University of San Francisco. Recently, she completed her first novel about love, revenge, and uploaded consciousness. When she’s not writing, she’s teaching herself classical guitar, nerding out over chess, or chasing her two kids through the wilds of San Francisco.

 

Guest Post, Douglas Light: Shadows

The man ran late. He hailed a cab. The cab was packed with milk jugs of laundry detergent pre-mixed with water. There was a lot of talk between the man and cab driver. Nothing happened.

Understand, this was a short story.

Understand, this was the first short story I ever wrote, some 25 years ago. I spent a hundred-plus hours in a dim loft on Occidental Street in Seattle crafting the six page story that was—at least in my mind—pure, brilliant literature.

What it really was was awful. Pointless. Embarrassing.

If my present-self had been around then, I would have destroyed my then-self’s typewriter. “Stop,” I would have said. “Trust me, please. Just stop.”

 

***

Summit in ColoradoJuly 2016. Colorado.

Two miles in, my girlfriend Micah and I saw the summit. The guidebook claimed the Mount Belford hike, a 14,150 feet trundle to the summit, was 3.1 miles long. We were close, twenty more minutes of hiking, at most. “We can make it,” I said.

Two hours later we discovered the summit we’d struggled toward was a false summit, the real one a solid half mile farther.

But we’d committed. We were here. Now. We were going to make it.

And we did. After nearly four hours of hiking and climbing, we reached the peak.

At the base, in the dirt parking lot with toxic Port-A-Potties, the day had been brilliant. 76 degrees. A pleasant breeze.

Up top, the temperature bottomed to 43 degrees and the winds whipped so brutally that we had to crouch then crawl the final hundred yards.

Five pictures on the phone. Proof.

Rain clouds wedged their way onto the once blue skies.

We made the descent, believing we’d conquered the mountain.

The first fall left me bloody and laughing.

The third found me on my back like a broken turtle, my plastic water bottle cracked and draining and the mountain air crowded with my curses.

Rain hit, lashing and full.

I hobbled the remaining way, miserable.

In the parking lot, the rain stopped. The sky brightened.

I took my boots off. My socks were red with blood. My right knee had taken on the hue of a eggplant. “I can drive,” Micah said.

I refused, for no good reason.

Driving the once-dirt-now-mud road toward the highway, we saw three men sunning themselves on rocks, shirts off and smoking with a bottle of Dickel whiskey on the ground.

Pointing to the three, Micah said, “There’s a lesson there.”

 

***

The writing group met in Brooklyn. I was the only male. “This is a meet-and-greet, a trial to see if you’d be a good fit,” the woman hosting the session said.

I brought a bottle of wine—rather, I bought a bottle of wine. I dropped it in the subway station, staining the pages we were to review that night.

Snacks, soda, and cupcakes. The critiquing was a combative free-for-all, with arguments erupting and people being cut off mid-sentence. I managed two comments over the course of the hour, both which were dismissed.

“I’m not sure you’re a good fit,” the host said, seeing me out. “You don’t seem to understand how to make thoughtful comments.”

 

***

Micah and I sat at a small table at Sunny’s bar in Redhook, Brooklyn, drinking scotch and debating the cultural significance of the new World Trade Center with Steve Buscemi while Norah Jones played. The place was packed, though there were no more than forty.

Pausing mid-song, Norah said, “Look everyone, it’s Mick Foley,” and then invited the former pro-wrestler on stage, where he played a woodblock in time to the tune.

“Where else but New York City,” Micah said of our evening as we rode home to Harlem.

The next day, Micah got pulled over by the police and ticketed. $425 for turning right on a red.

On her bicycle.

Where else but New York City.

 

***

When my first novel came out, I organized a reading for myself and three others at Bluestockings Bookstore on the Lower East Side. I sent out invites, contacted the media. Time Out New York featured the event both in print and online, calling the three authors reading with me “literature’s new, important voices.”

My name was missing from the announcement.

I sold four books at the reading, left ten more with the bookstore on consignment. “Stop back by in a few weeks and we’ll cut you a check for tonight’s sales and whatever else we sell,” the manager said.

When I returned three weeks later, all my books were gone.

I was thrilled, positive I’d sold them all.

“What’s your name again?” the manager asked. I wasn’t in their system. My book wasn’t in the system. “I can’t pay you for what we didn’t sell,” the manager said, adding, “Are you sure you left them here?”

 

***

September leaked into October. The weather grew cold. I was squatting on a boat in the Puget Sound, Seattle, Washington, sneaking aboard at night. I’d rifled the cabinets for crackers and canned oysters, polished off the bottle of cheap port.

This was 1994. My situation was temporary, I was sure. I was going to be famous. Soon. I’d published my own chapbook of poetry, had handed it out to the people who mattered, the Seattle artists and writers who were on the path to make it big.

Through them, I’d make it.

Twenty-two years later, Wikipedia has no mention of the Seattle artists and writers I once knew. Barnes & Nobles doesn’t carry their books.

 

***

In graduate school, the Brazilian boy who wore prescription sunglasses to the nighttime writing workshop said of my story, “You cannot start a sentence with the word ‘And.’”

“But what about the piece?” the teacher said.  “Overall, what do you think?”

The boy lifted a shoulder, a half shrug. “It’s a draft,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The next day, I mailed the story off to a magazine. It got published. It received an O. Henry Prize.

 

***

After three months of sleeping on the streets, I called my folks. Collect.

“What do you want to do?” my father said. “You need to decide on something to do and then we can help.”

I needed money, needed a place.

The pay phone was sticky and a fight between a man on the street and a woman in an apartment above had erupted. Beer bottles flew down from her window.

“I can do anything,” I said, watching the explosion of glass in the street.

“But you’re doing nothing,” my father said. “So how am I supposed to help?”

The next day, I moved into the homeless shelter.

 

***

The man ran late. He hailed a cab. The cab was packed with milk jugs of laundry detergent pre-mixed with water. There was a lot of talk between the man and cab driver. Nothing happened.

But no.

Thinking about it, I wouldn’t tell my younger-self, “Stop. Trust me, please. Just stop.”

And I wouldn’t destroy the typewriter.

I’d destroy the story.

And I’d say, “If you want to do this, then do it right.”

I’d say, “Move into the shadows. Get lost. Be scared. Find that place where the light stops being light for you. And then sit down. Just sit and wait. Trust me. It’ll happen. As long as you just wait.”

Guest Post, Bill Gaythwaite: Any Particular Day

swimmerIt occurred to me recently, not for the first time, that my swimming reminds me of my writing process. I’m a lap swimmer in a community pool.  I swim very long distances. My pool is not part of a fancy gym. The locker room is way too small. Sometimes it’s as crowded in there as a subway at rush hour.  There’s a grungy gang shower too, with cracks in the tile and some broken fixtures.  Hot water is more a hope than a reality.  You have to bring your own towel to this place and last week someone pried open my combination lock and stole the money from my wallet while I was doing my laps. I was grateful they left the wallet though, and figured maybe they needed the $22 more than I did. Actually, I love this gym and I love the pool, which, unlike the locker room, is clean and well-maintained. The lifeguards are friendly. Now, writing has its challenges too.  Sometimes the water isn’t hot and the fixtures are broken. And the most obvious comparison between the two is that lap swimming is this solitary effort, where you literally throw yourself into the deep end and just take off. Most writers understand that part. Personally, I’m not the flashiest swimmer or the fastest. My technique isn’t the prettiest either, but I do keep at it. That’s like my writing. And like writing, the benefits of swimming work best when you stick to a regular schedule or routine. You increase your stamina over time. Writing a short story is like a long swim for me. It’s tough to get started sometimes. You can struggle at first. You flail away. And then you eventually find a rhythm and you pace yourself. You don’t stop. You try not to lose steam before the finish. (If writing a short story is like a long swim for me, then working on my unpublished novel was more like running a marathon at a high altitude – but that’s another topic entirely.) I don’t think of lap swimming as only a metaphor. It has become part of my writing process too. Sometimes a swim will clear my head and get me back into a space where I can work. But I’ve also tackled plot problems, created back stories for characters and tried out dialogue as I thrash around in the pool, sometimes losing count of my laps as a result. I’m grateful for my time in the water and for my time at the computer too, when things come together and I have enough momentum to carry me through. I think my writing and lap swimming have become somewhat linked in my mind, the endurance part anyway, the personal challenge, the dogged persistence. As with anything, it comes down to commitment — that happy dedication to something that will eventually become part of who you really are, at any moment, on any particular day.

Transatlantic: The Litro Anthology of Short Stories

Transatlantic: The Litro Anthology of Short Stories by Anthony DoerrSean BeaudoinNikesh ShuklaLucie WhitehouseJenn Ashworth, Ian Sales, Charlie Hill & many more. Edited and Introduced by Eric Akoto & Dan Coxon.

 At home his wife says,

‘You’re home early,’ and he says, ‘Yes I am.’ He fumbles through boxes in the basement.

There is a 35-millimeter Nikon FG-20 buried in here somewhere, beneath football jerseys and an antler chandelier she’d made him take down.

All through dinner she asks questions about work. To pacify her, he says he has managed to collect some overdue funds from Hitachi, one of the ‘majors.’ This is an outright lie. The tree book sits on the hall table, waiting.”

  from ‘Trees’ by Anthony Doerr

litro

 

Announcing Transatlantic, the first anthology from long-running London literary magazine Litro, Transatlantic collects together some of the best stories – and the biggest names – to have passed through its pages.

Litro magazine has always taken a global view of the literary world, and this collection is no exception. There are stories from authors on both sides of the Atlantic, spanning locations as far apart as Ithaca and Nairobi – and even the surface of the moon. What connects them is the strength of their voices, and the vibrant originality of their storytelling.

Transatlantic contains disturbed choristers and post-apocalyptic survivalists, aspiring rock stars and morally bankrupt nuclear power plant workers – but more importantly, it contains some of the most exciting and unique new voices to have appeared in modern fiction over the last few years.

Transatlantic: The Litro Anthology collects some of the best writing to have passed through the pages of Litro magazine, including stories by Anthony Doerr, Sean Beaudoin, Nikesh Shukla, Lucie Whitehouse and Jenn Ashworth.

It also introduces Reece Choules and Iain Robinson – the first two authors to sign to Litro’s bespoke literary agency, Litro Represents.

Find out more about Litro at www.litro.co.uk, and at the new US-based  site www.LitroNY.com.

 

Transatlantic: The Litro Anthology

ISBN: 978-0955424564

$2.99

Ebook available now from Amazon and Oyster Books

 

 

 join litro

Become a Litro Member Today!

Why not join the Litro community and connect with like minded people and support our efforts to find new ways of looking at the world through stories, as well as providing opportunities and exposure for emerging writers, perhaps kick-starting their careers.

For less than £2 a month why not sign up to our Litro Book Club.

A membership to Litro will help us to continue to support our many emerging writers, and who knows, your support could be the one that helps launch the next great literary talent!

Membership to our Book Club gives you access to a community of writers, as well as the following:

  • Four times a year you will receive an advance copy of the featured book in the post (worth more than £50)
  • See your book reviews published online and have the chance to enter special Book Club member writing competitions
  • Exclusive author access including face-to-face events in London and online Q&As
  • And much more “Members Only” content including special reader gift offers from our many partners

Other Membership Options:    

litro access 50With our all-access UK membership, you get Litro Magazine delivered to your door: 10 issues of Litro Magazine a year, plus exclusive access to hundreds of short stories from past issues in our digital archive.

                             Get in on our quarterly Book Club: four new books a year from our Book Club, plus access to live author Q&As, and the chance to see your  reviews published on litro.co.uk.  Discounts on Litro Live! events: 50% off Litro Live! events and priority booking.

litro access 57With our all-access International membership, you get all the same benefits as for UK readers, but at a small additional cost to cover postage and packaging.

litro studen access 25Our Student membership gives you the same benefits as a full membership, but at a discounted rate. You will be asked to show proof that you are a student of a school or university in the UK.

 

SR Pod/Vod Series: Writer Marylee MacDonald

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Marylee MacDonald.

Marylee MacDonaldMarylee MacDonald has won the Barry Hannah Prize, the Matt Clark Prize, the Ron Rash Award, and the ALR Fiction Prize. Her stories have appeared in Yalobusha Review, New Delta Review, Briar Cliff Review, StoryQuarterly, Folio, Reunion, Broad River Review, American Literary Review, Bellevue Literary Review, North Atlantic Review, River Oak Review, North Atlantic Review, Blue Moon Literary & Art Review, Briar Cliff Review, and the anthologies ROLL and NEW SUN RISING: Stories for Japan. Her novel, MONTPELIER TOMORROW, is forthcoming from ATTM Press. She lives in Tempe, Arizona.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.