Greetings, dear readers! We’ve got some tremendous news for you all today: past contributor Kevin Prufer, featured in the Interviews section of our 7th Issue, has a poem in the Spring 2017 issue of The Paris Review, titled “The Translator.” Check it out here, and do yourself the kindness of reading our interview with Kevin here. If you’d like to see more Kevin’s work, go ahead and check out his website, found here. Congratulations, Kevin! And readers, stay posted for more updates on the happenings of the incredible community here at Superstition Review.
The advantages of online submission over standard mail are so numerous, so obvious, so clear, so superior in nearly every way; still, sometimes I miss waiting in line at the post office, where no one else seemed to be sending overlong stories to The New Yorker. I miss holding the envelopes against my side so no one might see that I was also simultaneously submitting to The Atlantic, Harper’s, and The Paris Review. I always feared someone in line turning to me and saying, “Don’t you think that’s a little bit unrealistic?” But there was a pleasure in placing the envelopes on a scale and finding out—surprise!—how much it costs to send a thirty-two-page story to Boston. I miss buying a book of stamps for my next round of SASEs. I miss the receipt I always kept for no reason whatsoever.
There were other pleasures, too. I had a ritual for writing out SASEs, a problem for me, since my handwriting is terrible, but I could cover well enough by printing in all caps. I would set a stack of #10 envelopes on my writing desk and print my name and address so many times, over and over again, until my name seemed alien to me, my address some foreign port I’d yet to visit. After, I would place a stamp in the top right hand corner with the same studied care I used whenever I had to affix a registration decal to my license plate. Next, I would paper clip the SASE to the back of my submission and cover letter—it was part of the ritual that the SASE must be hidden from immediate view since I didn’t want the editor thinking about rejecting my story before encountering the first page—and slide it into the envelope, where I hoped I would never see it again.
For the manuscript, I preferred staples to paper clips, and sort of miss the days when “staples or paper clips?” was as familiar a question at AWP panels as “how do I get an agent?” or “where do you get your ideas from?” Another loss: the feeling of reloading my stapler with a fresh, gleaming row of staples. Testing the first staple, always a misfire, so that the next staple might pass through.
I liked to send my stories from the post office, even if I had sufficient postage at home, since I believed that a postmarked story had a better chance of getting accepted than a stamped one. I refused to use commemorative stamps, worried that some editor might start thinking about Edith Wharton or Ernest Hemingway or Mark Twain or some other vastly superior writer, rather than my homely stuff. I always used brown manila envelopes, never white, never Tyvek. Never priority mail: too desperate.
For a while, I had a preference for specific postal employees at my local post office (this is embarrassing to admit) since I believed that some of them were “lucky” while others were not so lucky. Part of the ritual was to stand in line and hope to get a “lucky” employee without deliberately changing my position in line, a game so dumb and meaningless I can barely stand to write this; still, it was kind of fun. My favorite “lucky” employee was a kind, middle-aged woman with gray hair who would always stamp a bright red first-class stamp as close to the editor’s name as possible so that, as she explained it, they would think they were “first class people.”
But there’s one ritual I miss more than any other: opening a rejection slip from some distinguished magazine I had no hope in the world of getting accepted by, and finding even the slightest written note. Sorry, not this one, or, Try us again? I would read those notes more times than I’d like to admit, hieroglyphs, I believed, to my certain future.
In his twenty-ninth collection of poems, Norman Dubie returns to a rich, color-soaked vision of the world. Strangeness becomes a parable for compassion, each poem leading the reader to an uncommon way of understanding human capacities. In the futuristic sphere of The Quotations of Bone, the mind wanders meditatively into an imaginative and uncontainable history.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
NORMAN DUBIE was born in Barre, Vermont, in April 1945. He teaches at Arizona State University. His poems have appeared in many magazines, including American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and Poetry, He has won the Bess Hokin Award of the Modern Poetry Association and fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Mr. Dubie won the PEN USA prize for best poetry collection in 2001.
Narrative Magazine, one of the nation’s most prominent literary venues, is about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding. The magazine’s founders note that the years have been but a breath and a heartbeat but also a long sustained burning of midnight oil. So the editors and staff are really looking forward to the anniversary celebrations, to take place in San Francisco in April and in NYC in the autumn. Many good and dedicated people helped create and build Narrative, and the celebrations promise to bring together the magazine’s friends, old and new, to raise a glass to writers and great writing.
When Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks started the magazine in 2003, there were no online or digital platforms for first-rank literary work—The New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper’s, the Paris Review, none of them, nor any other quality publisher of literature, had an online presence. And, according to studies done by the NEA, readers were falling away from literature by the millions, and certainly the rise of technological media was a big part of the shift away from reading. A general sense of depression and indirection was overtaking the literary community, and Edgarian and Jenks wanted to show what quality literature could look like online. They started with six authors and about a thousand readers. (The contents of the first issue are available here.) And the founders recall that when they started the magazine, no one—friends and authors—seemed to understand what an online magazine would be, though observers were all cheerful enough about it, as if to humor Edgarian and Jenks by saying, Sure, why not?
Today, of course, everyone grasps the challenge and opportunity that technology presents for literature, but until Amazon launched Kindle in 2007, the handwriting on the wall wasn’t read by many publishers and litterateurs, who should have been reading it much sooner. Change, especially the kind of radical change that has taken place in publishing, is always met with resistance, and existing book and magazine content was less immediately available to be digitized than were film and music files. Old-line publishers, clinging to print rights, sunk costs, and traditional bona fides (a digital publication was not considered a “real” publication), harbored reluctance and denial, though the shift from bricks-and-mortar to digital was inevitable once the technological revolution started and the Internet caught the collective imagination. In the early stages of this shift, Douglas Coupland observed that the Internet had begun to look like a cross between a shopping mall and a bordello, and today online commercialism remains a big challenge to literary values. Amazon’s “the readers decide” is a great consumer-oriented retail credo, but as a literary value it’s akin to a popularity contest. Narrative began and continues as an example of excellence, combining old-school values with new media technology. Narrative was one of the first two periodicals to release an iPhone/iPad Application (it’s free) and was one of the first periodicals available on Kindle. The magazine has 150,000 readers and publishes several hundred writers and artists each year. Narrative has been much watched and imitated by other periodicals with vastly greater resources, and now in an environment in which technology and business investment seek scalability and ROI above all, Narrative continues to look for ways to co-opt the means of production for the sake of literature. “We can’t take its existence for granted,” Jenks notes, “or think that the free market values it as we do.”
He also notes that the constant readership for good writing forms a small subculture within mass-culture. Sometimes a book or author crosses over from the small world to the large, most often in the case of a film adaptation. Cormac McCarthy’s first five books sold about three thousand copies each. Then came the film version of All the Pretty Horses. There are other examples, but the point is that all who care deeply about literature and its generative effect on society recognize that anything and everything that can be done to encourage good writing and reading needs to be done. Narrative has sought to reach as many readers as possible, to put forth the best work by the best writers, to engender an intelligent and respectful level of discourse, and to further the best of traditional literary values into the new age.
With Narrative the editors offer as transparent a medium as possible to connect readers and writers. The magazine aims to advance no editorial stamp or personality such that anyone might say that a particular work is a “Narrative Magazine” sort of piece; rather, the editors’ interest is in good writing and narratives that are entertaining, unpredictable, and charged with the shock of recognition that occurs when the human significance of the work is made manifest. The editors look for pieces in which the effects of language, situation, and insight are intense and total. Many of the authors featured in Narrative are well-known, but the magazine is also dedicated to presenting new and emerging writers and features many first-time authors.
Asked about the magazine’s name, Edgarian reported, “In 2003, a friend of ours, the essayist Susan L. Feldman, knowing we were preparing to launch a new magazine called Narrative, sent us a one-line quote from a Paul Baumann review of a Thomas Keneally novel. Baumann, the editor of Commonweal, wrote, ‘Only myth, only narrative . . . can capture the mystery of human goodness and evil.’ A few years later, at a Narrative Night event, Robert Stone noted, “Stories are as necessary to us as bread. There is no sense or order to experience outside of narrative. Whether in prose or poetry, writers continually revivify the myths that illuminate our lives as we move from the known into the unknown.”
Looking ahead to what the next 10 years may bring for Narrative, Jenks said, “Ha! Where’s my crystal ball? As a kid growing up in the 1950s and ’60s and hearing about the Soviet Union, the five-year plan always struck me as a good model, provided you didn’t have to adhere to it rigidly. That is, you can chart the future, knowing that as you reach each milestone the landscape looks somewhat different than imagined, and the chart must be adjusted again and again as you go forward. But Narrative’s primary goals remain the same as when we started: Expand the readership for good writing; support writers by paying them as well as possible and by providing keen editorial encouragement; train young publishing professionals in the best traditional values and new practices; help shape the future of literature within the new media.”
The longtime editor also had some advice for writers looking to publish. “About 70 percent of unsolicited manuscripts begin with someone waking up, or with someone taking a drink, or with a phone call. Sometimes all three of these motifs are combined, as in, ‘I woke with a dreadful hangover to the incessant ringing of the phone.’ The clichéd waking beginning tends to be an unconscious metaphor for the dawning consciousness of the writer. I’m not saying not to use a waking beginning, but it’s well to be aware of the odds against it and, if using it, then to do something original and essential with it. The opening of Anna Karenina offers an inspiring example.”
For writers thinking about submitting work to Narrative, Jenks said, “You should submit to Narrative only if you have taken the time to read the magazine and to know its cast. If the magazine appeals to you, and if you have assayed your work in relation to the work you see in the magazine, then a submission may be in order. An unfortunate perennial circumstance is that many more people tend to send their work to any magazine than actually trouble to read the magazine with any accurate attention. We give Narrative away for free to encourage reading first.”
Lately, I’ve been getting stuck while writing short stories. I’ll be working on a promising idea with a good set-up and characters, and suddenly I’ll hit a wall. I simply won’t know how to make the story work. What do I do with this thing? I’ll think. What happens next?
This is a lonely feeling. After all, if I, the writer, don’t know what happens next in the story, who does?
The Internet is not helpful. Do a search on this topic, and you’ll get advice like, “Try a prompt. Where does your character like to go on vacation?” But this problem I’m having is more than just plotting. It’s about figuring out meaning.
I write first drafts quickly and then take forever editing them. The first draft is a movie in my head, the interplay between the conscious and unconscious mind, and the joy of rampant imagination and wordplay. These drafts, as you might expect, are messy. They may or may not have an ending. They may have gaps with brackets that say [fill in details]. They may start one way, shift point-of-view or tense, and then go in the opposite direction. Editing is a process of finding meaning through untangling the first draft—who are these characters, what are they doing, why did I write that, and what is the point of this story, anyway?
Meaning is tricky. You’ve got to be careful with it. You don’t want to choke the life out of your story by imposing what you think you’re trying to say onto it. That’s a shifting landscape anyway, what you are trying to say. You may not know what you think or what you believe until the fiction shows you. Every time I have tried to write a story about a preconceived moral or the Truth About Life, the story hasn’t cooperated.
Early on, a story’s meaning and rationale seem pretty obvious, but then, as I write it, I realize that I know the meaning/rationale too well, which means that the reader will also know it—and so things have to be ramped up. Einstein said (or, at least, I am always quoting him as having said), “No worthy problem is ever solved within the plane of its original conception.” … These sorts of thematic challenges are, for me, anyway, only answerable via the line-by-line progress through the story. Trying to figure out what happens next, and in what language.
This seems to be the answer to my problem: not prompts, not tricks, not the addition of new characters, but “line-by-line progress through the story.” Some writers love the careful examination that comes with the editing process. For me, editing takes patience and time, and I’m usually short on patience and time. It also faith. You have to hope that something shadowy and mysterious—that part of your brain that knows why you wrote what you wrote—will come to the rescue and redeem this gobbledygook in the form of a worthwhile story.
And of course, sometimes it doesn’t. Stories fail. There’s always risk with writing.
In a recent interview with The Paris Review, EL Doctorow said that writing is “like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” This is true, but man, isn’t that kind of a terrifying drive? No wonder writers get so anxious and despairing. But I, for one, am becoming more comfortable with this particular brand of discomfort. You can get used to almost anything in life, I guess. You just have to put your butt in the driver’s seat and hope that the headlights won’t burn out and that the road will continue to emerge. In fact, don’t think about all the things that can go wrong. Even though you know that sometimes you will drive into a cow pasture and have to turn around and go back to the beginning, and sometimes you will have to turn around multiple times before you’re through, you just have to keep going until you reach the end of your journey and pull into a full, satisfying parking job.
And then, of course, you start down a new road altogether.
As 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:
iTunes U: https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/superstition-review/id552593273
Before I started as an intern for Superstition Review, I wasn’t aware that most literary magazines and organizations send out biweekly newsletters. As I’ve become more acquainted with the literary scene, I’ve realized just how much information I have been missing. Let’s talk about why newsletters in general are so great.
First of all, newsletters are one of the best resources for compact and relevant literary information. They cover literary news, updates and advice from published authors, upcoming literary events, and articles on a wide range of beneficial writing topics.
Better yet, the information comes to you—delivered right to your inbox. Other sources of information such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader are useful, but newsletters allow you to get the information as soon as it is published. Most newsletters are monthly or biweekly, so they won’t ever crowd your inbox.
Most importantly, they’re free! And who doesn’t like free things? Especially free things that help you to become a better writer, be involved in a network with successful authors, and stay up to date in the field.
Over the last few months I have subscribed to over 20 newsletters not only to improve my own writing skills, but also to take advantage of all the beneficial, interesting, and free information. Here are my top 10 newsletters. They are my favorites because they have consistently provided fresh and useful information along with dependable resources.
- Poets & Writers http://www.pw.org
- Poets.org https://www.poets.org
- The Paris Review http://www.theparisreview.org
- The Review Review http://www.thereviewreview.net
- The Nervous Breakdown http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com
- Tin House http://www.tinhouse.com
- Creative Nonfiction https://www.creativenonfiction.org
- Willow Springs http://willowsprings.ewu.edu
- Five Points http://www.fivepoints.gsu.edu
- Kenyon Review http://www.kenyonreview.org
And of course I recommend our own newsletter here at Superstition Review. Even my own mother subscribed recently. So join our mailing list by clicking here.