Guest Post, Kristen Arnett: “I Come From a Family” Writing and Rewriting Familial Truth in Fiction

These words open our work, even if they’re not explicitly stated. Our fiction holds characters that come from all types of homes. We conjure blended families, multi-generational households, ones that contain fostered and adopted children; we’ve got queer families, racially diverse backgrounds, and created homes with loved ones of our character’s own choosing. There’s no limit to what we might come up with. Our characters are defined by these families. Their backgrounds tell us how they overcome crisis and trauma, or how they ultimately succumb to it. Even if we’re not writing about a character’s family, it’s always there, lurking in the background like a horrible upcoming family reunion. Characters come with domestic baggage.

Here’s where things get tricky. The intimate backgrounds of these characters can often extend from our own. Sometimes this is on accident – perhaps a family legend falls into the narrative; the time your father angrily emailed KFC because he hated their new commercials – but it can also be done with malice. Conjuring stories gives us a wild kind of freedom, and how nice would it be to get that thing on paper that’s been bothering you for years?

paper-family-1313628At a recent Tin House workshop, Dorothy Allison talked about writing truth in fiction. She discussed its hardness and its necessity; told us all to “write like a hammer.” These realities struck the audience silent – we’re all attempting to create something greater than ourselves in our work, something that will stand as testament that we were here and took up space. Dorothy expounded on this concept, shouting that it didn’t matter if something honest was hard to hear, because “it’s true, therefore I have the right to scare the shit out of you with it.” Everyone nodded in agreement; after all, the scary stuff is where we find the real meat of our work. After saying this, however, her tone softened. She stared out at the audience, made eye contact with nearly everyone, and said, “but truth is not a defense against destroying people.”

I went home from Tin House and thought about this a lot. I write fiction and essays, and I admit that sometimes the line between those two gets a little smudged. So much of what I am is because of who I was; the people who raised me and what my home was like. I write about Florida, I write about my queerness, and I write about the church. I write to know who I am now, and I keep writing because I am never the same person as I was the day before. My family is part of that process because I am incapable of maintaining an identity separate from them. It would be tantamount to carving up my body and saying, well, I am mostly just this thigh meat and the neck part. It can’t be done.

Fiction isn’t truth, but it contains elements of it. How we write is informed by our environment. I look to my parents and their traditions, and sometimes I say, there’s fodder here for something that once hurt me. Writing about it helps me look at all the sides of these issues – I can look at how they informed me, but I can also better see my own role in them: how I dealt with them at the time, what I took away from those experiences. Coming back from the work shop, I look at these instances in my writing and ask: what’s the ultimate cost of disclosing them?

Dorothy closed out her work shop panel by telling us that “you are trying to put something on the page worth what it cost you to put it on the page.” For myself, I took this to mean that my writing is not a way to exorcise demons. It is a way to confront established ideas and reassess them. In my quest for honesty in my work, I am saying that I require honesty from myself before I expect it from anyone else. I am saying that in order to write, I must look at the world I inhabit and understand that I am not the god of it. I live here, but so does everyone else. What I must do in my writing is take a hard look at how I write about family and decide if it rings true; not insert harmful narrative because I want to push it away from me. That’s the most truthful way for me to write fiction.

And yes, my father did email KFC – but he won’t mind that I told you about it. Just try not to bring up the Colonel; he’s still a little touchy about it.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Kathleen Winter

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

kathleenwinterhsKathleen Winter’s collection Nostalgia for the Criminal Past won the 2013 Texas Institute of Letters Bob Bush Memorial Award for a first book of poems. In 2012 the book won the Antivenom Poetry Prize and was published by Elixir Press. Her poems have appeared in Tin House, The New Republic, AGNI, Field and Memorious. Work is forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review, Poetry London and Alaska Quarterly Review. She was awarded fellowships by Vermont Studio Center and the Prague Summer Program, and will be the Writer-in-Residence at the James Merrill House in January 2015. She teaches writing at Napa Valley College.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

Guest Blog Post, Brooke Passey: Top Ten Literary Newsletters

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.

  1. Poets & Writers http://www.pw.org
  2. Poets.org https://www.poets.org
  3. The Paris Review http://www.theparisreview.org
  4. The Review Review http://www.thereviewreview.net
  5. The Nervous Breakdown http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com
  6. Tin House http://www.tinhouse.com
  7. Creative Nonfiction https://www.creativenonfiction.org
  8. Willow Springs http://willowsprings.ewu.edu
  9. Five Points http://www.fivepoints.gsu.edu
  10. 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.

Guest Post, Frances Lefkowitz on Frances Lefkowitz

franceslefkowitzFrances Lefkowitz is the author of To Have Not, named one of five “Best Memoirs of 2010” by SheKnows.com. It’s the story of growing up poor in San Francisco in the ’70s, going to the Ivy League on scholarship, and discovering the downside of upward mobility. Her stories and articles are published in The Sun, Tin House, Blip, Utne Reader, Good Housekeeping, Whole Living, Health, GlimmerTrain Stories,  and more. She has received honorable mention twice for the Pushcart Prize and once for Best American Essays. Frances now lives, and surfs, in Northern California.

 

Frances

Let’s start with the obvious question. How can you call these things essays? They read more like prose poems or flash fiction.

Frances

I let other people decide what they are, where they should be shelved. I’m not trying to cause trouble or blur borders, but right now my writing is coming out in little blocks of text that tell a story and some of those stories are true and some are made up. The two pieces in this issue, “Mine Sounded Like an Earthquake” and “Thorns” are true stories, which, I guess is another way of saying “essay.” And since they’re about me, we could even call them “micro memoir” or “personal essaylettes” or . . . ?

Frances

Do you ever get accused of being a poet?

Frances

Occasionally, but I always deny it. Recently I read at an event with Ishmael Reed; he approached me afterward and asked if he could publish one of my “poems.” I was honored but confused. Part of the reason I don’t think I qualify as a poet is that I know so little about poetic forms, and the old-fashioned nitpicker in me feels that a real poet should be able to write a cinquain or villanelle—or at least be able to recognize them.

Frances

OK, enough about categories. Let’s talk about self-absorption. As the author of a memoir (To Have Not), numerous personal essays, these new micro-memoirs, and now an interview with yourself, how can you defend against this charge?

Frances

For the record, I would like to point out that at least my fiction is not thinly-veiled autobiography. When I make things up, they’re not about me. Otherwise, my defense is that I see myself as a sort of Everywoman. So it’s not that my hobbies or heartbreaks are more interesting or important than anyone else’s. It’s that they are in many ways representative. I never called my book a memoir (here we go again with categories) until the publisher labeled it so. But I still describe it as not so much about me as about my take on the world. I use myself as a guinea pig, to explore how money, say, or lust, or geology, or striving, or other facts of life play out on a person trying to make it in this world.

Frances

Sounds lofty.

Frances

Nah, it’s just telling stories.

Frances

So you don’t set out to write about a social or psychological issue? In “Thorns,” for example, did you start with the idea to write about how love fades, and how the fight against that fading leads some people to extremes?

Frances

Not at all. I don’t start with an idea at all. I start with the urge to tell a story. Sometimes I don’t even start with that much; I just have a voice that’s demanding to speak, and the story unfolds as I let her speak. Later I can switch brains and see a theme or statement, but at the time I’m just following urgency. But the urgency is there precisely because the feeling or situation is universal and compelling, is much larger than myself.

Frances

So, write the story, then see what it’s about.

Frances

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Meet the Review Crew: Bri Perkins


Behind every blog is a blogger. They are the unspoken authors of the internet that filter in a constant stream of news into your RSS Feed. As a Social Networking Coordinator for Superstition Review, Bri Perkins has learned first-hand just how challenging that job can be.

Working with a small team, Bri helps to maintain and write for the SR blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, which can include everything from interviews with esteemed authors to email correspondence to creating the latest trending topic. A resident night-owl, Bri usually can be seen tweeting in the wee hours of the morning or slumped over a keyboard asleep.

Having never really experienced the editorial process and the inner workings of a publication, Perkins applied to Superstition Review in hopes of getting hands-on experience in the literary world. Since then, her taste and exposure to art, literature, and writing has grown exponentially. Now a fan of Tin House and Ploughshares (and of course SR), she has developed a love of fiction and short stories. Her favorite readings range all the way from J.K. Rowling to Flannery O’Connor to the labels on shampoo bottles.

Bri is quickly approaching the finish-line of her undergraduate degree at ASU. Studying the unique combination of English and Psychology, she found she had a passion for the anatomy and physiology of the body, and in particular, the human brain. After graduation, she is planning to take a gap year to travel and read, which will be something new for a girl that has been barely beyond Arizona state borders. She subsequently plans to attend medical school at Midwestern University where she will study to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine, and ultimately, a neurologist or neurosurgeon. Bri hopes to translate the underlying themes of the liberal arts into the science realm in order to take a more well-rounded approach to healthcare.

Bri is 22 years old and is a Glendale, Arizona native. She loves overcast and rainy days, which are a rarity in the Valley of the Sun. She has no children and no husband, but she keeps the company of four very lovable mutts and one very fluffy kitty. Perkins currently works as a technician (also known as a Genius) at Apple fixing iPods, iPhones, Macs and iPads. She also volunteers as a Research Assistant at ASU’s Cognition and Natural Behavior Laboratory where she is studying the effects of shared space on productivity, and the effects of physical interaction on mental faculty and memory. Bri also works as a Psychology and Writing Tutor with the STEM/TRIO program on the ASU West Campus, which focuses its efforts on providing support for first generation and minority students.

Meet the Review Crew: Interview Editor Erin Caldwell

Each week we will be featuring one of our many talented interns here at Superstition Review.

Erin Caldwell is the Interview Editor at Superstition Review, an undergraduate English major, a nanny, and a barista. After her graduation form ASU in May, she plans to go on an extended whirlwind national tour playing bass guitar with her band Dogbreth. During her tour of the US, Erin hopes to complete a collection of poems and short stories that are expected to be printed by local Phoenix press, Lawn Gnome Publishing. Right now, Erin’s main career goal is to create extracurricular writing workshops and literary magazine programs for children and teens in rural and urban areas.

Living through a nomadic childhood, Erin found a sense of stability in her book collection. A lifelong fan of fiction and poetry, her favorite books as a child were The Phantom Tollbooth and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Her tastes have grown to include works by Truman Capote, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, JD Salinger, and Joyce Carol Oates. If she had to choose one book to read for the rest of her life, it would probably be To Kill a Mockingbird or Nine Stories. Drawing upon these influences, Erin writes essays, stories, and poems based on her own experiences.

Her favorite aspect of the small-press literary world is being able to read work from famous authors and emerging writers side-by-side. Ploughshares, Tin House, and The Believer are her top magazine picks. Through her time with Superstition Review, she will get to interview new and established authors printed in such publications. These conversations will give insight into the literary world by the people living in it.

Is Pushcart Pushing Out Online Publications?

Graphic courtesy of Perpetual Folly

With every new year comes a new edition of the Pushcart Prize and with it, the names of publications and pieces lucky enough to grace its pages. Known for compiling submissions from small presses all over the world, Pushcart has created a high standard of quality that authors and literary magazines alike hope to achieve. Perpetual Folly has released a ranking of Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Poetry submissions published in the Pushcart by each literary publication for 2012.

While some notable names like Tin House, Poetry, and Ploughshares grace the top spots, some new faces have also joined the ranks. The rankings are a great way to discover new publications and revisit some familiar magazines. You can also see rankings from 2010, 2009, and 2008.

The Pushcart Prize, known for its prestigious spot on the small press altar, has come under recent criticism for its narrowed scope. Pushcart editor Bill Henderson wrote in his introduction: “I have long railed against the e-book and instant Internet publication as damaging to writers. Instant anything is dangerous – great writing takes time. You should long to be as good as John Milton and Reynolds Price, not just barf into the electronic void.” There’s an excellent article about this comment in Luna Park, but we’d like to add our thoughts as well..

Publishing has come a long way since the days of stone tablets. Digital media has become a rapidly evolving field that is changing the way we consume literature. While some literary magazines have already converted to online platforms, other notable publications stand by their steadfast printers and traditional paper mediums.

The Pushcart’s bias against online publishing is apparent: only one submission from an online publication was printed in the 2012 Pushcart anthology. Pushcart had long been known for incorporating the best of the best small presses, but if it continues to disregard online publications, it will no longer be representative of small press publishing.

While not all online magazines uphold the same rigorous editing procedures of their print counterparts, many maintain traditional practices of print journals, with the only change being that they are free and immediately accessible.

We can understand Henderson’s argument to some degree. Online publishing, after all, is a double-edged sword. Often, editing is sacrificed in the name of immediate publication. An author can write a sentence and hit submit without a second thought. It can lack the craft and artistic value that many unplugged authors have spent years honing. However, online publication also opens doors to high-quality work. Connecting in a digital environment increases accessibility,  eliminates physical printing constraints, and fosters collaboration and community. We have to ask ourselves, how long will Pushcart continue to ignore the growing field of online lit mags?