Join Superstition Review on congratulating past contributor Christopher Nelson on his new poetry collection, Blood Aria, out now. “In his powerful debut, Christopher Nelson examines the progenitors and forms of violence in the twenty-first century, from Cain and Abel to the damming of rivers. In everyday moments, spare poems depict pain with visceral sharpness, meditating on hate crimes against gay men, a father’s abuse of his son, and children murdered in their schools.” “There is loneliness in this poetry…but there is also redemption. We see glimpses of the speaker’s quest to find and know God, seeking answers everywhere, from Spanish cathedrals filled with holy relics to withered winter fields. The poems of Blood Aria ruminate on the sacrament of passing one day to the next, asking how much it matters what we believe.”
“In meditations ranging from a child’s incomprehension of a father’s violence to the suffering of those cast out for their sexual desires to the horror of mass shootings, the poems of Blood Aria pulse with an urgency that is both anguished and exalted. And transformative. To experience poems as passionate, as charged with wisdom as these is to enter into a kind of spiritual quest.”
Boyer Rickel, author of Remanence
To order your copy of Blood Aria click here. Also be sure to check out Christopher’s Twitter and website as well as his past work in Issue 15.
Join Superstition Review in attending the COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and Transformations in the Neoliberal University webinar, held over Zoom on Wednesday, March 24th at 4-5:15pm PST / 5-6:15pm MST / 6-7:15pm CST / 7-8:15pm EST. The webinar will consist of panelists, Anthony Bogues, Rudy P. Guevarra, Evelyn Hu-DeHart, and Paul Joseph López Oro, exploring “the role of this current political moment in providing space to rethink and reimagine the role of the university and those individuals located within the university for envisioning and enacting a more socially just world. Some relevant questions include: In what ways can rethinking the structure and makeup of the neoliberal university allow us to address long-standing histories of institutionalized racism related to the lives of Black and Afro-descendant peoples in the United States? Relatedly, what role can and should the university take to address and be accountable to its historical pasts of complicity with slavery and Indigenous dispossession? How are universities, in this current moment especially, positioned to respond to the structural inequalities that have been laid bare with regard to the effect of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities?”
Lynn Sloan is a photographer and the author of This Far Isn’t Far Enough, a story collection, and Principles of Navigation, a novel, chosen for Chicago Book Review’s Best Books of 2015. Her stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Shenandoah, American Literary Fiction, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and included in NPR’s Selected Shorts. Her photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally. For many years she taught photography in the MFA program of Columbia College Chicago, where she founded Occasional Readings in Photography and contributed to Afterimage, Art Week, and Exposure.
Patricia Ann McNair has managed a gas station, served as a medical volunteer in Honduras, sold pots and pans door to door, tended bar and breaded mushrooms, worked on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and now teaches in the English and Creative Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago. Her acclaimed short story collection Responsible Adults was released in December 2020 by Cornerstone Press. McNair’s The Temple of Air received Southern Illinois University’s Devil’s Kitchen Readers Award and the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award. And These Are The Good Times was a Montaigne Medal finalist. She lives in Chicago with her husband, visual artist Philip Hartigan.
This interview is with past contributor, Patricia Ann McNair, conducted by Lynn Sloan, on March 1, 2021. It is in regards to Patricia’s new story collection, Responsible Adults.
Lynn Sloan:Patty, I’ve enjoyed and admired your work for years, so it’s a real treat to have a chance to ask you about your writing and your new story collection, Responsible Adults. Great title. It’s the title of one of your stories, but what it suggests, a bad situation where a sound, responsible adult is needed, can be applied broadly to this entire collection. Reversing those two words of the title to adults responsible also works. In these stories, it is usually the adult, the one in charge, who is responsible for the harm done. When in the process of pulling together this collection did you choose this title?
Patricia Ann McNair: Hello, Lynn, and what a pleasure to talk with you as well! I think you are exactly right that these stories and the situations the characters find themselves in ache for the intervention of a responsible adult. That was something that became clear to me as I started to put these pieces into a binder to see what they might look like as a collection. I hadn’t finished the story that the title Responsible Adults comes from quite yet, and in a way that has never happened before, the title for the collection came to me before I had a story for it. I just liked the sound of it, Responsible Adults, especially as I thought of it in regards to the relationships in the stories. “Who is responsible here” can have a different meaning from “Who is responsible for this?” One implies a sort of blame, an insinuation of guilt, the other assumes that someone is in charge. Each of these ideas speaks to my stories in some way, so, yeah, the title stuck with me. And then I had to find one of my unfinished, untitled stories that might make use of those two words as well. A sort of backward approach for me; I usually like to find a title that has surfaced organically in a story and can do double duty for the collection. But this time the title asserted itself into and onto the book.
LS: Most of your stories involve parents and their children. Though swift and taut, almost all of your stories cover an arc of many years, even when the present moment of the story lasts only a few minutes. In “Good News or Money,” an adult daughter calls her estranged father and leaves a series of phone messages. In “Responsible Adults,” the narrator says, “Time was something stretchy to me, long and short, short and long.” Can you talk about time in your stories?
PAM: I have always admired the kind of story that makes the reader feel as though the world of it existed before the first line, and will continue in some way after the last one. So as a writer, I need to establish a sort of continuum of time in the pages. Funnily enough, I usually do that through breaking the chronology of the story. A character—if we are trying to make them human—in any given moment has other moments behind them, and more ahead (usually, that is, unless we are talking about Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain,” for instance). I like to visit those moments that are outside of the story, as a character would. “Good News or Money” features a seventeen-year-old girl who carries a lot of crappy memories that she is unwilling to let her father forget, so she excises them in her phone message. The story is meant to read as though it were happening in real-time, pauses and interruptions and all. And time is something stretchy to me, too, perhaps in this historical moment it is to all of us. In “What Girls Want” I especially jump around in time, in narrative distance, and this is partly because of the way the narrator is willing—and not—to admit their involvement in things, in the lives of others. His self-awareness evolves, his confessions are difficult and sporadic, his culpability spans years.
LS:In several of these stories, the relationship of care or responsibility is outside the family—a cop in “Serve and Protect,” and a teacher with her own troubles who faces a difficult teenage student in “Regarding Alix.” You teach writing, you’re a professor, you know the complications and limits of responsibilities of a teacher. Did that make this story easy to write or hard?
PAM: “Regarding Alix” is one of the more autobiographical stories in the book (although all of them have some part of me, some memory or observation or emotional tug of mine). In that sense, it was easy to write because of the closeness I had to the situation of teaching a group of teen-aged writing students at a boarding school. It was right after 9/11. During, really; our first day of the semester was September 11. Making that setting and using that tension—the overwhelming sadness and worry we all felt—apparent on the page was not too difficult. But I am interested in this idea of the responsibility of teachers, perhaps especially right now while we all have to renegotiate the way we teach and interact with our students. There was some of that when the towers went down, too. So much was out of our control, out of the control of our students. It is amazing to me that we survive these things, but we usually do. This current crisis is ongoing, and every day we hear about how students are suffering, struggling. And I can’t help think about us, too, the teachers. We are expected to be the responsible adults here, some would say we are paid to be. And yet, as in “Regarding Alix,” we are not always fully equipped to make things better. I think I veered away from the heart of your question there. Easy to write, maybe, but hard to do. Hard to shoulder my (our, their) responsibilities and to admit my (our, their) failings.
LS: One of my favorite stories is “What Girls Want” in which the dad blows up a suburban version of the American dream during an afternoon barbeque, alienating forever his wife and young daughter. But it’s his relationship to a neighbor kid, the boy who asked him, “What do girls want?” who later exposes the irrevocable damage the dad has done to himself. I loved this. How did you decide to use a secondary character in such a pivotal way?
PAM: Some years ago I saw a man I had known in college on the train. He, like I, was nearing middle age, and was a very different human than he was when I knew him. He had been an odd and sensitive kid in college; the man on the train was out of it, rocking and smiling and overdressed for the summer day in a heavy coat. He was a bit of a mess, actually. I carried that image with me for a long time; I saw him more than once, he didn’t remember me, I could tell. I looked for him whenever I was on that line at the end of the day. I suppose I knew I wanted to write a story about someone like him. Someone who gets lost as they become an adult, who migrates quite a ways from the nerdy, weird, interesting young person they were. The first draft of “What Girls Want” started with my recreated character on the train, but that wasn’t working. I needed to explore how he got there. I imagined him as a child, as someone that was both smart and annoying, in that way kids can be especially to some unaware adults. So I had to create a flawed, unaware adult. From there I let the character—Gregory—be more of a wrench than the gears of the story. His role was to mess things up for the main character—or at least to give the main character someone to blame for the things he messes up. The heart of the story is the stepfather/daughter relationship, and Gregory provides a sort of triangulation that pulls at that, creating an uneasy balance.
LS:People act badly in your stories and they harm others, others who rely on them. While your sympathy, and ours, is with the harmed, you also make us understand the anguish of those who cause the damage. At what point in writing do you explore this side?
PAM: God, we all make mistakes, don’t we? I don’t know about you, but every time I do something stupid or harmful (usually without intention) I hold so much guilt about it! I try not to be afraid of admitting when I mess up, but I also want to figure out why I do, and maybe try to explain it to whomever I have messed up against. I know I start making a story with an awareness of trouble, of bad behavior. That trouble happens before I can figure out much else, but it is never enough on its own to make a very good story. The people I know, the people I grew up with, the adults who were responsible in my life (and weren’t) are multifaceted. They misstepped, they fell and hurt themselves, maybe fell on someone else in the process. But that doesn’t always mean they shouldn’t be able to try to get up and step again. Even as I make my way through this answer, I am aware that there are folks I really do believe don’t deserve a second chance or our understanding. People who were recently in charge of so much, did so much damage. Some part of me does not believe that they are capable of change or betterment or even self-reflection. But in the everyday way of things, people screw up, and in my fiction, I believe it is important to consider why that might be, or what the consequences of the bad behavior might be on the doer, or how they might change because of it. In fiction—maybe more than in life, is this true?—the bad guys need to have more depth than just their badness. In fiction, characters must suffer their wounds. We, their writers, and they, the characters, owe that to the readers.
LS: As a writer who is always reaching for the next challenge, what comes next?
PAM: Well, immediately what comes next is surviving this semester of remote instruction. While I am teaching, it is hard for me to sink into the work I want to do, the writing of things other than assignments in a learning management system, comments on student work, complaints in my journal. This has always been the case for me, not just during this pandemic. But! But in just a few weeks I will turn my attention back to the work of a novel-in-progress. I am working on a story that takes place in a lake community in the seventies. There is infidelity, race issues, abortion, nosey neighbors. A sort of wet Peyton Place, you might say. Thank you for asking!
To order your copy of Responsible Adults click here. Also, be sure to also check out Lynn Sloan’s website as well as Patricia’s website, Twitter, and past work in Issue 3.
Join Superstition Review in congratulating past contributor, Kelli Russell Agodon, on her forthcoming book, Dialogues with Rising Tides, out April 27th. Kelli, in this poetry collection, “facilitates a humane and honest conversation with the forces that threaten to take us under. The anxieties and heartbreaks of life―including environmental collapse, cruel politics, and the persistent specter of suicide―are met with emotional vulnerability and darkly sparkling humor. Dialogues with Rising Tides passionately exclaims that even in the midst of great difficulty, radiant wonders are illuminated at every turn.”
“Kelli Russell Agodon’s poems in Dialogues with Rising Tides, her strongest book to date, navigate everyday anxieties and dramatic questions of life-or-death with equal doses of pathos and humor, reminding us that our choices in a world of chaos add up to something, reminding us of the responsibility to ‘care for our ghosts.’ Her interior world is lined with fragments of family tragedy while her outer world confounds her, the rising tides of environmental collapse, not a metaphor but a reality. Her oceanic views of the world teeter on the edge of a cocktail or a gunshot. Funny, sad, and a perfect read for unsettling times.”
Jeannine Hall Gailey, author of Field Guide to the End of the World
To pre-order your copy of Dialogues with Rising Tides click here. Also, be sure to check out Kelli’s website and Twitter as well as her past work in Issue 3.
Join Superstition Review in congratulating past contributor, Elissa Washuta, for her forthcoming book White Magic, out April 27th. Elissa, in this collection of essays, “writes about land, heartbreak,… colonization,…life without the escape hatch of intoxication, and… how she became a powerful witch.” “She interlaces stories from her forebears with cultural artifacts from her own life—Twin Peaks, the Oregon Trail II video game, a Claymation Satan, a YouTube video of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—to explore questions of cultural inheritance and the particular danger, as a Native woman, of relaxing into romantic love under colonial rule.”
“Elissa Washuta’s newest collection of essays is coming out in 2021—and they may be exactly what you need right now.”
O, The Oprah Magazine
To pre-order your copy of White Magic click here. Also, be sure to check out Elissa’s website and Twitter as well as our interview with her in Issue 17.
Join Superstition Review in our congratulating past contributor, Heather Altfeld, on her new book, Post-Mortem. This poetry collection, an already selected winner of The 2019 Orison Poetry Prize, spans across ages, cultures, and species, as it celebrates this planet as well as all human kind’s creations. Altfeld in her collection is expansive in both her material and style, with her use of many different poem shapes, including “prose poem sequences, sestinas, kaddishes, and obituaries,” and her wide ranging topics, such as “mythical creatures, historical lives, or contemporary culture.”
“An extended meditation on language, an atlas of the visible and the invisible, as well as a memorial book to all that is lost and will be lost to us, Post-Mortem is a brilliant, baroque, and word-crazed collection of poems. While the primary mode of the poems is elegiac (many taking as their forms obituaries, autopsies, and kaddishes), one cannot help but delight in Altfeld’s reverie and in the breadth and depth of her inquiry, her exploration, her katabasis as she leads us like Virgil through a stunning and elaborate posthumous world.”
Eric Pankey, judge of The 2019 Orison Poetry Prize
Join Superstition Review in congratulating past contributor, Peter Ho Davies, on his new book, A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself. Tracing “the complex consequences of one of the most personal yet public, intimate yet political decisions a family can make: to have a child, and conversely, to choose not to have a child”, this novel tells of a “first pregnancy… interrupted by test results at once catastrophic and uncertain” and a “second pregnancy [that] ends in a fraught birth, a beloved child, the purgatory of further tests—and questions that reverberate down the years.” Peter, in his novel, asks and explores the questions, “When does sorrow turn to shame? When does love become labor? When does chance become choice? When does diagnosis become destiny? And when does fact become fiction?”
“A brilliant book about modern marriage and parenthood, about choice and its fallout, that is hilarious and devastating, both true-to-life and a comforting fractured parable for our time.”
Elizabeth McCracken, author of Bowlaway
To order your copy of A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself click here. Also, be sure to check out Peter’s website as well as our interview with him in Issue 19.
Join Superstition Review in congratulating past contributor, Susan Wingate, on her forthcoming book, Bobby’s Diner, out March 31st. Winner of The 2020 Best Fiction Pacific Book Awardand the first of a series,this suspenseful fiction novel explores the themes of life, love, death, grief, pain, loneliness, and redemption, as it details “a woman trying to find herself in a town where nobody wants her.” The story follows Georgette Carlisle who, fifteen years ago, went to the town of Sunnydale and fell in love with Bobby, who was not only “the owner of a diner named after himself, but… was also married.” Bobby has now died and “left his restaurant to both women.” However, trouble ensues as a Zach Pinzer begins to want the property for his own project and “is willing to kill to get what he wants.”
“A breathtaking story that will fill you with joy and laughter, Bobby’s Diner is a great read for any book lover.”
Coffee Time Romance
To pre-order your own copy of Bobby’s Diner click here. Also be sure to check out Susan’s website and Twitter as well as her past work in Issue 1.
Join Superstition Review in congratulating past contributor, Pete Stevens, on his new chapbook, Tomorrow Music. Winner of the Map Literary Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award, Pete’s collection of short stories is rhythmically written, exploring the topic of yearning for more than you have and falling for an illusion.
Tomorrow Music is aptly titled. These stories pound out futuristic polyrhythms, propel us hurtling through time. Pete Stevens has a unique voice and a rich imagination, and the work in this short volume is melodious and vivid and very much alive.
Join Superstition Review in congratulating one of our past contributors, Dinty Moore, on his forthcoming book, To Hell with It: Of Sin and Sex, Chicken Wings, and Dante’s Entirely Ridiculous, Needlessly Guilt-Inducing Inferno, out March 1st. In response to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, Dinty, in his novel, contemplates religion and the feelings of inadequacy it can cause, through a use of various religious texts, stories from his own life, reflections of his childhood, and religion’s own influence. In doing so, Dinty explores the questions of what “the world be like if eternal damnation was not hanging constantly over our sheepish heads” and why “we persist in believing a myth that merely makes us miserable?”
“Dinty W Moore might say, ‘to hell with it!’ But he doesn’t mean it. He’s too good for that, and too funny—Kurt Vonnegut funny—and even with his head in a bucket of county fair chicken, too wise to tempt the fates. To Hell with It is a madcap, deep, hopeful, absurd, learned, solemn, silly, and somehow redeeming look at the hell we make for ourselves, the hell the world offers, and the heaven to be found if only we look in the heart of each of our hearts, plus cartoons!”
Bill Roorbach, author of Life among Giants
To pre-order your copy of To Hell with It: Of Sin and Sex, Chicken Wings, and Dante’s Entirely Ridiculous, Needlessly Guilt-Inducing Inferno click here. Also, be sure to check out Dinty’s website as well as our interview with him in Issue 3.