How does the day find you, readers? It finds us supremely excited, as we’ve got some great news for you. The wonderful poet and friend of the Superstition Review, Colleen Abel, recently was crowned the victor of Sundress Publications Chapbook Contest for 2016, and as is often the case with these contests, everybody wins with the release of her upcoming chapbook “Deviants,” which is available FOR FREE over at Sundress Publications’ website, found here.
Regarding “Deviants” Victoria Chang writes:
“Colleen Abel’s wonderful book, Deviant, is mesmerizing—once I began, I couldn’t stop reading. The speaker provides a moving account—sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes wry, and oftentimes both—of what it means to be ‘fat’ in this world. The central piece is called ‘Fat Studies’ with references to sociologists and humorous pieces about Jackie Kennedy. Ultimately, Deviants is a beautiful book by a talented writer on material so many of us can understand and relate to, but oftentimes don’t have the opportunity to read in this form.”
Staci R. Schoenfeld, the judge for the Chapbook Contest, writes:
“In Deviants, ‘The eye alters all that it falls on.’ And the eye is everywhere—in every poem and in the lyric essay, ‘Fat Studies.’ There is no escape, even in the darkness: ‘It’s true I like you better in the dark. / Deep dark. Where I can’t even see your face.’ And the eye is keen in its appraisal. What it sees is what is most often offered up for alteration—the female body. The poems and the lyric essay all deal in issues of body. These bodies are not, however, places of comfort and safety. Instead the body is dangerous: ‘My heart is not a heart, it is a little nest of razorblades. I look soft, but if you touch me, your hands will be instantly pulverized, as if you had slammed them into concrete.’ Or the body becomes something to escape: ‘If it helps, I don’t want to be myself / either—to slip out of this body when / when you enter, to exchange within the puff / of magic smoke my life for another. / Leave me other.’ The body is in turns stark and lush and finally ‘the body / is a planet you tilt / on its axis spinning.’ Deviants left me both spinning and altered. It made me want to say, Thank you for helping me understand.”
Check out the full press release from Sundress Publications here.
Download, read, and be as inspired as we find ourselves by Colleen Abel’s “Deviants.”
Greetings, readers! One of Superstition Review’s favorite writers, the incredibly talented Geeta Kothari, has a new collection of stories titled “I Brake For Moose,” which is being published this coming February by the lovely Braddock Avenue Books. Geeta was featured in the Nonfiction section of our 11th issue of The Superstition Review with her piece titled “Listen,” available for your reading pleasure here.
If you find yourself in Pittsburgh, make your way over to the City of Asylum on February 16th with Asterix Reading Series (details here).
If you’ve already spent all your airfare budget, “I Brake For Moose” is available for preorder at the Braddock Avenue Books website, located here. Buy one! Buy seven! You’re going to love it, we already do.
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.
If you’re going to be in Washington, D.C. for AWP 2017, here’s something to keep in mind: Catherine Pierce, winner of the Saturnalia Books of Poetry Prize, will be participating in an offsite reading along with several other authors published by Saturnalia Books. This will take place on the 9th of February 2017.
To read her poem that was published in Issue 8 of our magazine, click here.
You can also check out some of her other poems on her website.
I start out wanting to write a Blog Post for Superstition Review. I want to make it funny. Knowledgeable. Relate-able. The reader should laugh and think “I would like to talk with this writer.” All great writing is getting people to think they know you, that they would want to talk with you.
But I have no idea what to write about. I just graduated from college and that is about as boring and overdone a topic as any. I might as well write about golfing, or about the time I played flag football at a local park and discovered I am not the sort of person who should be playing flag football at a local park.
I like to write, but have written nothing of tremendous value. That isn’t fishing for compliments, just speaking objectively. Therefore I can’t offer advice to writers, though I have in the past done this very thing and, to this day, I still feel guilty about it. My writing is not terrible and has made some money in academic contests but I know, what everyone knows, but no one likes to say, that undergrad academic contests aren’t worth anything except the prize money. So I can’t write about being a professional writer, because I am not a professional writer.
I’ve had great experiences through my time as a Blogger/Non-Fiction Editor/Student Editor in Chief at Superstition Review, but others, in ways I cannot top, have written about those very experiences for this very Blog. Others, in ways I have yet to mimic, have taken those experiences and grown because of them. I have been to a writing conference but already have, in a previous post, beaten that horse to death with a very small club. I have been to AWP but spent more time touring the city than touring the Book Fair (shameful, I know, but who could have guessed I was to fall in love with cold beautiful grey Minneapolis?).
Bloggers tell you to write what you know, to relate to your audience through what you know. Good with dogs? Write about dogs. Write about how finishing a short story is similar to teaching a new puppy how to piss outside. It’s all about consistency. Go on a lot of hikes? Write something about the writing process and compare it to hiking a new trail, a harder trail than usual. It’s all about persistence. But my dog still sometimes pees on the living room rug, and the last trail I hiked ended with a whimper, not a bang. I thought maybe I could write about how to make the world’s best macaroni and cheese, but then I remembered, halfway through that ill fated blog post, that the best mac and cheese I ever had was made by a girl named Beth one drunken night six years ago at a friend’s house where we were all drinking wine out of plastic red cups and that recipe, like my connection to Beth, was completely lost after that night.
Telling me to write about what I know has always been a sort of cruel task; because I want to write about what I don’t know, and about that which makes me question my sense of authority. I am reminded of a writing professor who, in a soft rant against ‘trigger warnings’, asked our small workshop circle “Isn’t getting triggered the point?” For me, it goes like this: isn’t admitting you don’t know the point?
Here’s what I don’t know: the value of writing and whether or not I am a writer. I have loved books from a young age and can point to moments in my life that were shaped directly by the works of Salinger (specifically his collection of short stories revolving around the Glass family), to Tolstoy’s War and Peace (one of the first books that genuinely made me want to be a better person) to Dubliners by James Joyce which made me first think about becoming a writer. There are more recent examples, as well. In Matt Bell’s Scrapper there is a scene, where our protagonist finds a stolen boy and the snow is falling overhead, and where I, the reader, was so completely transported into that scene that my heart skipped a beat. But the more I work on Social Media for my job, the more I interact with other readers, with other writers, the more new books and new styles of writing I read, the more the doubt inside me grows. As valuable as stories have been to me, how can we properly value them? There have been blog posts in the past about how writers should be paid, for their stories, their poems, and that magazines shouldn’t expect writers to be content with just getting published. But can we really make that case? I would argue the opposite. That now in this sea of media, where everyone, through so many mediums, has the ability to share their voice, the value in stories is dropping or, at the very least, leveling off in an over saturated market.
This makes me doubt my writing. Do I really just want to be another voice in the market? Is there anything I can say that someone couldn’t say better? I honestly don’t know. That’s why I wanted to write this blog post, because I have no idea. What I see, through Social Media, are countless writers celebrating the fact that they are just writing. And this gets me a little depressed. It isn’t enough that we are just writing. It isn’t enough that we can take photos of our notebooks next to coffee cups and filter the image to look antique and post it. Perhaps this is the result of working in a book store and seeing just how many books get published and how few new writers actually get read. It isn’t enough that you have a story to tell. But now I am giving advice to writers, which is something I already said I wasn’t going to do. So let me stop while I am ahead.
Here’s where the title of my blog comes from: I saw Ira Glass perform at the Mesa Arts Center a few years ago in the show “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host.” It was one of my favorite things I have ever seen and in that performance, Ira Glass quoted a friend who said “when we choose to be with one person for the rest of our lives, we are choosing the person we will spend the rest of our lives falling in and out of love with.”
I think it’s safe to say I’ve fallen out of love with writing. Like any great relationship, falling out of love makes me think of our earliest moments. I remember the first real Creative Writing class I had, where the teacher wrote the words “blue boot” on the whiteboard and asked us, rhetorically, what we were thinking of in that moment. Of course the answer was: a blue boot. Wow, the teacher said quietly, isn’t that amazing? Just by putting two words together, an image was created in our mind. What if, instead of a boot, we did that with a town? Instead a town, a world? Instead of a world, an emotion? What if, through words, we could create the idea of love, of loss, of fear, inside our reader? Wow, all of us students quietly said to ourselves.
This is all to say I still love reading good work. There were two writers I met at Bread Loaf whose writing I loved. One of them had already published a book and I read it in a matter of days. The other one hadn’t published a novel yet, but was certainly almost finished with their first draft. I look up their names every now and then in the usual places. Linkedin. Twitter. Instagram. They aren’t there. They don’t exist on Social Media and this makes me so goddamn happy. Now I can tell myself that, wherever they are, they are focusing on their work. Nothing else. And that one day soon their next book, their next story, their next finished product is going to be put out into the world, and whatever they have created with their words will be stirred within me.
This semester, I had the opportunity to be a trainee for Superstition Review, and when they announced a group of interns would be traveling to LA to AWP, I didn’t hesitate to join them in their adventure. Even though I wasn’t 100% sure what AWP really was, I knew I heard of it before in some other conference. I’ve heard that thousands of writers go there to meet, to talk, and to share their love for written words.
For someone who can barely pronounce “literary,” going to AWP was more than a fun and glamorous trip to LA. This was a great opportunity to interact with different writers and publishers from all over the world. I had a lot of firsts: it was my first experience with Uber (great storytellers). My first time in my 30’s sharing another room with girls I barely knew, who at the end of the first day I was lucky enough to call them my friends. When you share a passion like writing, becoming friends is easy, unproblematic, and so natural that it seems a little magical. And life sent me the best roommates I could ever ask for, Jess, Alexis, and Leslie! And I realized that when a passion unites us, age doesn’t matter.
It was also my first time in a book fair with more than 800 exhibitors. Even though at the beginning, my mind compared it with the Phoenix Women’s Expo, but with authors, literary magazines, and MFA programs, it soon became overwhelming and a little challenging to see it all. However, I was still able to learn new things. I learned there is a bilingual press here at ASU, how did I not know this? I obtained information on MFA and literary presses from around the globe. Also, from the book fair I got different freebies, including enough tote bags to give away to my entire family, and a t-shirt that I was able to use in a non-planned 5k race on Saturday morning. I also was able to start my own pin collection.
One of the best parts of AWP (besides having the compulsive feeling of wanting to buy every book, and wondering if the next J.K. Rowling is in the same room) was being able to represent Superstition Review in different ways: at the table giving information about the magazine, being engaged on Twitter documenting our AWP experience, and basically at every moment during the conferences interacting with people. The greatest thing about representing Superstition Review is realizing that I’m luckier than I thought I was, being able to work with Trish, founder and pretty much the soul of the magazine who has attended 13 different AWP conferences, is rewarding and inspiring. I was only for a few hours at the s[r] table, but during that time I had multiple people come by and ask about her; they wanted to meet her, they were excited and honored to be published in Superstition Review, they were grateful to be read and heard.
Besides the book fair, there were more than 500 readings and panels. One of the advantages of having multiples panels to choose from is that you can invest your time in topics that really matter to you and contribute with your own ideas. One of the panels I attended to, was Latinos in Lotusland, where I was able to share my opinion about Frida Kahlo not being “cool” in Mexico anymore and I shared my opinion on staying true to our own voices and to not follow what it is “cool” on the market. And my favorite part of this is that I was heard. I was reminded that even though I come from a different culture and I speak another language, I have a story worth telling and that I should never stop my writing spirit.
For many writers, AWP is a reunion; an excuse to see each again, for me AWP was a warm welcome to the literary world. It was like I was being told, “Welcome Ofe, welcome to the literary world where you really belong.”
AWP? What’s that? My friends and family and anyone else I told about my weekend plans inquired into my LA trip plans.
Well it’s a conference for writers, basically. I replied casually and coolly as if I wasn’t a newbie.
Well, what do you do there?
Uh, like, go to panels and stuff, and buy books. Writer things.
I think so!
I’ll admit, I had slight doubts about the truth of the last statement. Did I think AWP would be interesting? Enjoyable? Worth going to? Yes, yes, and yes. However, I wasn’t sure if it would be fun, per sé, in the sense of childlike amusement, easy-going, “relax and have fun,” fun. Boy, was I wrong.
The conference was predated by a road trip, something I was a little nervous about in the beginning. I’m not good with long car trips (motion sickness), I do not pack lightly (fear of not having the right outfit for the right event is a legitimate thing), and I was travelling with two women I didn’t know really well (what do I talk about?!). However, within an hour of being on the road (and a Dramamine), my qualms melted away. We bonded quickly over shared ailments and McDonalds (oh, and of course what AWP panels we were looking forward to).
Once arrived in LA, we got settled into the lovely JW Marriott and began our trek to the convention center, which overwhelming both size-wise and architecturally (there are just so many bars everywhere). We checked in, got our badges, and even pestered a security guard into taking our photo. We were officially clocked in to AWP 16.
The next couple of days would be, for lack of a better word, an experience. It may seem cliché, but I really did learn a lot about my interests, my long-term goals, and, most importantly, myself. I had the fantastic opportunity to become friends with and grow closer to my fellow interns (and roommates during the trip), Ofelia, Alexis, and Jess, who are all beautiful, intelligent, and incredibly talented women. I grew all the more appreciative of my internship with S[r] and of Trish, the most amazing mentor probably in all of existence. I also gained much knowledge about craft, met my favorite slam poet, Anis Mojgani, and came home with two tote bags worth of swag.
So, now a AWP vet, I have compiled a list of eight things about AWP that I think anyone, first-timer or old-timer, should keep in mind:
You won’t go to all the panels you want to go to. In fact, after the first day, you probably won’t even try to go to all of those panels. That’s perfectly okay—you are human and you will probably be exhausted all week anyway. We are all taking a slight detour from real life to go to AWP, which is impressive enough, right?
It’s okay to eat at some greasy chain restaurant the first night—don’t stress yourself out trying to find a Yelp-approved, hole-in-the-wall , unique restaurant. Sometimes you end up at a run-down Hooters at 10 at night, even in LA. You’re tired, you deserve wings and cold fries!
If a panel takes a turn for the worse, don’t be afraid to skip out. AWP is about curating your own writerly education and if the panelists start arguing with each other about something completely off topic, well, you aren’t really learning anything are you?
Social media, namely Twitter, is one of the best parts of AWP—see hashtags #badAWPadvice, #AWP16, and #overheardatAWP. Not only is social media great for building your brand (look at all I’m accomplishing, everyone) and interacting with big names/presses/magazines in the industry, but it also allows for some inside humor.
Set aside at least 2-3 hours, maybe more, for the book fair. I promise it is worth your while to take your time and really pay attention to the books, magazines, contests, MFA programs, and so on that are all being offered. Don’t be afraid to talk to people at the tables either. We want to answer your questions and chat about you, your writing, and whatever else may come up. Also, if you are a poor college student, buying on the last day is a more financially viable option.
Ask questions in panels and network (if you can) with the panelists, especially in career-oriented panels. Don’t be afraid that your question may sound dumb or that you’re hair looks wonky. There is no better chance to put your name in the mind of an editor than if you give it to them directly.
Go to the AWP dance party and shake off all the stress from the day. Writers are great dancers! Also, it is free entertainment.
Remember: you are a writer. Even in the midst of so many brilliant and successful people who have accomplished more than you, you are a writer. Don’t feel intimidated!
AWP changed me, for the better. It reignited a lot of the passion I had lost for reading and writing over the past year (senioritis and personal life drama can really destroy your livelihood). I’m confident that its impact is similar on all attendees—after all, so many people continue to come back. If you’re interested in going, I encourage you to do it (and I’m not even getting paid to say this, so you know it’s a real sentiment), and if you have gone before, and will again, I will see you in D.C. Look for the dark-haired girl frantically searching for a Hooters.
This year I’m on an AWP panel called “The Poem You’ll Write Tomorrow: How to Teach Vision.” Now I can’t tell you what that poem is, so let me talk for a minute about the you who is going to write that poem. My topic is the mind of the poet, but I’m really taking about the mind of anyone who wants to be original and creative. The mind of the physicist and the chef and the cinematographer are all one mind. You have the same mind they do; it just happens that youwrite poems.
At my university, I belong to a group called the Lawton Professors. These women and men are from every field possible: chemistry, psychology oceanography, computer science. I’m the only poet, though there is one dancer. When I look at the Lawton professors as a group, my hypothesis is that they all share a condition called hypomania. As the name suggests, it’s a low form of mania. And it stays there; it never sinks into depression, nor does it soar into the kind of enthusiasm that gets you into trouble.
If you google “hypomania,” you’ll see a list of characteristics, my favorite of which is a quality called “confident curiosity.” Hypomaniacs tend to want to go around the corner and see what’s going on there, convinced that something good will turn up, that they’ll meet people who like them and will be helpful and so on. So a manic person on an airplane will start proposing to flight attendants; a hypomanic one will just sip his tomato juice and think, “Nice plane! If something happened to the pilot, bet I could fly it!”
There’s a recent book called The Hypomanic Edge by John Gartner, a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who says that, for better or worse, American energies are hypomanic; the original European settlers had to have confident curiosity to sail across the Atlantic in leaky wooden boats, and every day people come to this country who are confident that they can make a better world for themselves.
Now let me see if I can relate all this to the world of poetry while keeping it scientific. John Keats trained as a surgeon-apothecary, which means that, if he hadn’t died at the age of 25, he would have been a sort of nurse-practitioner, possibly in a small town that had no doctor. One of his teachers was the surgeon Sir Astley Cooper; there’s a procedure involving the ligation of the external iliac artery that is named after him and that any surgeon will tell you about if you ask him is he’s ever heard of Sir Astley.
Sir Astley Cooper said a surgeon needed three things: the eye of an eagle, the hand of a lady, and the heart of a lion. When I read that, I thought, the man’s right: that’s exactly what every surgeon needs. And then about five minutes later, I said, Wait: in what profession do you not need the eye of an eagle, the hand of a lady, and the heart of a lion? Without using the term “hypomania,” Sir Astley Cooper was describing that condition centuries before it was given a name
So at the AWP panel on vision, I’ll be talking about what you can do to be more of a hypomaniac than you are already. I’ll be using lots of examples: poems, of course, but memoirs, fiction, biography, even sculpture. And I’ll be fast. I’m on the panel with three brilliant women–Traci Brimhall, Natalie Diaz, and Erika Meitner– so what I really want to do is say my piece quickly and then listen to them.
Event Title: The Poem You’ll Write Tomorrow: How to Teach Vision
Scheduled Day: Friday, 4/1/2016
Scheduled Time: 4:30 PM – 5:45 PM
Scheduled Room: Room 501, L.A. Convention Center, Meeting Room Level
To admit to keeping a journal might smack of a twee sensibility, but I’ve kept one for years, and find them rather to be a necessity. These journals have long given way from their original, possibly naval gazing intent, which was to chronicle the days, and have become more useful for literary digressions, and a regular and deliberate writing about writing.
After the intense work of my MFA in 2006, I was writing a lot about process in my journal. While pursuing my degree I was writing in multiple directions creatively, and these experiments led to inquiries and writings on craft. Perhaps because in its normal guise this writing is known as criticism, it has a negative connotation for creative writers. But writing about writing seems to jiggle synapses, opening up my creativity. The beauty of writing about process is that the writing itself is often the process.
A journal, it seems, is the perfect vehicle for exploring topics in a blog. Thus, I naturally turned to writing a blog.
I’ve now written my blog for the last seven years–eleven years, if you count the one that preceded it but which I quit a few years in to go to grad school–and I’ve kept journals for much longer than that. In that time, I’ve written over 100 blog posts, most having to do with some aspect of writing and craft. Much like the critical work of my MFA, writing my blog has kept me within arm’s reach of that academic world–or at least, feeling as if I am still in the conversation.
During the AWP Conference in Minneapolis this year, Charles Baxter led a panel, “The Art of the Art of Writing,” for a discussion based on his Graywolf Press series, and it was the first seminar where I found myself writing down much of what was said. As Baxter said, “Criticism is/can be, an art.” To further make this type of writing palatable, Stacey D’Erasmo, one of the panelists, offered, “Criticism is thought, not judgment.” I was also pleasantly surprised to see this wasn’t a jam packed seminar–it was late afternoon when blood sugar levels drop–which gave me solace in that it’s one area where I don’t have to feel competitive. Writing fiction, sometimes, can feel like a competition; whereas writing criticism can be an opportunity to slow down, and to ruminate.
Maintaining a blog about writing is a great habit for writing fiction no less, and I can’t complain about writer’s block; I simply have to find the time to put in some writing, and invariably the ideas begin to flow. I actually don’t believe in writer’s block; Flaubert’s marinating is the occasion for me to write something different.
It may at first seem an odd preoccupation for a self described fiction writer to always return to writing about writing. But as I also review books, which is another form of writing about writing, the end result is a deeper appreciation and understanding–and excitement about–the process of writing. Blog writing occupies the logical part of my brain, leaving the dreamy and surreal side to flourish for my fiction.
Aware of the social network savvy-ness of blog culture, I have infrequently written a blog post hoping to garner hits. I long ago gave up trying to second guess that algorithm and instead have focused on pieces that have interested me, mainly. It’s a surprise usually to see which posts get the most hits. I would be curious to discover the site linked to my piece about short story openings–my single most read post.
I also, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, blog at a snail’s pace. I’ve never seen my blog merely as a place to post bite-sized morsels every week, though expediency has led me to these occasionally. If anything, the blog has become a practice for writing longer pieces. I’ve written a few posts that cracked 2000 words, but for the most part I’ve managed to keep them within 1000 words. I’m sure every writer has their sweet spot in a blog post, and I find 1000 words to be the perfect capsule for many of the topics I’ve written on–it almost subconsciously works out this way. Of course, these topics can be explored in longer essays, but the blog has an immediacy that lends itself to trying a subject out. I’m especially fond of E. M. Forster’s statement, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”
There’s no shortage of topics to consider, either, with the irreversible and remarkable changes in publishing over the past decade, or wide-ranging discussions of industry trends, or reviewing un-put-downable fiction. There are a number of think piece type blogs which have been resources for me, and have been models for posts I might write. The more involved with literary matters the better. (The Los Angeles Review of Books, Tim Parks’s blog at the New York Review of Books, The Smart Set, and Arts and Letters Daily are several I check regularly.) In fact, when I first began my blog, I was always surprised–and pleased–to find blogs with a similar sensibility. I couldn’t imagine this bounty if the internet didn’t exist.
In reading other writer’s blogs, I have discovered a diasporic community. So I have reached out–and been reached out to–by a number of interesting bloggers, who are all fascinating to me in their unique approaches to the medium (So many have come and gone over the years, I resist naming any here). This has led to requests for guest blog postings, and one for a serial interview when I published my novel last autumn. Though I may never meet these fellow bloggers in person, it’s been great to know we are connected in a kindred medium and subject.
Finally, one of the great rewards of this practice is that it has given me a log of my thinking over the years, a timeline in a body of work that parallels my creative output, since I’ve also been publishing fiction and reviews regularly when I can. It’s surprising to look back over the years and re-read a piece I wrote about daily writing habits, or a deconstruction on David Shields’s death warrant for the novel, or an essay attempting to describe Gary Lutz’s sentences. Having become something more than the sum of its parts, I often think that my blog is a book. One day it may very well become that.