SR Pod/Vod Series: Writer Lori Jakiela

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

Lori JakielaLori Jakiela is the author of two memoirs – The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious (C&R Press, 2013) and Miss New York Has Everything (Hatchette, 2006) – as well as a poetry collection, Spot the Terrorist! (Turning Point, 2012), and several poetry chapbooks. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Brevity, KGB BarLit, Hobart and elsewhere. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, the author Dave Newman, and their two children. She teaches in the writing programs at Pitt-Greensburg and Chatham University.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Writer Lynda Majarian

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

Lynda MajarianLynda Majarian earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona (home to one of the country’s leading graduate writing programs) and has had several short stories and essays published in print and online literary magazines including The Faircloth Review, Eastlit, Narrative, PIF, Superstition Review, Marco Polo, Thin Air Review, and Spelunker Flophouse. Her short story, Postscript to Cloud Nine was a runner-up for a short fiction prize by England’s Stand magazine. Lynda formerly wrote articles and essays for Seven Days magazine, and her work has also appeared in The Burlington Free Press and Rutland Herald newspapers. She left a lucrative career in public relations to become a college English Instructor. Her teaching experience includes nearly seven years of teaching Creative Writing, Introduction to Literature, Introduction to the Novel, and English Composition at Community College of Vermont, and two academic years teaching oral and written English composition skills to both undergraduate and graduate ESOL students in Shenyang and Shanghai, China, respectively. She is currently writing a memoir about her experiences living and working in China.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Writer Adrianne Kalfopoulou

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

Adrianne KalfopoulouAdrianne Kalfopoulou has had her work appear in print and online journals including Hotel Amerika, World Literature Today, ROOM magazine, The Broome Street Review, Web Del Sol, VPR (Valparaiso Poetry Review) and Fogged Clarity. She lives and teaches in Athens Greece, and is on the faculty of the creative writing program at NYU. Adrianne written a poetry collection, Passion Maps (Red Hen Press), and her collection of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Life, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in September 2014.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Writer Lee Martin

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

Lee MartinLee Martin is the author of the novels, The Bright Forever, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, River of Heaven, Quakertown, and Break the Skin. He has also published three memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones, and Such a Life. His first book was the short story collection, The Least You Need To Know. He is the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council. He teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Writer Jill Christman

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

Jill ChristmanJill Christman’s memoir, Darkroom: A Family Exposure, won the AWP Award Series in Creative Nonfiction, was first published by the University of Georgia Press in 2002, and was reissued in paperback in Fall 2011. Recent essays appearing in River Teeth and Harpur Palate have been honored by Pushcart nominations and her writing has been published in Barrelhouse, Brevity, Descant, Literary Mama, Mississippi Review, Wondertime, and many other journals, magazines, and anthologies. She teaches creative nonfiction in Ashland University’s low-residency MFA program and at Ball State University in Muncie where she lives with her husband, writer Mark Neely, and their two children.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

s[r] Goodreads #FridayReads

This week on Goodreads.com, we shared a review from our Nonfiction Editor, Julie Matsen.

Organ PipeOrgan Pipe: Life on the Edge by Carol Ann Bassett

The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument seems to be a forbidding place
for many, but Carol Ann Bassett invites readers to see the desert here as a
place of solitude and tranquil refuge. Here, Bassett introduces readers to the
monument’s rich history, from the centuries-old cacti to the prehistoric
Hohokam, from early twentieth century miners to post-9/11 Border Patrol agents.
Humans as characters are rare in this book; rather, the main soul we are
introduced to is the land itself, and the main action is a listless meditation
on finding self in the desert. She remarks in her final chapter, “We come
to the desert to understand things that are outside of ourselves, yet after a
while, we are forced to look inside, to find those precious sanctuaries that allow
us to be truly alive while truly alone.” Life in an environment like
Arizona has the tendency to make native readers like me take this desert
landscape for granted. Bassett is able to transfigure familiar landscapes into
an entity that is at once foreign and wondrous.

You can read Carol Ann Bassett’s Walking with Giants in s[r] Issue 4.

Guest Post, Julie Matsen: What Makes Me Stop

Julie MatsenThe external process is simple enough. An aging laptop fires up Submittable at my treadmill desk. I begin walking, and I wait for a story to make me stop.

Whether I stop reading or stop walking is up to the author.

Of course, the nuances of reading nonfiction submissions for a lit mag like Superstition Review are more complex than that. For one thing, I am not the only one making the decisions. I am one of four editors who work with nonfiction, including two professors and two student editors.

The other editors and I look for a variety of things that make us feel strongly about a piece. Whether those strong feelings are positive or negative are discussed at our weekly meetings, where we make decisions about the fate of certain pieces. We tell each other what made us want it, what made us dislike it, what kept us going until the end of the piece. We decide, as a group, whether to accept a piece right then and there or to ask for certain revisions.

Most of the time, when we want to accept a piece, we email authors and ask them for the latter. Copy edits and typos seem to be the main concern, and we occasionally get formatting issues. We try not to accept pieces with major flaws.

Every so often, there comes a story that breaks my heart.

Sometimes it’s wonderful as it is, and we are prepared to accept it with or without revisions. When we email the author, the response is less than what we wanted: Simultaneous submissions are pulled out from under us by faster editors. We are told that the story is no longer available.

Sometimes authors don’t want to accept revisions, thinking their story is perfect just the way it is, as if the piece is a small child with a fragile ego. I understand the desire to hold on, the personal nature of someone telling you that your kid is going through a rough puberty. All of us are writers too. The thing is, if you want a story to reach that grown-up phase that is publication, you have to be willing to let it grow beyond you.

Other times, there are stories with so much potential hidden behind standard words, potential that I wish could just be pulled out through computer screens to make this piece a great one. By happy coincidence, these seem to be written by the authors who are willing to listen to their stories and to their readers. Standard sentences become elevated, stories get stripped down or built up (or both), and characters become flesh in print form.

Every so often, we get a piece that has simple words arranged in just such a way that I can’t help but stop walking. There are those essays that make me understand my mother, with her squamous cell cancer scars and her books on estate laws, a little better. There are essays that gives me a glimpse past my father’s stoic face at his own father’s funeral, singing baritone gospel songs in a minor key that were the favorite of the dead man at the front of the room. One essay in particular reminds me of a time when I got lost in Berlin, completely cut off from the one person in the group who actually spoke German besides the obligatory Danke schoen and Wo ist die… um… sprichst du Englisch?

Some of my favorite stories from this round of submissions have made me reflect on my own experiences, sharing a snapshot of the writers’ lives that is at once universal enough to be widely appreciated and personal enough to make me stop in my tracks and just read.

s[r] Goodreads #FridayReads

Last week, April Hanks, a member of s[r]’s advertising staff, submitted a review to our goodreads.com page.

The ConditionThe Condition by Jennifer Haigh

Jennifer Haigh frequently delves into the complexities of family life by placing her characters in difficult situations. The Condition is no exception. This nonlinear novel begins with a young family, the McKotches, on vacation. Fast forward 21 years and the family has been torn apart by illness, divorce, and secrets. With seamless transitions between past and present, The Condition is the story of this family and how they got to their present state.

The diagnosis of daughter Gwen with Turner syndrome is the catalyst for the family’s dissolution. Haigh writes about this condition, as well as other biological facts, with ease and effectively incorporates them into the novel without seeming weighty. However, Haigh’s novel defies norms because it is not centered around Gwen’s illness. The novel is more interested in how the family interacts with one another and deals with the circumstances they are in.

Family dynamics lie at the heart of this novel. Although the characters all live separate, distant lives, they are connected by their family bond. To some extent, each character is trying to escape their past while simultaneously being pulled back to it. The Condition gives a realistic portrayal of a family whose children have already left home and the struggles involved in keeping that family together. Each chapter is narrated by a different member of the McKotch family and these narrations are woven together with interactions between the characters.

Like most of Haigh’s work, not everything is resolved by the end of the novel. Each member of the family continues to remember their history differently based on their perceptions and misconceptions. But this is only appropriate for a novel that reflects real familial interactions. Jennifer Haigh understands the discrete complexities of familial relationships and has crafted a novel that will leave you thinking about your own family.

An interview with Jennifer Haigh appeared in s[r] Issue 11.

Available on goodreads this week, a review by our content coordinator Bianca Peterson.

Bigger Than LifeBigger Than Life: A Murder, A Memoir by Dinah Lenney

Dinah Lenney’s Bigger Than Life: A Murder, A Memoir is both cleverly written and moving as she reflects on her father’s murder, the aftermath, and the complex relationships between the two father figures in her life—her biological father and her stepfather. Lenney uses a mix of present and past tense to both reflect on the events and take her audience back in time to the moments they occur, allowing readers to experience the events alongside her. The technique creates an emotional connection between Lenney and her audience as instead of merely baring witness to her past feelings of pain and loss.

She begins with a prologue with the subtext “Eliza Wants to Know,” detailing the curiosity of her oldest child and her own anxiety of finally telling her children the truth about their grandfather’s death. From here, the pieces slowly fall into place as Lenney begins to drop details concerning the murder before bringing the audience back in time to the day she first received the phone call from her half-brother.

What ultimately makes Lenney’s book so compelling is that it is a story not only about loss, but also the aftermath of loss and the path to healing. Lenney’s story doesn’t come to a close after the full details of her father’s death are revealed, but years later when she finally begins to heal from the ordeal. Furthermore, the novel comes full circle as she returns to the dilemma introduced in the first chapter: telling her children the truth about their grandfather’s death. Moving and highly compelling, Lenney’s strength transfers to the reader as they make the journey with her.

Dinah Lenney’s piece Object Parade: Coffee Table appeared in s[r] Issue 5.

Guest Blog Post, Elane Johnson: For the LOVE of the Language

Elane with FrappuccinoAs many writers know, we have to get a “real job” in order to keep those Strawberries & Crème Frappuccinos ® coming because those things ain’t cheap, and my thighs aren’t going to get fatter all by themselves. Wait a minute. That’s clearly not true. The longer I sit here doing jack, the more thunderous my thighs become. But I digress.

 

A real job. That’s where I was. There are many careers for which a writer would be a good fit, but just because we would be good at something doesn’t mean we should do it. Sure. I’d be the most celebrated WalMart manager south of Canada, but then I’d have to come home and self-flagellate at night to atone for the murder of my brain cells. So most writers without a multi-volume book deal about zombies coming of age during the apocalypse do that thing we do, which is teach.

 

I’ve many, many years of teaching under my tight belt, and there have been thrills and laughter and heart-warmth and breakthroughs and achievements and success and enormous paychecks that compensated me well for the services I’ve provided. Except for that last part. That’s bullshit. Anyone who teaches knows. Teachers—even those with an M.F.A. in creative writing—get paid squat to impart our wordsmith’s knowledge to hordes of students who may or may not capitalize the personal pronoun I. Yet we continue because A) We love our language and its beauty. B) We care about the success of our students. And C) Those Frappuccinos ain’t going to buy themselves.

 

The English language—while it is the most difficult of all the languages in the world to learn because of its plethora of rules and exceptions and integration of foreign words—thrills me with its lyrical malleability. My father and I played games with grammar all my young life so that I came to appreciate the ways in which a writer may play with the poetry of English. And my own children have blossomed in the linguistic soil their grandfather tilled. My younger daughter delights in learning and sharing new words. She recently dropped this one on me: Apricity. The word sounds lovely, and its meaning slays me. It is a perfect example of how the English language proffers just the right word for any instance. In this case, “the warmth of the sun in winter.” Isn’t that just breathtaking?

 

I rushed to the window that morning—the first of which in weeks the sun had finally burned through the snow-thick clouds—to luxuriate in the apricity.

 

Yes, yes. I know it’s an obsolete word and that we’ve moved on to such accepted terms as homie and vajazzle, for God’s sake, but still. Our language is a living entity, forever evolving (or devolving, it appears). But thank goodness our language throws back some of the “new” words that end up in its net, such as the words some of my students create because they learn primarily through hearing instead of reading. The most common, of course, is should of. Because those two words sound just like should’ve, it’s an oft-made error that makes me want to poke out my eyes with dull sticks. In the last week of grading papers, I’ve come across mind bottling and world wind romance. Lord, help me, but what the hell?

 

Aberrations like these are an affront to writers-who-must-be-teachers-in-order-to-eat everywhere! We poor, struggling souls toil like cats in a sandbox in our attempts to improve the writing skills of our charges. But c’mon! There is no excuse for college students NOT to capitalize I or to think that pit bulls have a “killer instant in them” or that “taking something for granite” means anything! The least that our students can do is to read, read, read excellent models of our language so that they can experience and emulate the right way to write (not the “rite way to wright”). And bringing us a Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino once in a while couldn’t hurt either.

Guest Blog Post, Bruce Cohen: SIGNS

Bruce CohenMost of us would be lost, wandering around aimlessly, without signs. Enter, exit.  Push, pull.  Take a ticket.  Some people who know me might say I am an inflexible rule follower with no sense of adventure or humor, but I have a wild streak.  For example, I walked up to the convenience store and considered the sign: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.  So I took off my shirt and spray painted my upper torso black but the cashier threw me out despite my protests.  What constitutes clothes?  Must they be made of cloth?  I mentioned that Lady Gaga wore a gown made of raw meat.  My argument was shown to the curb, so I rapped on the glass door until another minimum wage attendant shuffled out and I inquired if flip flops and tank tops were acceptable.  He shrugged, not seeming to have a problem with that wardrobe choice, so I went home to put on some real clothes, came back and bought my energy drink, two unlucky lottery tickets and read the front page of the scandal sheet while standing in line, which technically is probably illegal, since I wasn’t going to buy it, but what are they going to do?  They can’t make what’s in your mind or what you see illegal, can they?  Technically it’s probably stealing but is it really?  Plus, there’s no rule (or even a sign) that states that your eyes must remain forward while waiting for the cashier to make change.  Some women have eyes in back of their heads, but I don’t want to go down that road.  Also, because of this digital age, part time cashiers are terrible at basic arithmetic and fewer and fewer can even make proper change in their heads.  My bill was $7.43 with tax so I gave the girl a ten-spot and three singles and she acted flummoxed, horrified and said I had given her too much money.  She seemed angry with my explanation that I just wanted a crisp five dollar bill and a few coins as though that was somehow more taxing for her brain.  She reached under the counter for a calculator and freaked out when she discovered the batteries were dead.  I hate to have singles crowd and clutter up my life and wallet.  Plus, I am an active political advocate for abolishing the penny.  Ironically we should all stash our pennies till they become obsolete and then they will be worth something but if everyone does it they will continue to have no real value.  Life is filled with such ironies and paradoxes.

 

I am the last person in America to not have automatic deposit or an ATM card, at least that what my friends say, not my real friends.  My real friends know who I am and don’t judge.  The idea of paying bills online is so beyond me I believe more in the feasibility of time machines or the lost continent of Atlantis.  Besides, I like going to the Post Office and picking out the various specialty stamps.  I especially love the jazz musicians and famous poets and baseball legends.  Every other Thursday, when I get my paycheck, I drive over to the bank.  Often I am the only customer in line.  I remember back in the good old days there would be long lines on Thursdays and it was almost impossible to find a parking spot and people would grow impatient and eat their lunches while fidgeting in line but now the tellers look bored and are more friendly, welcoming the few patrons who actually come into the bank and they know each of us by our first names.  There is a sign on the door that I believe is not so subtlety directed at would-be bank robbers that I don’t remember verbatim but the gist of it is that it’s against bank policy to wear masks, hoods, sunglasses or anything that covers your face when entering the bank.  Footnote: when a man walks into the bank wearing a Ninja Turtle mask it’s a safe assumption that he also is carrying a gun unless it’s Halloween and he has fake nun chucks.  It says it’s for the safety and comfort of all patrons but everyone knows the deal.  Plus, there are cameras all over.  Nothing is secret in America anymore.  You can’t get away with anything.  You can even get speeding tickets when there are no cops around.  They put microchips under babies skin the instant they are born and the government, of course, can trace are whereabouts by our cell phones.  Some convenience stores have signs over the lottery tickets that say the premises are under recorded surveillance but I don’t believe it.  I think the sign is just for show.  Fake cameras with no film.  Scare tactics so you don’t stick-up the joint. And out of human compassion, they offer an 800 number to call if you think you have a gambling problem.  So, in summer I put on more clothes for the convenience store and in winter I take off my warm head and facial gear to cash my checks.  I love how the world dictates how I should dress.  It’s nice that there are dress codes that are designed, in essence, to protect us from harm and health hazards and signs everywhere, when to slow down, when to inform us deaf children are at play, when to beware of dogs, when the seedy hotel, indeed, has a vacancy.

 

The fancy-schmancy restaurants dictate that I wear the appropriate attire and in the olden days they had spare crass sport jackets for men who came ill suited (get it) for dinner.  I went out to a restaurant for my birthday, not my real birthday but my family birthday, and printed in bold letters on the menu was a directive that I should tell my server if I had any peanut allergies.  I was curious why it was linguistically phrased as though one could have more than one peanut allergy.  I called the waitress over and excused myself but said shouldn’t the menu say “a” peanut allergy because I was confused how a person could have more than one peanut allergy and she asked if I was telling her that I had a peanut allergy and I told her I didn’t, that it was a grammar, not a peanut, issue.  When I was a kid, no one used to have peanut allergies but now it’s swelled to epidemic proportions.  And every other person must be Glutton Free.  What happened?  A sore leg is now a stress fracture and being lazy and disinterested is an Attention Deficit Disorder.  There used to be no such thing as anxiety or depression; you were just blue, down in the dumps.  There must be something to this modernization of naming things.  In fact, it’s poetic, as poetry was originally “the naming of things”.  I learned that from my poetry teacher way back.  Our society is becoming more poetic.  Yeah!  So the waitress blinked multiple times, overly dramatic, as though she wanted her eyelashes to inform me I was being a dope.  She told our table she’d be back to take our drink orders in a minute.  It’s nice that they don’t want folks unknowingly consuming stuff that would make their throats swell, turn their faces bright red and make them gasp for oxygen during their meals but what if you don’t know about your peanut allergy until you consume peanuts in their restaurant.  So much in life is nobody’s fault.  I won’t even go into the fact that for some reason, on the back page, it says I should tell my server if I am lactose intolerant or to inform the manager if I require special service.  I always want special service; that’s the idea.  At the finer restaurants the servers don’t wear name tags.  I guess they figure you don’t care about the plebian’s name or that the patrons are smart enough to remember the server’s name when they introduce themselves.  On the drive home, I notice there are no more stationary billboards only electronic gizmos that change their messages every twenty seconds and traffic signs that alert us on the highway about delays and accidents and there are Amber alerts for kidnapped children. I want to know less, not more.  That’s what I want.

 

When I was a kid, not that I believed in God or anything, but churches were serious places, no sense of humor or fucking around.  Now the clergy try to be clever, comedic in a way that might guilt you into attending services with signs like: “I don’t know why some people change churches; what difference does it make which one you stay home from?” or “There are some questions that can’t be answered by Google,” or my favorite slogan, cloaked in Anti-Semitism: “Christmas: easier to spell than Hanukkah.”   I guess all the clergymen got together at some convention when they experienced a major drop-off in church goers and said we need a new strategic plan, a marketing brand.  Comedy works and maybe we should be more inclusive while we’re at it.  Nah, just kidding…I wonder if the banks will succumb to comedy to make would-be robber chuckle and decide not the stick-up the joint.  Smile: You’re on Candid Camera; We Can Use This Same Photo for Your Mug Shot! People don’t take things seriously enough anymore, but then again we don’t really have stuff like the Black Plague and Leprosy and Concentration Camps but in their stead we do have unstable, unemployed college drop-outs who live in their parents’ basements and gun down children and entire populations without clean drinking water and a world that makes it illegal for people who love each other to be legally married.  And let’s not forget suicide bombers and doomsday anti-government preppers.  Maybe they know something.

 

I love those stories of love letters written by a lovesick teenage draftee in a foxhole during a war that never reached the intended person and shows up half a century later, having been accumulating dust in some dead letter bin.  The Post Office makes a valiant effort to deliver it, news station cover the event, cameras galore, but alas, the woman is usually long dead and the story evolves into the fantasy of unrequited romanticism.  We want to believe such rare love still exists.  We want to believe the written word has that power over us.  The woman leaves for a short errand and never returns to her Paris apartment so the mail carrier returns the next day with the letter to nobody home and a half century latter some great granddaughter inherits the dusty, untouched farm house and enters it and finds a primitive Van Gogh and handmade toys from Germany and first editions of the Great Russian novelists.  On the door was a hastily scribbled sign: “Back in an hour”.  I guess the ultimate sign is that which one wants etched on his gravestone. My poetry teacher, on his deathbed, whispered to me what he wanted: Never Mind.  I guess that sums up life with an exclamation point and makes people realize you can develop a sense of humor even after you’re dead.