Today we are pleased to feature Thomas Gresham as our Authors Talk series contributor. He takes the time to discuss his work “Iris.” Touching on many aspects of his writing, he details the impetus for writing the piece and his mental process in developing it in addition to many other topics. His varied discussion demonstrates organic sources of creativity and an inside look at how literary fiction is developed.
Writing the piece for a monthly reading event, Thomas draws on his real-life experiences weaving in themes of time as he contemplates how “we talk about the past while the past is happening” in events of tragedy and violence. Considering modern issues of mass violence and domestic abuse, he reflects on the feeling of being “trapped in the horror” of hearing bad news and applies the idea to concept of recalling such events where things begin “fading in and out of memory.” However, through this grim focus on violence in its many manifestations, he seeks to emphasize the phenomenon of “negative things resulting in positive things” which stems from his own worldview. His discussion shows writing’s complicated process and varied influences.
Today we’re proud to feature James McAdams as our twenty-fourth Authors Talk series contributor.
As James so succinctly puts it, this Talk encompasses “a few things I find very promising and distressing about writing and publishing in the year 2016.”
These things include:
–the steadily decreasing word count max on internet publications, and how this shifts stories and their aesthetics;
–flashy lead sentences vs starting out slow, and the challenges of getting published while keeping artistic vision;
–and how art impacts technology generally – which, as James so rightly notes, is the way it’s always been.
His is a smart, necessary conversation, and especially interesting to consider through the lens of online literary magazines like SR. As one illustration of the depth of this Talk, there were more quotes than usual that couldn’t fit in this introduction, all of them articulate, clever, and representative of the flavor of the whole podcast. As another illustration, the following lines describe some of the issues James speaks about with typical thoughtful consideration:
“There’s literally so much amazing writing being published out there that we can’t read it all; we literally don’t have the time, and it’s anxiety-inducing to think about all the great stories and magazines and multimedia installations on the web that I’d love to know about…. And this makes me feel guilty about saying, ‘you should, out of this vast library, select my story to spend your precious time on.’”
More About the Author:
James McAdams has published fiction in decomP, Literary Orphans, One Throne Magazine, TINGE Magazine, Carbon Culture Review, per contra, and B.O.A.A.T. Press, among others. Before attending college, he worked as a social worker in the mental health industry near Philadelphia. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Lehigh University, where he also teaches and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth.
About the Authors Talk series:
For several years, we have featured audio or video of Superstition Review contributors reading their work. We’ve now established a new series of podcasts called Authors Talk. The podcasts in this series take a broader scope and feature SR contributors discussing their own thoughts on writing, the creative process, and anything else they may want to share with listeners.
Years ago the catchphrase “What Would Jesus Do?” became popular, abbreviated to WWJD, and I have to confess I was always a bit leery of this mantra as a guide for life, considering that Jesus, albeit an admirable fellow, came to the kind of untimely demise that we would all rather avoid. I think my attitude to the WWJD phenomenon was also colored by how the Christian conservatives in my neck of the woods (a Colorado mountain town) seem inordinately fond of firearms. There’s a Christian resort above my home on Hermit Mountain, and more often than not what you hear from that direction—instead of the lovely sound of choirs singing angelic hymns—is gunfire. A target range is one of their most popular “activities.” That’s caused me to wonder “What Would Jesus Shoot?”—a question that may be logical, but also sounds a bit blasphemous. I know the answer as to Who: no one.
But as I’ve been writing a novel for about three years (and which is almost complete, thank you very much), and as I spend most of my time writing novels now, I’m often lost in a reverie of “What would he/she do?” You come up with a situation that seems interesting—an autistic boy being held hostage by a substitute teacher, though he’s not really being held and he’s not really a hostage you have to read the book—set the plot in motion, then imagine what would really happen. That really is the kicker. What would really happen implies an epistemological attempt at Realism, about which I don’t give a fig. But then again, I don’t want to be phony, or to write phony fiction. This is one thing when you’re describing what a substitute teacher would offer her student to drink if he rode his bicycle over to her house (Dr. Pepper? lemonade? vodka?). It’s another thing when you mix in the substitute teacher’s disgruntled ex-husband, who still pines for her, but who is so misguided that he expresses this lost love by watching her windows from a perch in the trees behind her backyard.
With this guy, I sense the looming shadows of a violent climax and conclusion, and I resist it. Although I know that violence occurs all the time in the world, I don’t want to insert it just for drama’s sake. Recently the news has been dominated by the terrorist killings in Paris, and closer to home, a mass-shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs—a city I often visit, not far from here. These acts of violence may be “senseless” in a general way, but if you knew the tangled, misguided emotions (anger, resentment, fervent beliefs) of the perpetrators, I imagine you would be able to understand the mayhem. That’s part of what novelists do: tell a good story, hopefully an important one, and imply some understanding. While contemporary writers tend to be big on implication, some of the greats weren’t shy about that role of understanding: I’ve been rereading Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869) lately, and when describing the importance of the Battle of Austerlitz, he just comes out and tells you. So there.
Still I admire those who can tell a complex story without making the meaning explicit. Cormac McCarthy excels at depictions of gruesome violence, mayhem that usually occurs in a world with a moral center, even as it questions this morality. There’s a famous quote about McCarthy’s vision of the West in Blood Meridian (1985) as being one of regeneration through violence. For my money, McCarthy gives us a vision of the horrible reality of the frontier West, with civilizations locked in battle, and you figure out what it means (perhaps not unlike our own times.)
That brings me back to the novel I’ve been writing, and whether to “go rogue” or not. Much as I admire McCarthy, I don’t want to paste a McCarthyesque ending onto my novel just because I like what he does. Part of originality is offering your own (hopefully captivating and interesting) vision of the world, and for my money, a Coen Brothers goofball is more pertinent to my imagination than McCarthy’s Judge Holden—or, the flip side of that coin, Jesus. As most movie buffs know, The Big Lebowski (1998) is a great tragicomic film, leaning heavily toward the comic. Yes, Steve Buscemi’s “Donny” does die of a heart attack while he and his bowling buddies are being attacked by nihilists in a parking lot, a scene that includes John Goodman’s “Walter” biting off one of their ears and spitting the bloody hunk into the air, but most of the film conforms to expectations of classic comedy: It presents a (somewhat manufactured) plot problem—Bunny Lebowski is sham-kidnapped—that is resolved happily (the frisky sex kitten Bunny returns to her mansion home, and exits off-stage naked in a swimming pool, her sports car wrecked in the fountain). The thing is, for all its fantastic moments—Sam Elliot as the Stranger appearing magically in the bowling alley bar, beside Jeff Bridges as the Dude—The Big Lebowski never seems phony. Many contemporary novels (on the best-selling list, often) depict violence that just seems fake. Maybe I have a lingering touch of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield in me, in that of all things, I can’t stand a phony.
So in those fictional moments of when push comes to shove, I don’t wonder what Jesus would do (merciful, compassionate, all-suffering) and no, I don’t think what Jeff Lebowski would do (weed-addled, harmless, stoner-charming) but what my character would do, really do, given the particular jamb into which he/she has fallen. But all that said, I’ll admit that the Dude is certainly more up my alley than the Big J, or any of McCarthy’s great characters, either. The trick is to imagine compelling personalities, and have them do something memorable, even if it’s groveling, as in the Coen Brothers Miller’s Crossing (1990), when John Turturro is on his hands and knees, begging his would-be executioner (Gabriel Byrne) to spare his life: “Look into your heart.” Which is, now that I mention it, always a good idea.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a vodcast by Elisabeth Lanser-Rose.
Elisabeth Lanser-Rose is the author of the novel, Body Sharers (Rutgers University Press, 1993) and the memoir For the Love of a Dog (Random House 2001). Body Sharers placed among the top five finalists for the 1993 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for Best First Novel. She teaches in the International Baccalaureate Program in Palm Harbor and is writing a collection of dating stories, The Naked Australian and Other First Dates. Recent publications include fiction and creative nonfiction in The Tampa Review Online, Sweet: A Literary Confection, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, and Ascent Literary Magazine.
Art Editor Samantha Allen is a senior at ASU majoring in English with a concentration in fiction writing. After graduating in May, Samantha plans to teach English abroad before pursuing an MFA in fiction. She is currently working on her first novel and a series of short stories and hopes to begin publishing her work next year. Samantha believes that art in all its forms is an essential expression of what it means to be human, and she is happy to have the chance to promote art in a digital world. This is her first semester with Superstition Review.
Click here to watch Samantha read an excerpt from one of her stories.