Editorial Preferences in Fiction: Spencer Litman

One of the most important realizations of my life was that people are not one way, that they often do and say conflicting things not out of malice or to deceit, but because it a necessary part of the ever-changing human condition. There is a sort of dialectic behavioral therapy that must take place within all of our minds when we consider that good people can do very bad things and bad people can do very good things. This is the dynamic nature of humanity. It is unavoidable. It might be the only unchanging and shared characteristic of humanity.

And it is for this reason that I am drawn to literary fiction. There often isn’t a clear line between good and bad. The characters in literary fiction make terrible choices and deal with the repercussions. As a reader and editor, I want to read stories that sink deep into these chasms between right and wrong, stories that teach us something about what it means to be fallible and imperfect. I want to read stories that challenge me, that make me so angry I hold my breath until the final sentence, so sad that I think of the characters long after I finish the stories. I want to see myself and my flaws laid out before me. I want to read narratives that do not pass judgement but present a situation and ask me to consider a point of view I may never have arrived at myself.

Literary fiction is a conversation between all of the writers in the world, constantly arriving at theses only to have them blown up and reordered by the next. Show me a side of humanity only you can construct, the things that make your perception unique.

But above everything, I want to feel something. I want to finish a story, let take root in my brain and change my long-held beliefs. Whether it is characters, setting, plot, language, form, it doesn’t matter. The stories that stick with me are the ones that make me think about life in a way I couldn’t or wouldn’t. This is the goal of fiction, and this is the fiction I want to see adding to the literary conversation.  

Spencer Litman is the fiction editor for Issue 23. He is a fiction writer and essayist living in Phoenix with his wife, Kristine, and his two children, Jayden and Aubrey. He is finishing his undergraduate degree in English with a creative writing concentration and hopes to attend an MFA program somewhere cold, with pine needles and snow.

Editorial Preferences in Nonfiction: Ellen O’Brien

There are two qualities that every good nonfiction story – every story that stands out to me, every story that I can’t stop thinking about, that I enjoy rereading again and again – shares, and those qualities are intentionality and subjectivity.

Intentionality is about construction. I want to read stories that are expressed with clarity and ease, stories in which each scene serves a purpose in the narrative and each word perfectly captures the scene the author wants to convey. Intentional writing is simple and unforced. An intentional story has everything it needs to feel complete, nothing excessive, unresolved or unnecessary.

I come from a background in journalism, and the newsroom is where I’ve gotten some of the best writing advice for news articles and for creative nonfiction alike. An editor recently told me: I don’t want obvious details, I want poignant details. Tell me what moved you, what caught your attention: those are the details I want to read. Another editor’s advice: don’t be afraid to declutter a story. Cut scenes or details that don’t serve a purpose or that don’t ‘spark joy’, in the parlance of Marie Kondo.

The second quality, subjectivity, is about content. I don’t just want to know what happened, but how it affected the author. No two people see the same event or person or place the same way, and I want to feel a writer’s unique perspective. I want to know: how was she affected by the events in the story? What relationship does she have with the people and places in the story? Where do they fit in her personal narrative?

Our relationships make us human. We change and define ourselves in relation to them, and we seek connection with and acceptance from them. Our subjectivity makes us human, too. We can never experience what it’s like to be anyone other than ourselves, but stories allow us to imagine and to empathize. That’s what I want out of a good story: not just to know that something happened, but to feel how it affected the person who experienced it.

Ellen O’Brien is the nonfiction editor for Issue 23. She’s a senior at Arizona State University pursuing a double major in journalism and philosophy with a minor in Arabic. She’s passionate about photography, literature, foreign policy and epistemology. After graduation, she plans to pursue a job in photojournalism or news editing and to attend law school.

Contributor Update, Terese Svoboda: Great American Desert

Terese SvobodaToday we are happy to share news about past contributor Terese Svoboda. Terese’s new short story collection Great American Desert is to be published by Mad Creek books. The collection has found its home in the new genre of ‘cli-fi’, or climate fiction, as it explores the relationship between man and earth from the past to distant future.

The collection launches at the Corner Bookstore on March 26th at 6 pm in New York City. Terese will be in Phoenix to teach a workshop at Pipers Writing Studio on April 20th.

S[r]’s author interview with Terese can be found here, and her short story “Madonna in the Terminal” can be found here.

Congratulations Terese!

Contributor Update, Jenn Givhan: Trinity Sight

Today we are thrilled to share news of past contributor Jenn Givhan. Jenn’s debut novel, Trinity Sight, is available for preorder from Blackstone Publishing, and will be published October 1, 2019. The novel, inspired by indigenous oral-history traditions, takes a new spin on dystopian fiction. Jenn’s characters are confronted with dueling concepts of science, faith, modern identity and ancestral tradition as they attempt to understand how the world fell apart.

The book is available for preorder here.

Congratulations Jenn!

#ArtLitPhx: MFA Student Reading Series: Kalani Pickhart, Elliot Winter, Tucker Leighty-Philips

artlitphx

Date: February 7, 2019
Time: 8:00 p.m., come early to grab a drink or snack and mingle!
Location: The Social Hall (715 S McClintock Dr) Tempe, AZ

Event Description:
Calling all lovers of poetry and prose! Join English’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program for the first semester of a special 8-part reading series featuring brand new work from ASU graduate students. Each reading will highlight two to three students at The Social Hall, a new destination bar and restaurant in Tempe. Do yourself a favor and support the arts by taking a night off to enjoy some of the best work our community is producing.

Featured Readers for this Date:
Kalani Pickhart, fiction
Elliot Winter, poetry
Tucker Leighty-Philips, fiction

Contributor Update, Matt Bell: Conjunctions: 71, A Cabinet of Curiosity

Conjunctions Issue 71 coverToday we are happy to share news about past contributor Matt Bell. Matt’s short story, “Fur, Bark, Feather, Leaf, Faun,” is upcoming in Conjunctions: 71, A Cabinet of Curiosity. About the issue, the description reads:  “Curiosity in all its guises is the wellspring of revelation. It is a prime mover behind our deeds, good or evil, simple or complicated. While the thirty-one writers gathered here individually explore many of the ways in which curiosity drives and defines us, together they propose that the realms of curiosity are, finally, inexhaustible.”

Conjunctions: 71, A Cabinet of Curiosity is available for preorder through the Bard College here. Shipping will begin by the end of November, 2018.

Our interview with Matt can be read in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.

Congratulations, Matt!

Contributor Update, Karen Bender: The New Order

The New Order book coverToday we are pleased to share news about past contributor Karen Bender. Karen’s collection of stories, The New Order, is out now from Counterpoint Press. The New Order has been listed as “1 of 10 Books to Be Thankful for This November” by O, The Oprah Magazine, as well as “1 of 34 Fall 2018 Books We Can’t Wait to Read” by HuffPost. The New Order is available for purchase at Counterpoint Press here.

Congratulations, Karen!

You can read our interview with Karen in Issue 16 of Superstition Review.

Contributor Update, Katie Cortese: “Four Pink Plus Signs” in Gravel

Katie CorteseToday we are thrilled to share news of past contributor Katie Cortese. Katie’s essay, “Four Pink Plus Signs,” has been included in the November 2018 issue of Gravel. You can read Katie’s essay in their website here. Congratulations, Katie!

Katie’s story, “Sugar Coat,” can be read in Issue 2 of Superstition Review.

 

Contributor Update, Natalie Sypolt: The Sound of Holding Your Breath

The Sound of Holding Your Breath by Natalie SypoltToday we are happy to announce that Natalie Sypolt’s new book, The Sound of Holding Your Breath, is upcoming this November, 2018 from WVU Press. The Sound of Holding Your Breath centers around residents of the twenty-first-century Appalachia, “each struggling with secrets and losses, entrenched in navigating the complex requirements of family in all its forms.” Silas House, author of Southernmost, has to say the following about Natalie’s debut collection: “A bold and important debut that announces a major new voice. It’s also the best story collection I’ve read in a long while.” The Sound of Holding Your Breath is available for purchase through West Virginia University Press here.

Congratulations, Natalie!

Natalie’s short story, “Fractured,” can be read in Issue 10 of Superstition Review.

Editorial Preferences in Fiction: Brynn Kowalski

In the past few months or so my perception on literature has shifted. My reading has become more active and aware, but even with this new-found sight I find it hard to be terse with literary fiction. I empathize easily, become lost in a good story, but I am also aware of the nuances of the genre.

Stories have to take me somewhere, whether it’s from the subway to the ocean or from one dream to the next. Even thoughts flow, and if I am locked within a character’s mind and privy to their hopes and fears then let me see how their nightmare fades in the light of realization, or how their past has come to shape their future. That being said, the theme and plot can be cast aside in the light of a strong character. When the characters feel organic I am their willing audience. They can guide me through their worlds, but we must take that first step.

Every good character needs a stage, and what I look for in a story is its description. When done well it elevates everything in a narrative, creating a rich and vibrant scape that entices the readers to continue to the next page. On that vein, something that I can truly appreciate as a reader are stories that challenge convention, but I admit that it, like all things, comes with a caveat. Stephen King says a writer can play around with any trick of the trade… so long as they do it well. I think the same applies for challenging conventional writing. I love stories that aren’t afraid to try something new and color outside the lines, but it’s a delicate dance to perform. When someone does it well, especially in literary fiction, I am often left sitting at the end of the final sentence turning the story over in my mind, feeling like I just got to experience something entirely new that no one else has witnessed before.

Writing is a balancing act, and an author should take care not to throw in a surprise format or twist the narrative only for shock and awe. Everything in a story should work in tandem, each aspect keeping in tone with the rest until the narrative rings a single note, signaling to the reader that it is time to delve into the story.

 

Brynn Kowalski is a fiction editor for Issue 22. She is pursuing her BA in Creative writing with a minor in French. Passionate about literature of all types, Brynn is working to become an editor and publish YA novels. She is currently an active member of several online writing communities and regularly publishes real-time interactive narratives on her media platform.