The Narrative Storytelling Initiative‘s goal is to enhance access and public engagement with narrators and narratives. They are currently looking for messages written to Mother Earth in the future, with a maximum of 100 words. These messages will be included in a special exhibition piece at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory during the last two weeks of October.
Congratulations to Lynn Mundell for her new chapbook Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us. Winner of Yemassee Journal’s 2021 Fiction Chapbook Contest, Mundell’s chapbook is a vivid, visceral look at womanhood. Comprised entirely of flash fiction pieces, Mundell proves she is a master at reaching profound depths with only a few words.
Although Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us focuses on women, there is no one type of woman Mundell writes about. Young and old, idealized and flawed—she writes with empathy about sisters, mothers, and women who simply are. No two stories are the same: Mundell writes as an unborn, reincarnated baby in her first story “Again,” and later she writes from Mona Lisa’s point of view in “Smile, Lisa.” Her final piece, “Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us,” is a mesmerizing capstone to a brilliant chapbook. Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us is perfect for those looking for a collection that’s short but poignant.
The wit, warmth, and skill of this writer struck me immediately. These stories are smart but not smart-alecky, quirky yet polished, broad in their emotional appeal and sharp in their resonance. Again and again, I was taken by surprise—by the originality of the prose, the ingenuity of each scenario, the impact delivered by such a small number of words. I felt for these characters—the sisters in “Cloise,” about to be split apart, the lonely boy in “Mother and Child,” the broken family in “Big Baby,” the pregnant women who refuse to dim their hopes in “Our Bright Lights On.” Though many of these stories are heart-rending, I also found myself smiling, uplifted. This collection and this writer are ready for prime time.
Mira T. Lee, author of the novel Everything Here is Beautiful
Lynn Mundell is a short story writer, publisher, and editor. She and Grant Faulkner founded 100 Word Story in 2010, and her story “Again” appeared in Issue 17 of Superstition Review. To learn more about Lynn Mundell, go to her website.
To purchase Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us, go here.
We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Mundell’s chapbook. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.
Brennie Shoup: Much of your work is flash fiction. Could you talk about what draws you to this form, and how flash fiction appears in Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us?
Lynn Mundell: Flash fiction enables us to tell our stories in intimate ways—a secret whispered into an ear; a tale told over a quick warm drink. We boil down the story to its essence, leaving the tea leaves or coffee grounds for later scrutiny. For me it’s been the marriage of my original writing as a poet with my lifelong love of a good story. All of the stories in my chapbook are flash. They include 100-word stories in triptychs, some using numbering and headings for short sections, traditionally plotted longer flash, and some hybrid pieces where poetry and fiction congregate. The first story in the collection is called “Again,” about a baby born over and over and over again that was inspired by a black and white photo of a happy young family. It was published in Superstition Review and remains one of my favorite stories to have told and to read to others, so thank you, Superstition Review!
BS: The original “Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us” was published in 2018 in Booth. Could you talk about what inspired the piece and how it ended up as the title for your chapbook?
LM: “Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us” was actually inspired by a very small airplane seat on a flight from Phoenix to Santa Fe! Where the rest of that piece came from is a mystery to me, but there must have been a lot of feelings about how women’s bodies are used and used up that fed into it. I definitely tapped into everything from being hit on when I was younger to breastfeeding my kids. I wrote it at a writing retreat hosted by Meg Tuite and Robert Vaughn that encouraged crossing the border between poetry and fiction writing. I recommend working with these writers or just any sort of a change of scenery for a way to feel freed and inspired to produce new things. I sometimes camp out in a new location for four or five days to unplug and have found my best stories come from these times where I am seeing new things while also working in total isolation. When it was time to organize my stories, “Let Our Bodies” really encapsulated the theme for the whole book, plus it made for an intriguing book title that could also provide a lot of fodder for the cover illustration.
BS: Could you discuss the main themes of your chapbook? How have these themes developed over your career? Do you find yourself writing about the same ideas over and over again?
LM: The theme of the book is women’s bodies—what they are capable of, how they are viewed and objectified, as sources of comfort and conflict, and how ultimately women own them. The book is organized from birth to end of life, and each piece is from a female point of view. The theme surprised me as I sorted through my work looking for the common thread. I have other stories I like that did not fit into the collection thematically at all, and one of the most difficult things about creating the collection was having to give these pieces the heave-ho. I have written everything from ghost stories to creative nonfiction about my early teens living in Iran. Frankly, writing wise I am all over the map.
Typically I write a piece and sort of hope that there will be something cohesive among a few years of my work, but there isn’t always—which is why it took many years for this book to come about with its theme that finally surfaced. I admire writers who can set out to write to a theme and have a collection they are purposefully working toward. I was recently trying to write connected fables about animals, but have thus far only created one I like, about a mother and baby elephant that was published in The Masters Review. I’d like to keep trying on that, but may need to expand the theme to just fables in general or even fables and fairy tales.
BS: Do you have plans for future chapbooks, short story collections, or novels?
LM: I would love to write more books. But right now I am just writing and we will see where that goes. During the pandemic I have sort of gotten off the script of life in general, and in writing toward a publishing objective of any kind, with one thing being very different from the next. This has included a long fairy tale published in Gone Long, a book review for a friend’s new collection in Necessary Fiction, a four-part piece about fishing with my father in Under the Gum Tree, a creative nonfiction about family depression written to a painting in The Ekphrastic Review, a longer mystery in collaboration with artist Merrick Adams in 7x7LA, and others that are pushing what I typically do. At the end of this year I’ll look everything over and see if there is a pattern for a new book or one thing that I like enough as a starting point for a new book. I will say that I have continued to find great joy in writing as well as reading the incredible work that is out there lately.
What I love about writing is the wonderful sense of freedom. In our daily lives we are constrained by the demands of work, family, duty, society, finances, and so forth. But in writing we can leave all of that behind to explore anything with total abandon.
Four Palaces Publishing is currently open to submissions for their fiction anthology contest. They are searching for short stories between 2,000 and 6,000 words long. They will also accept up to three flash fiction pieces. The theme of their anthology is “Desire to Escape.” The author of the winning story will receive $1,000 and a mentorship from guest judge Ivelisse Rodriguez, whose short story collection Love War Stories was a 2019 PEN/Faulkner finalist and a 2018 Foreword Reviews INDIES finalist.
Founded in 2021, Four Palaces’ goal is to promote and publish works by previously unpublished writers from underrepresented communities.
Frederick Tran is the executive director and publisher of Four Palaces. Emily Townsend is the managing editor, and her nonfiction piece “Consider the Honeybee” appeared in Issue 19 of Superstition Review.
Submissions close August 31, 2022! Go here to submit your story.
We’re so excited to share an interview with past contributor Michelle Ross about her new short story collection, Shapeshifting. The book came out in November from Stillhouse Press. The interview was conducted via email by our blog editor, Sara Walker.
Sara Walker: Just about all the stories center on motherhood, children, and those relationships. What inspired this?
Michelle Ross: My first story collection There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You was less unified in its focus, so for my second collection, I wanted to be more deliberate with theme. As the mother of a young child, I found myself, perhaps inevitably, drawn to writing fiction about motherhood and mothers. Motherhood has been a big part of my lived experience these last eleven years. It’s on my mind. I’ve been mentoring high school writers for several years now via the Adroit Journal’s Summer Mentorship Program, and there’s this passage I quote from Lorrie Moore in my syllabus about the importance of writing about what’s on your mind, what you care about. One of the things she says is “You really have to write from the center.” She talks about how one of the big mistakes her students make is that they write about topics they don’t really think about or care about. I think it’s impossible to write well about a topic you’re not at least a little bit obsessed with. Trying to fake it won’t do. The story will be missing something crucial. I see that in the submission queue for Atticus Review, where I’m fiction editor: some stories are missing that spark of energy that you just can’t fake, and I think that whether or not a story has that spark has a lot to do with whether the writer is writing from the center.
SW: Why is it important to you to highlight the imperfection of motherhood and feelings of imposter syndrome?
MR: I was grappling with many questions in these stories—the impossible pressures put on mothers, the erasure of motherhood, what mothers owe their children, the tremendous power mothers have over their children, the violence and cruelty of children—but most of all I just wanted to write honestly about motherhood. No sugarcoating. No prettying things up. That’s what I want to do with any topic I write about. And one of the truths of motherhood is that no one is born a mother. There’s so much mythologizing about motherhood—that nurturing comes naturally to mothers, for example; that it comes naturally to women and girls in general. But the truth is more complicated. Nurturing isn’t an inherently female trait. It’s at least partly a learned trait. If you’ve rarely, if ever, been nurtured by someone, how do you learn to nurture another person? It wasn’t until my son was born that I really and fully grasped how incredibly vulnerable children are and how, therefore, incredibly easy it is for parents to harm their children; and, of course, the world is full of adults who were harmed by their parents, and many of those adults have children of their own.
SW: What is it about “Shapeshifting” that made you choose it as the title story?
MR: While the book’s title did come from the title story, the book was not titled after the title of that story; at the time, “Shapeshifting,” the story, had a different title altogether. It was originally published in The Pinch as “Gestation.” The real inspiration for the book’s title was a metaphor within the story. The pregnant protagonist in the story says that as a kid she liked the idea of being a shapeshifter but that it didn’t occur to her that pregnant women are shapeshifters, too: “Shapeshifting isn’t the way I’d imagined it. I’d always pictured myself behind the wheels of other bodies I assumed. This is the opposite. I’m the wheels, not the driver.” I wasn’t yet finished writing all the stories in this book when I decided that Shapeshifting was the perfect title. All humans are shapeshifters (consider puberty, for example), but I’d say mothers are a particularly interesting kind of shapeshifter. Motherhood is a strange metamorphosis. Mothers might come out of pregnancy looking more or less like they did before, but the world sees them as other than who they were. Whatever kind of mother one is, motherhood changes one in a deep way. There is no going back.
I’m not much of a fan of books sharing the same title as a story within. I’m wary of giving so much weight to one particular story. But when the editors at Stillhouse Press suggested I retitle this story to match the book’s title, I agreed that it was a better title for the story, too; and I kind of like that the story was titled after the book rather than the other way around.
SW: “The Sand and the Sea” is written in a different format – almost like vignettes, rather than a straightforward narrative. How did you make that choice?
MR: This story originated in a weekend workshop I took with the phenomenal Kathy Fish some years ago. The exercise was to write a braided flash piece. If I remember correctly, I think we started by creating three columns on a piece of paper and each column was dedicated to a different thread. I know that one of the threads was to be composed of lines that began with language such as “I wonder…” or “I wish…” I believe the other threads were supposed to be two different time periods in the character’s life? I played for many, many months after that workshop with the pieces I’d written—rearranging, cutting, adding, trying to get the right pieces in the right order. In a way, I felt like I was going back to my roots in this story. When I first started writing short stories seriously in college, the writer who changed everything for me was Amy Hempel. I had struggled with plot, with how to string sentences and paragraphs together in such a way that they were a story. Long scenes, long exposition felt unwieldy. Then I read Reasons to Live and fell so in love with how Amy Hempel constructs her stories out of these concise little fragments—scenes lasting no more than a paragraph or a page or so. Of course, some of those stories aren’t just pieced together somewhat like a series of flash fictions, but some are flash fictions. I didn’t learn the term “flash fiction” until several years later, and I don’t think I tried writing my own flash fictions until many years after that. However, I did start writing and thinking about writing differently after reading Hempel—thinking about stories in a more modular way, as composed of these tight little units that I could rearrange to different effects. Many years would pass before I would try once again to write stories that weren’t so modular.
SW: Which story was the most challenging to write? Why?
MR: Most stories are challenging for me, honestly. I work on stories, including flash fictions, for many months, often many years, before finishing and submitting them. Maybe I should answer this question backwards. One of the easiest stories for me to write was “A Mouth is a House for Teeth.” The general premise and tone of it came to me quickly. Then, before I’d written much of anything down, I floated in one of those so-called sensory deprivation tanks for the first time. I spent pretty much the whole hour thinking about that story. It was a weird and wonderful experience. I felt like I was alone floating out in the middle of a dark ocean, and this story was building in that darkness. After, I went to a coffee shop and wrote pretty much all day—by hand in a notebook, which I hate to say I rarely do these days, and probably should do more often. Writing by hand has a different kind of energy and rhythm. I can easily remember which stories of mine I first drafted by hand and which I first drafted on the computer. Anyway, after that I spent several weeks typing up the pieces, fitting them together, discovering what was missing, what could be cut, and so on. I think that from start to finish, that story took only a few months to finish, which for me is incredibly fast.
SW: “Keeper Four” approaches motherhood in a way different from the other stories; it’s sci fi-esque. What inspired this story?
MR: One of the primary inspirations was a book I’d read with my son when he was younger: Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories From the Animal Kingdom. The photos and stories in the book are endearing, but at the same time, this book creeped me out. Some of the unlikely friendships involved predators befriending prey. Some of the unlikely “friendships” weren’t friendships at all, but mother-child relationships. For example: a dog mothering a monkey. Of course, a mother-child relationship is quite a different kind of relationship than a friendship. We expect friendships to be reciprocal, not so much mother-child relationships. Sure, young children can be loving and kind, but even many of their more charming behaviors are largely driven by their own needs, their own survival. A very young child clings to their mother more for security and safety than out of “love.” That’s not a judgment; I think it’s only natural for a creature that is vulnerable and helpless to charm larger, more capable creatures into protecting it. Anyway, this book disturbed me. Something about the mislabeling of these relationships. Something about the way humans praise females of a species for being nurturing. Something about the oohing and aahing over predators refraining from doing what it is in their nature to do—to prey. From that disturbance was born the idea of humans experimenting to develop a drug to induce mothering behavior even in the most unlikely of candidates.
SW: What do you hope readers will keep with them after finishing Shapeshifting?
MR: I hope that readers find Shapeshifting to be greater than the sum of its parts. I see these stories as being in conversation with each other, and I think I’m able to achieve something more in the book as a whole than I could in individual stories. But that said, mostly I just hope readers find something of value in this book, whatever that may be for them as individuals—whether it be that they feel seen, that they feel less lonely, that they’re entertained, that these stories make them think, or that something is illuminated for them.
SW: You also write collaboratively with Kim Magowan. How did your experience with collaborative writing influence this collection?
MR: It’s when I’m feeling a bit in a slump that I’m mostly likely to nudge Kim into writing something together. Collaboration reminds me that writing is as simple on some level as making choices, and that all choices can be unmade, too. It helps train me to make choices quickly, to keep moving forward, instead of allowing a story to stagnate in indecision. It trains me to keep a story’s momentum going. When we collaborate, we typically pass a story back and forth rapidly, several times in a day sometimes. I write a few paragraphs, she writes a few paragraphs. Even a long story gets drafted within a week or so. That energy carries over into my own writing. Writing with Kim always renews my excitement for my own projects.
SW: What does your writing space look like?
MR: When my partner and I bought our house about fourteen years ago, it was important to me to be able to have a home office of my own. I wanted a room with a door, a room that was all mine, a room meant for nothing other than writing (and reading). This was important even back when we were in an apartment, only then we didn’t have all that much space so I had converted our walk-in closet into my writing space. Since the beginning of the pandemic, my home office is no longer just my writing space; it’s also where I do the job that pays the bills. Most of 2020 was a struggle because I was trying to do both these things at the same desk and on the same computer. When I tried to write fiction, I was distracted by work clutter. Early this year, I brought in a second desk and computer so that I have a writing half of my office and a work half of my office. Everything has gone much more smoothly since.
SW: What does writing mean to you?
MR: Writing is how I discover meaning and how I discover what I think. Writing is how I communicate most effectively. Writing is how I push back against the things that bug me. Writing makes me more present in my life, more observant. Writing is hard work but also immensely pleasurable. There’s no other way I’d rather spend my time.
Shapeshifting won the Stillhouse Press 2020 Short Fiction Prize and is available for purchase from Stillhouse Press. Check out more from Michelle on her website and read her stories in Issue 17 and Issue 20. Thank you so much, Michelle!
Join us in congratulating SR fiction contributor Cathy Ulrich. Cathy recently published a short fiction piece with Cheat River Review titled, “The Sky Goes Quiet.” This new astronaut story features hospital visits, love, and photo albums. Cathy writes from her home in Montana and works as a fiction editor for Atlas and Alice. Her work has been published in several journals including Monkeybicycle, Fiction Southeast, The Citron Review, Paper Darts, The Atticus Review, Cheap Pop, among others.
To read more about Cathy and her publications, click here. You can find her fiction piece, “In the Crowded Spaces,” from Issue 18 here.
Location: Trans Am PHX, 1506 Grand Ave, Phoenix, AZ 850007
Join us for a night of live readings from the Phoenix College Creative Writing Department. New Voices will feature student and faculty reading their poems, short fiction, and brief non-fiction pieces before a live audience.
If you’re a Phoenix College student and would like to read, please submit your piece to firstname.lastname@example.org before March 30th.
This reading is hosted at Trans Am PHX in the Grand Ave Arts District.
Today we are happy to announce news about past contributor James McAdams. James’ story, “Somewhere in Florida, an Angel Appeared,” has been featured in Ghost Parachute. If you enjoy flash fiction, go ahead and click here to read it.
Today we are pleased to feature author Kaylee Sue Duff as our Authors Talk series contributor. In the podcast, Kaylee discusses the creative process behind two of her flash fiction pieces, “Nothing” and “The Deer,” and the intertwined nature of the stories themselves.
Kaylee states that “Nothing” is one of her favorite pieces that she has written, for it “takes ownership of those feelings that… are terrible and impossible to deal with, and turns them into something that other people can experience as well, something that is really beautiful.” She highlights that the inspiration for “Nothing” stemmed from her own feelings of loneliness and isolation upon moving away to college, which led to her “figuring out a lot about myself and my identity.” She goes on to express that the piece is “more like poetry than I would ever care to admit,” and that, “by writing what… I felt was right, I was able to tap into something that I would never have been able to otherwise.”
Today we are pleased to announce that past contributor Teague Bohlen and Britten Leigh have an upcoming book from Bronze Man Books titled Flatland. The book includes flash fiction by Teague and black and white photographs by Britten. Stay tuned for Flatland’s release in 2018!
Read three flash fictions by Teague accompanied by Britten’s photography in Issue 10 of Superstition Reviewhere.
Today we are pleased to feature author Jonathan Cardew as our Authors Talk series contributor. Jonathan discusses the work experiences that let “The Story of the Elephant” and its characters come to him.
Jonathan speaks intriguingly about what draws him to flash fiction. He notes his love for ellipses and the fact that anything can happen even after the end of such a short story, that the story “could be about anything or nothing.”