SR Pod/Vod Series: Writer Saramanda Swigart

Saramanda SwigartToday we’re proud to feature Saramanda Swigart as our seventh Authors Talk series contributor, discussing her story “Axiom of the Empty Set” in her vodcast “Love and Math.”

As the vodcast title suggests, Saramanda’s creation of “Axiom of the Empty Set” involved linking together seeming opposites. Themes of failed romances and lost children are a recurring presence in the story, alongside formulaic elements like roman numeral-headed paragraphs and “X” and “Y” as placeholder character names.

Behind the scenes, the same combination of opposites is true of Saramanda’s writing process. As she explains in her vodcast, this consists of two components: nerdy inspiration, and the deeply personal.

“I don’t really like the character me, much,” she says, cringing at the thought of memoir writing. Despite this, she discusses with candid feeling the incorporation of personal challenges into her story, a process that resulted in a dream come true for many writers: the piece coming out “almost entirely whole.”

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read Saramanda Swigart’s “Axiom of the Empty Set” in Issue 15 of Superstition Review.


More About the Author:

Saramanda Swigart is thrilled to be writing fiction [almost] full time after years of writing ad copy and corporate literature. She has lived and worked in Italy, New York, San Francisco and Dubai. She has an MFA from Columbia University, with a supplementary degree in literary translation. Her short work has appeared in Superstition Review, Fogged Clarity, Caveat Lector, The Literati Quarterly, Ragazine, The Penmen Review and Thin Air, and she’s received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train. She is working on a collection of interlocking stories; a novel, Meaning Machine, about a family’s incompatible coping strategies in the face of loss; and a modern translation of the more salacious stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. She lives in San Francisco and teaches at City College of San Francisco.


About the Authors Talk series:

For several years, we have featured audio or video of Superstition Review contributors reading their work. We’re now establishing 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.

Guest Post, Kristen Arnett: “I Come From a Family” Writing and Rewriting Familial Truth in Fiction

These words open our work, even if they’re not explicitly stated. Our fiction holds characters that come from all types of homes. We conjure blended families, multi-generational households, ones that contain fostered and adopted children; we’ve got queer families, racially diverse backgrounds, and created homes with loved ones of our character’s own choosing. There’s no limit to what we might come up with. Our characters are defined by these families. Their backgrounds tell us how they overcome crisis and trauma, or how they ultimately succumb to it. Even if we’re not writing about a character’s family, it’s always there, lurking in the background like a horrible upcoming family reunion. Characters come with domestic baggage.

Here’s where things get tricky. The intimate backgrounds of these characters can often extend from our own. Sometimes this is on accident – perhaps a family legend falls into the narrative; the time your father angrily emailed KFC because he hated their new commercials – but it can also be done with malice. Conjuring stories gives us a wild kind of freedom, and how nice would it be to get that thing on paper that’s been bothering you for years?

paper-family-1313628At a recent Tin House workshop, Dorothy Allison talked about writing truth in fiction. She discussed its hardness and its necessity; told us all to “write like a hammer.” These realities struck the audience silent – we’re all attempting to create something greater than ourselves in our work, something that will stand as testament that we were here and took up space. Dorothy expounded on this concept, shouting that it didn’t matter if something honest was hard to hear, because “it’s true, therefore I have the right to scare the shit out of you with it.” Everyone nodded in agreement; after all, the scary stuff is where we find the real meat of our work. After saying this, however, her tone softened. She stared out at the audience, made eye contact with nearly everyone, and said, “but truth is not a defense against destroying people.”

I went home from Tin House and thought about this a lot. I write fiction and essays, and I admit that sometimes the line between those two gets a little smudged. So much of what I am is because of who I was; the people who raised me and what my home was like. I write about Florida, I write about my queerness, and I write about the church. I write to know who I am now, and I keep writing because I am never the same person as I was the day before. My family is part of that process because I am incapable of maintaining an identity separate from them. It would be tantamount to carving up my body and saying, well, I am mostly just this thigh meat and the neck part. It can’t be done.

Fiction isn’t truth, but it contains elements of it. How we write is informed by our environment. I look to my parents and their traditions, and sometimes I say, there’s fodder here for something that once hurt me. Writing about it helps me look at all the sides of these issues – I can look at how they informed me, but I can also better see my own role in them: how I dealt with them at the time, what I took away from those experiences. Coming back from the work shop, I look at these instances in my writing and ask: what’s the ultimate cost of disclosing them?

Dorothy closed out her work shop panel by telling us that “you are trying to put something on the page worth what it cost you to put it on the page.” For myself, I took this to mean that my writing is not a way to exorcise demons. It is a way to confront established ideas and reassess them. In my quest for honesty in my work, I am saying that I require honesty from myself before I expect it from anyone else. I am saying that in order to write, I must look at the world I inhabit and understand that I am not the god of it. I live here, but so does everyone else. What I must do in my writing is take a hard look at how I write about family and decide if it rings true; not insert harmful narrative because I want to push it away from me. That’s the most truthful way for me to write fiction.

And yes, my father did email KFC – but he won’t mind that I told you about it. Just try not to bring up the Colonel; he’s still a little touchy about it.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Writer Jonathan Danielson

Jonathan DanielsonEach Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Jonathan Danielson.

Jonathan Danielson is a frequent contributor to The Feathertale Review. His work was named a finalist for Glimmer Train’s 2012 “Family Matters” contest, and has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Juked, Southern California Review, Monday Night, Gravel, Santa Fe Writers Project, South85, Fiction on the Web, and others. He received his MFA from the University of San Francisco and lives in his home state of Arizona, where he teaches at Scottsdale Community College. He is also an Assistant Fiction Editor for Able Muse. 

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.