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 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.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Meg Tuite.
Meg Tuite’s writing has appeared in numerous journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, Epiphany, JMWW, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. She is fiction editor of Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press, author of Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, Disparate Pathos (2012) Monkey Puzzle Press,Reverberations (2012) Deadly Chaps Press, Bound By Blue (2013)Sententia Books, Her Skin is a Costume (2013) Red Bird Chapbooks, and won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014). She teaches at the Santa Fe Community College.
I don’t often use the word, but I hate writing rejection letters.
You’d think they’d be easy enough: Offer some constructive criticism and some words of encouragement, then hit send. Lather, rinse, repeat. On to the next in the pile.
The problem, as it often is, is the human element. It is all too easy to forget that there are people on both sides of this process.
Now, I’m not implying that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. I don’t want to insinuate that an editor’s job is to smirk behind an IP address, gleefully ticking away at their keyboards while picking an essay apart in their decline letter. Nor should we cower behind prewritten rejection letters, sending email after email of the same exact words, the literary equivalent of breaking up via text message.
I read somewhere that there is a word for being a background character in someone else’s story—a name on a cardboard coffee cup, a car on the freeway, an umbrella in the rain, a whiff of perfume exiting an elevator in a crowded mall—and that such a word affects lives only tangentially, for a few seconds. I cannot recall what the word itself is, and I try to find it in online dictionaries, a hail-Mary effort to procrastinate that next rejection letter.
Whatever the word is, I hope it describes the letters I write. I hope that it ends up in a bulging email inbox, surrounded by rejections and acceptances from other magazines, from publishers, from fans. I hope that this decline letter that I have drafted and sent will be marked as read and left to rot in cyberspace.
The alternative, you see, is that what I write is important. Every decline letter could be some writer’s first, someone’s last. There is some pressure in knowing that I have a long memory of criticism from strangers, and that you probably do, too.
I read slowly and write swiftly, like ripping cooled wax from leg hair. I leave the letter alone, come back to the computer to read it one last time before hitting “Send.” The computer asks if I’m sure, and I wince.
I have a confession: I am a perfectionist. I know, I know. That has become a generic answer in job interviews all around the world. It isn’t exactly an uncommon trait when questions such as, “What is your greatest weakness?” arise. You know, turning your negative quirks into positive attributes and all that. But trust me, being a perfectionist can be crippling given the right setting.
Take writing for example. I first signed up for a writing course my sophomore year of college. I chose it on a whim as an elective to fill up space. There I was sitting in the very first row. I had my special notepad out, quotes written on it to keep myself motivated. My pen was freshly filled with never before used ink. I was wearing a sunny disposition and a go get ‘em attitude not yet sequestered by workshops with my peers.
I remember my professor’s one and only advice that semester: just write. I could not put it together. Just write… anything? I needed a plan, a prompt. I needed to stick to a guideline and follow the rules. Writing whatever came to mind was messy and unorganized. My thoughts were incoherent and I began rambling all over the place.
I remember writing about writing. I remember writing about not having anything to write. I remember writing about how I could not wait to get home and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But in between the frustration and the hunger, I began to come across an epiphany. Writing for the sake of writing un-jumbles your mind. Writing down your current thoughts removes them to make way for the deeper, more intimate and meaningful material.
As soon as I got over my fear of being messy, I wrote anything and everything. Sometimes the material was useful and I was proud to hand it in. Other times my writing was awful, and I sheepishly handed it over without making eye contact. The difference in myself was that I learned that it was okay to write something bad, as long as I was writing.
With this newfound euphoria for writing, peer workshops were my kryptonite. You see, another side to my perfectionism declares that once I deem something complete, it’s done forever. The end. Send it off to the publishing company. My thought process was that I had worked hard on my project and it had become my masterpiece. I wanted to protect it.
I walked into the peer workshop with doe eyes, clutching my story to my chest like a child protecting their candy on Halloween. My heart was racing and I could not wait to share my art with my classmates. We sat in a circle, because it’s not enough to hear them tear apart your story, they also look you in the eyes when they’re destroying your hopes and dreams.
Peer workshop was brutal. I could not comprehend why everyone was focusing on the things in my story that needed improvement instead of patting me on my back and giving me a “good job” sticker. But then it hit me; these kids were not my mother. These kids were not here to tell me how great my writing was. I was looking for affirmation in something that was complete; I was not looking to change it.
That’s when another epiphany hit me; my story was not art. It was a rough draft, something that needed time and care, changes and revisions in order to become something better. I had to open myself up to criticism and more messiness in order to become something great.
Striving to be perfect when writing was difficult. But once I got past that, I learned it was okay to be terrible. It was okay to crash and burn. It only makes you better.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Terese Svoboda.
Recipient of a 2013 Guggenheim, Terese Svoboda is the author of five novels, most recently Bohemian Girl, named one of the ten best 2012 Westerns by Booklist and an Historical Book of the Year Finalist in Foreword. Tin God, a finalist for the John Gardner Prize, was reissued this spring, with Publisher’s Weekly deeming her a “fabulous fabulist.” “Astounding!“proclaimed The New York Post in a review of her memoir Black Glasses Like Clark Kent that won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize and The Japan Times “Best of Asia 2008.” Vogue lauded her first novel, Cannibal, as a female Heart of Darkness.
We’ve all been there. Sitting at the computer desk or lying in bed with a laptop opened to a blank Word document. The cursor flashing, taunting you just like that cheesecake at last night’s party that you refused to eat because you want to lose five pounds. It’s the dreaded writer’s block. Flash, flash, flash. But nothing comes.
There are plenty of distractions. You open Facebook because you need inspiration from others around you, or you open up your favorite YouTube video to get in a humorous mood. Soon the seconds turn into minutes, minutes to hours, and the next thing you know you’re on your boyfriend’s uncle’s niece’s twitter account looking at grumpy cat memes. No closer to writing than when you began. You convince yourself that you’ll come back to it tomorrow with fresh eyes. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I’ve found that I do my best writing when I’m not thinking about anything. My best ideas come to me while I’m driving. I especially love long, monotonous road trips. Roads that I’ve become familiar with the twists and curves, the potholes and the speed limits. I don’t have to think about driving; I can allow my mind to wander.
Of course this poses a question. What happens when I have a brilliant idea and cannot write it down until I stop at a gas station to refuel on my second (or third) cup of coffee? I used to use small post it notes–simple little reminders of an idea I had 150 miles prior. The thing is, I often could not rekindle the thought. What once seemed like a beacon of enlightenment now seemed like a two year old telling an incomprehensible story.
“How toaster relates to life, always popping up when we least expect.”
“Simile of rooster and ex-boyfriends.”
“Television show where the family only eats cheese but no one talks about it.”
Although I’m still slightly convinced some of these ideas may go somewhere, I finally found the perfect solution: voice recordings. They’re perfect for on-the-go storytelling. And thankfully, cell phones have them built in so you don’t have to carry around a tape recorder in your pocket or purse. Unless you’re into that I’m-a-spy-and-I-have-important-things-to-document thing, then good for you!
Sure, it’s a little awkward when you finally do stop to write down your ideas. Hearing yourself blabber on for twenty minutes about a love story that hasn’t been perfected yet probably isn’t the most normal thing, but it works. When you finally sit down at your laptop you have an idea. You can finally mold the world and the characters. You can go anywhere from there.
Sometimes all it takes is a starting point. Sometimes all it takes is a break away from the flashing cursor.
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 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.
During my time as a journalist, I’ve found that the hardest part of my job isn’t reviewing, or writing features: it’s the interview. An intimate one-on-one where anything can go wrong if you ask the wrong question (or the right question at the wrong time) can be nerve-wracking for first-timers (or even seasoned veterans).
I’ve interviewed dozens of people, and each time I do I get this horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. When this happens, I remember a few pieces of advice that I’ve heard over the years, and it helps put me at ease. Hopefully, this will help you with any future interviews that you may have to do.
1) Give a shit
This is probably the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard in regards to pulling off a successful interview. If you don’t care about what someone has to say or what they’ve done, your subject will notice it. They will pull away, mentally retreating from your interview, and your piece will suffer for it.
Listen intently, react to what the other person is saying. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most boring thing you’ve heard, or you don’t care about the topic. You’re there on assignment, and it’s your job to make sure that you get a solid interview. Even if you have to fake it, care about what you’re doing.
Research your subject before hand. Find out what they’ve done, who they work for, etc.
Prepare a list of questions that you can ask if you end up off topic to get you back on track. At least ten, just in case you lose your place.
An unprepared interviewer will fall on their face, and your subject will notice if you haven’t done your homework. If you go in blind, you will regret it.
3) Don’t be afraid to deviate from your prepared questions.
That said, don’t stick to your prepared list of questions for the duration of the interview. Let the conversation flow naturally, and you’ll be surprised where you’ll end up. I’ve gotten fascinating information out of subjects because they feel comfortable just talking – it’s a great way to get away from stock PR responses and delve right into the heart of what makes their work special
4) Don’t go for the big guns right away. Lead up to it.
A friend of mine was talking about an interview he had, where he had asked a rather hard-hitting question right off the bat. The subject was immediately on the defensive, and immediately shut off.
I interviewed the same person a few months later, and asked a very similar question, but lead up to it with a series of smaller, more broad questions to start with. I got a great, honest response from him, and it just became the next part of our conversation.
Be careful how quickly you try to go into “investigative journalist mode.” It can backfire on you very quickly.
Calm down. Take a deep breath. If you’ve prepared, have some questions ready, and just approach it as two people having a conversation, you’ll be fine. It may be a bit intimidating at first, but your subject is a person, just like you, and will appreciate an honest, genuine conversation with someone about their work. So loosen up and have fun with it!
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 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.
Sonora Review — the graduate-run literary journal from the University of Arizona — has just announced its 2013-14 Poetry Contest. The contest will be judged by Eduardo C. Corral, has a deadline Feb. 14, 2014, and will award $1000 to the winner. The entry fee is $15, and all submissions will be considered for publication in Issue 66 of Sonora Review.
Past winners of Sonora Review’s Poetry Contest include Shawn Fawson, Rebecca Kutzer-Rice, and Michael Tod Edgerton.
Past judges include Dawn Lundy Martin, D.A. Powell, and Caroline Bergvall.