Today we are happy to share news about past contributor Paul Lisicky. Paul will be presenting his forthcoming novel LATER at the Tin House Writer Workshop in Oregon this March, the novel will be published a year from then (March 2020) by Greywolf Press. His sixth book, LATER recounts Paul’s life in the early 90s during the AIDS epidemic as he explored the artistic and real world.
Information about the workshop can be found here, refer to Paul’s website for updates on his book here.
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.
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.
Today we are happy to share the news of past contributor Pam Houston. Pam’s memoir “Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country” was just published by W. W. Norton & Company in January of 2019. Reminiscing about her life living in the Colorado Rockies, Pam discusses the beauty and pain of human life and her ties to the earth, specifically her 120-acre ranch. The memoir not only includes her essays but also 12 of the author’s own black and white photographs.
The book can be purchased here, and information about her signing event at Bookshop Santa Cruz can be found here.
I have learned, through two short years of examining literature, that there are so many different stories out there and those stories are told in so many more different ways. There are even more definitions in the world on “what a story is.” As much as I would like to rattle off which definition is more right than another, I simply can’t. A story is whatever we make it. It can be shared or it can be kept for oneself. But if a story is shared, it communicates something to the readers. As Gertrude Stein says, “If the communication is perfect, the words have life, and that is all there is to good writing, putting down on the paper words which dance and weep and make love and fight and kiss and perform miracles.”
When I read fiction, I look for the raw and the real. Stories that go deeper than the stereotypes and examine life on a constructive level are the ones I remember, connect with, and share. Within the stories themselves, I want to be able to relate to the characters. I want to see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel. Stories that are character driven, surrounded by sensory details and imagery, evoke emotion enough in me to keep me reading until the very end. When a writer shares something that displays the human condition in a way that makes tears form in the corner of my eyes (whether from laughter, anger, sadness, or a mixture of all three), I know that I will remember that story above all others. Combinations of words and ideas have power enough to execute a story that does “dance and weep and make love and fight…” and I look for that in the stories I read.
As a writer myself, I am inspired by every submission. The courage authors have to share their work with the world is something I admire, as mundane and every day as that may sound. Each submission leaves a lasting impression that I learn from and go back to whenever I need. This constant communication between art and people and people and art is what motivates me to keep reading. Share with me the stories that don’t just push characters over the edge, but stories that push the readers too.
Alexandra Myers is a fiction editor for issue 22 of Superstition Review. She is a senior at Arizona State University majoring in creative writing, with a minor in film. After graduation, she plans to become a volunteer for the Peace Corps and upon return to the states will continue her passion for writing by completing an MFA.
My oldest daughter confessed she wanted to study writing in college. I say confess because she struggled with feeling guilty, as if she was supposed to choose something better. I had never encouraged her to pursue this path. “But Mom,” she said, “I grew up drawing between the lines of your poems.” And this was true; all four of my children used my drafts as scrap paper to fashion airplanes, to experiment with shape and color, to publish household newspapers.
In the farmhouse where we moved when I was four, my father built one room full of books, floor to ceiling. It was little—you could touch both walls when you stood in the middle—but it seemed a kingdom. I never realized how hard reading was for my father. He marked up his books, underlining, circling, drawing arrows, writing questions or key words in the margins. I know now this was the way for a first-generation American who never read anything but comic books as he was growing up, who wasn’t taught to read or write critically because it wasn’t thought necessary, to engage the text.
My mother, a reading specialist, never read for pleasure, except with children or when she was studying how to help people learn to read. My oldest child, my daughter, read easy as breathing. My second child, my oldest son, didn’t. My mother gave me a crash course in Reading Recovery, a white board with markers, and a jar of alphabet tiles so we could explore language in a way he liked, with his hands. He and I spent hours in the recliner after school, taking turns reading with each other. He turned a corner thanks to a book my mother gave us, the first of the Henry and Mudge series, where he met a child who felt lost sometimes. The other night, as he was struggling to finish To Kill a Mockingbird for his pre-AP English class, I asked, “Would you like me to read a few chapters to you?” To my surprise, he said yes, and he listened, just like before, suddenly all eyes, what seemed a jumble brought clear.
My first two children becoming young adults leads me to look at the second two with even more wonder. My second son, in the seventh grade, just scored a 32 on the science and English portions of the ACT. He wants to be a writer. For him, writing seems an adventure, a puzzle to put together, but I suspect that like his oldest sister, he sees it as a way to change the world. The youngest, almost nine, began reading her older siblings’ books as a way to connect with them. Calvin and Hobbes, Magic Tree House, 39 Clues, Harry Potter, Alex Rider, from these, she designs her own games. But her favorite is any kind of mythology, old stories that try to help us understand the human condition. “Mom,” she asked, “what would you do if Zeus was after you?”
What I wanted for my children was for their world to be better than the one I grew up in. But we aren’t working on eradicating the biases in our systems. We aren’t focusing as a whole on curing diseases or developing new technology that is more conscious of our environment. Instead, our society yearns to regain a glory and a simple time that never existed. We feel so afraid that we try to achieve invulnerability rather than realizing that we all, as mortal creatures, are vulnerable, and that this gives us a common ground from which we might truly see each other and move forward together.
What I have given my children, I hope, is what my parents gave me, a kind of faith they can return to no matter what the world is. That in the beginning, was the word. That little books hold big ideas. That writing has revolutionized the world before, and can again. That literacy brings loving and thoughtful voices into our lives especially when love or thought seems far away. That stories encourage, with the weight of what that means: stories don’t make a problem go away, but they can inspire you for what you must face.
I hope that in time, my children know I tried to change the world for the better for them as best I could, when I worked outside of the house as a teacher, in the choices I made as I raised them, in each piece I wrote. I kept writing and reading to explore, to realize, to defy, and to advocate as I believe we are intended, with love for each other. I took a chance and joined the chorus of voices, in large part because I loved my children. This one word, love, arches over chaos. Love, a simple commandment so hard to keep, is our salvation.
If you haven’t heard already, Superstition Review will be attending the 2018 AWP Conference in Tampa, Florida next week. You can visit us at booth T1213 where we will also be representing Iron City Magazine.
We are excited as day one is approaching quickly, the conference is less then a week away.
Want to keep up with Superstition Review during AWP? Visit our Pinterest! AWP 2018 Florida will keep you current while AWP 2017 DC and earlier AWP boards will share experiences from our past attendances.
Speaking of the past, Samantha Allen shared, “10 Survival Tips for AWP Newbies” on the blog. While these tips come from 2012, tip number one, wearing comfortable shoes, is timeless.
Last week, I had a conversation with a visual artist about the challenges of making art as we age. I’ll turn forty-six in December, and my friend is near there. I’ve read the statistics: the average poet peaks in her twenties; artists tend to be more in line with novelists, creating their best work in their forties (lucky guy). Still, with modern life and its distractions (see Anthony Varallo’s good post on interruption), finding inspiration tends to become more problematic with age.
The artist and I briefly discussed strategies we’ve tried to keep the wheels turning. He’s a pro: a gifted painter who reinvented his artistic identity by trying—and mastering—a new genre (video). He’s secured artist residencies. He’s earned a sabbatical. Yet he juggles a full-time teaching gig with a brilliant, lively family, which is to say, he drinks a lot of coffee. He’s constantly weighing appropriate balance and space—responsibilities galore, but good ones, ones crackling with depth and possibility. I struggle to find space—and inspiration within that space—for art in similar ways. In recent years, it’s been in the playgrounds of other art mediums, which sometimes means excellent live music shows, but often means wherever fresh contemporary visual art can be found locally; when on the Flagler College campus, where I teach, I frequent CEAM (the Crisp Ellert Art Museum). This is nothing new: poets have written ekphrastic poems since the beginning, many of them great and lasting (ie. Auden’s “Musee Des Beaux Arts”). And this is perhaps because there’s a certain kind of attention required of visual art—how color works to convey mood, for instance, or how vital a fresh concept to the work’s success—that helps remind us of important elements in poem-making. Not every poet has the same hurdles when it comes to making poems, but one of mine tends to be getting hyper-focused on the linear argument—that which I find most interesting, chasing the a-ha! moment—and therefore getting lazy about filling in with lush details. Or filling in the details, but not presenting them in strange or original ways. Another challenge is finding new themes: my obsessions have gone through the wash twenty times; all that hot water has faded and shrunk them. Spending a few hours with a visual artist’s work tends to get fresh angles spinning. For instance, one of my more recent riffs came courtesy of Anna Von Mertens, a highly-accomplished multi-media artist, currently living in New Hampshire. In this series, she’s taking well-known portraits (often self-portraits by artists like Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo) and from them, creating auras, using cloth, stitching, and homemade dye. Gorgeous. Mind-blowing. When I saw some of these in a CEAM exhibit, I immediately wanted to talk back to them, create a kind of tribute to them in poems. The result was a series of “aura” poems, using largely the Confessional poets. Here’s one:
aura: james wright
the head and torso shape that of a supplicant,
a nonbeliever in prayer, the eyes closed below
their frames, hands clasped at the heart, but the heart’s
red is the opposite of the dominant pigment, green: sap green
that breaks into flowering, o, Monet’s fields and water lilies
seeding and bursting beneath surfaces, all grown-blessed
in permanent green light . . . . Jenny the muse in hooker’s green:
river-rising just enough to be seen, he will wade in over
his head into the snake’s viridian venom, in the background
Van Gogh’s mother portrait, where the world’s players
smash against each other, competing terribly–
who wouldn’t waste a life for the naive green just breaking
into gallop? the wild fields blossoming?
As you can see, I’ve selected a dominant color palette that represents the poet/his work (green, with nods to significant painters who worked famously in green) and made allusions to Wright’s most well-known poems. What I’m most interested in is the conversation, the stimulation that arose from it. A familiar paradox, but one that bears repeating: artists must carve out vacuums in order to make art, yet art is not inspired by such vacuums, but life itself. In support of the collaboration of visual art and poetic inspiration, I bring my students to CEAM every semester, to view what riches our director has procured and to respond in poems; part of my own making process comes in designing prompts unique to the artist’s work. This experience is for them, for me, the dominant lesson: that the art-making engine runs on nouvelles idées, that we must constantly see potential inspiration everywhere and seek it out. If we’re young, the challenge comes in developing the habit; if we’re older, it’s in sustaining it. The irony, of course, with this particular mode: that the new ideas come from ideas already examined, though differently, by other makers. Another paradox (the soul of poetry).
Past contributor Sarah Vap was recently featured on the literary podcast, Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People). Rachel Zucker interviews Sarah about upcoming manuscripts, her writing as craft, and her panel at this year’s AWP. You can listen to the conversation here.
Sarah was also featured on the Speedway and Swan podcast with guest host Susan Briante. You can listen to that conversation here, where they discuss the many forms that poetry can take.
Sarah’s interview with Superstition Review can be found in issue 13 here.