Today we are happy to announce the news of past contributor Tania Katan! Tania’s instruction manual for inserting creativity into your work and personal life, titled “Creative Trespassing,” was just published in February by Penguin Random House. Creator of the viral campaign #ItWasNeverADress is no stranger to integrating feminism, power and creative strength into everyday life. The book is full of her own incredible stories and encourages all readers to make their own opportunities and fun.
More information about Tania’s book can be found here, her non-fiction short story from Issue 4 can be found here, along with her interview from the same issue.
We are pleased to announce that past contributor Maggie Kast’s essay, “The House Will Burn,” has been accepted for reprint in The Orison Anthology vol. 3, 2018. The volume is available for purchase at Orison Books. Congratulations, Maggie!
Today we are pleased to feature Kate Lechler as our Authors Talk series contributor. Kate discusses her essay, “The Breathtaking Sting of the Pull,” and what non-fiction offers to her as a writer.
She reflects on her time as an ESL teacher in the suburbs of Seoul, South Korea, and finds that most of the stories she writes are the last stories she’d think of sharing. She identifies religion as a recurring theme in most of her work, including the novel she is currently writing, in which her protagonist, like herself, grew up conservative Christian. Finally, Kate ends her podcast by talking about the strength of fiction and how, “we can create a world where we can think about all the things we care about.”
The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University is proud to offer five creative writing classes through the Piper Writers Studio. Classes are taught by acclaimed and award-winning writers from the community, and cover topics such as first-draft novel writing, novel revisions, persona poetry, and creative non-fiction.
The faculty and courses for the April 2017 sessions of the Piper Writers Studio are:
The Story Behind the Poem with Jim Sallis on Wednesdays April 5th – 26th, 2017 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.
Another Voice: Creating Memorable Poetic Personas with Lois Roma-Deeley on Saturday April 22nd, 2017 from 9 am to 1 pm.
The Facts of Life… and Death: Writing Crime Accurately with Deborah Ledford on Saturdays April 8th – 29th, 2017 from 12 pm to 2 pm.
Having a Blast: The Art of Comedy and Writing with Rebecca Byrkit on Wednesdays April 5th – 26th, 2017 from 6:30pm – 8:30 pm.
Your Podcast is a Story: Finding and Telling Strong Narratives with Tracey Wahl and Daniel Zwerdling on Saturday March 25th, 2017 from 9 am to 4 pm.
Classes are open to individuals of all backgrounds, skill levels, and experiences, and are designed to fit around the schedules of working adults (taking place weekday evenings or weekends). Most classes are held at the Piper Writers House, the historic President’s Cottage on the ASU Tempe Campus. Class sizes are small in order to ensure an intimate, individualized educational experience, so be sure to register early to secure your seat. Students can register on the Piper Center’s website.
Classes start at $75 (with discounts for individuals who are members of the Piper Circle of Friends). Classes can also qualify for professional development credit with the Arizona Department of Education.
Sessions are held every October, January, and April. Topics and instructors vary from semester to semester, so check out The Piper Center’s website for news about the courses and for FAQ’s.
The Berkeley Fiction Review is a UC Berkeley undergraduate, student-run publication. We look for innovative short fiction that plays with form and content, as well as traditionally constructed stories with fresh voices and original ideas.
We invite submissions of previously unpublished short stories year round and publish annually. Submissions are free. Contributors whose stories are published receive one free copy of the issue their story appears in. We also host fiction contests and nominate to O. Henry, Best American Short Stories, and Pushcart prizes.
We also invite submissions to our annual sudden-fiction contest. See website.
Prick of the Spindle is a journal of the literary arts, founded in 2007. We are always seeking book reviews and critics to take on the titles listed on the review shelf at http://prickofthespindle.org/reviewer-guidelines/. We are also seeking short film and visual artists for our online galleries, as well as humor writers for the new online section, The Corner. Submit your fiction, poetry, nonfiction, humorous pieces, reviews, interviews, artwork, and drama for the biannual print edition at https://posprint.submittable.com/submit. Subscribe to the print edition at more than 16% off the cover price. Visit http://prickofthespindle.org/shop/.
Provocative is easy. Fact and argument are hard. Boston Review promotes the latter through top-notch intellectual debate on society’s most salient issues, with contributors such as Noam Chomsky, Martha Nussbaum, and Cornel West. Each issue also features a forum debate, highly acclaimed poetry, new fiction selected by fiction editor Junot Díaz, and much more.
Usually I write novels, not short ones either. I’ve been committing novels half my life. (I write “committing” because sometimes my novels feel like crimes: of self-indulgence, because what they earn doesn’t support my family; of hubris, because they create complex worlds that live on their own and surely piss off the gods, if there are gods).
What I’ve learned in writing is that a novel’s story-world, and the characters that live in it, have no respect for the world I live in. Of course I start off wanting, even needing to put in people and places I know, but the places and people in novel X have their own logistics, needs, and requirements; they have discrete hopes and angers and systems of measurement; and inevitably these take over. I have written about Africa, and France, and my native Cape Cod (Mass.,) and while I know well the places I describe, the characters live their way and rejigger their environments to match.
If you try to find your way to the villages in the novels I’ve written about the Cape, for example, you will get lost. Guaranteed. The characters insisted on a street in Hyannis, a bar in Chatham, a patch of woods in Wellfleet, a smell from a house in Cotuit. And while they might have started off as a fisherman I worked for, a woman I lived with, they soon chose their own paths, and became someone significantly different.
Of late, however, I’ve been writing short-short fiction, a lot of it based on things that happened in my real life. The stories are so short that the characters come roaring onto the page as themselves, the original Maddy, Pedro, Kurt, in all their ballgowns or sweatclothes, their valiance or lazy cowardice.
This raises issues. Some of the stories involve people who don’t behave well. Some of them are family members. They are racked by obsession or drink, they make fools of themselves over women (or men). They don’t have time to alter the narrative, or dress themselves as other than who they are in real life. And if the people involved read the story, they will recognize themselves, and be hurt.
Is it worth hurting someone in the interests of literature? On some level, I believe it is, or should be. When I think of what a writer is supposed to do, I always remember Tony Montana’s line from Scarface: “Me, I always tell the truth–even when I lie.” In fiction as in non-fiction, a good writer will always paint a perspective of how the world truly works and how people function. That perspective illuminates, explains, and most importantly of all, makes us feel the impact of those mechanics. The writer will paint this way no matter what the cost.
If that means putting someone real in the cast of characters, and person “A” is hurt by his inclusion, “A” should know that his pride or trust have been violated in the interests of a higher truth, a finer Art than people normally practice in daily life.
And, yet–I don’t buy it.
I suppose, if one of my short but hurtful pieces could provably, immediately save the lives of people dying of thirst in Somalia, one could make a case that the ends justified the means. But justifying deliberate harm for whatever reason is always a risky argument because such arguments will inevitably be turned around to justify goals that are not cut and dried.
And it’s more likely that the sky will turn green or that Fox News will report objectively than that my writing should save the life of anyone. Bring insight, maybe. Cause pleasure, I hope. But save lives–nope.
In those circumstances, I can only say that if I have to make the decision, I’ll opt not to hurt. Or at least, I’ll fudge the names and identities of characters to the point where they can’t be recognized. Is that a cheap compromise? Maybe. But it’s what I do.
I don’t think Tony Montana uttered words to illustrate this position, so I’ll refer instead to the artist Alberto Giacometti, who once said, “In a fire, between a Rembrandt and a cat, I would choose the cat.” Art, and writing, should value life above all else. And they should demonize hurt, not cause it.
As someone who has dedicated the majority of his life to – for lack of a better term – making shit up, the popular dictum of “write what you know” is troubling. Or maybe troubling isn’t the correct word. A better word is limiting. If I were restricted to writing about places I had been, people I had met, and situations I had encountered, my writing options would feel pretty grim.
The great thing about fiction, and art in general, is that it gives us a way to escape the confines of our experiences. It also allows us to overlay order, structure, and meaning upon the randomness of everyday life. Fiction lets us enter the minds, the circumstances, of people we will never be. Literary scholar Michael Bryson wrote that “Art . . . raises us out of ourselves for tantalizingly brief, yet intensely felt and long-remembered moments, reminds us that we are somehow part of something greater than ourselves – even if that something is illusory and mythical.” (http://www.brysons.net/academic/fictionofanabsolute.html)
The experiences of our lives do not follow a tidy arc. They lack the focus of a central conflict. They provide little, if any, symbolism. The people we know are not protagonists or antagonists, even if they act antagonistic at times. Art gives us the chance to shape the world, to highlight connections between events and people and places, to suggest symbolic value – multiplicity of meanings and the entire range of human complexity – within the everyday. This is why stories are read again and again. When we allow fictional elements to enter the mix, these connections, symbols, and shapes get stronger, more complete, and more nuanced. It’s why art lasts while autobiographies and history books generally fade away. When is the last time someone handed you a history book from, say, the 1970s, and said “You gotta read this!”? Art is timeless, while fact-based historical books usually have short shelf lives.
And yet American culture largely prioritizes nonfiction over fiction. Remember when James Frey couldn’t find a publisher for his novel, A Million Little Pieces? Then he decided to pretend it was non-fiction, and it became a bestseller. Folks say they don’t want to read about something that “hasn’t happened and probably won’t ever happen.” I honestly can’t understand the reasoning behind this statement.
Even if the events in a story or novel haven’t literally happened, what has happened are the emotional truths of the story. Huck Finn may have never walked the Earth, but his dilemma – his internal conflict between caring for Negro Jim while being told by society that Jim is less than human – are universal and powerful.
Even better, because Huck is fictional, this means we all can know him. We can all possess him; we can all have our own vision of what he looks like, sounds like, etc. Same goes for Romeo and Juliet, Harry Potter, Willie Wonka, Emma Bovary, Holden Caulfield, and so on. These characters are more alive – more truthful – than historical figures for the simple reason that they are not literal flesh-and-blood people. They are eternal because we help create them with our minds and imaginations.
This is why I get depressed when people insist that Old Testament stories happened literally, exactly as written – as if any admission of fictional elements would somehow diminish them, weaken their power. In fact, I’m pretty sure the opposite is true. Take Noah’s Ark for example. As a story, it shows us the heights to which people can rise in demonstrating faith. It shows the ultimately forgiving nature of a God who will also punish unrepentant wickedness. It shows us the covenant, the promise that God made with humans. Read as fiction the story is relatable and epic and larger-than-life, and it’s OK not to get hung up on the plausibility of a 500 year-old man building a boat the length of two football fields before rounding up a male and female of every species of animal on the planet. If I’m assured that the story is fictional, I’m along for the ride and can reap all the great wisdom it offers.
The terrific writer Eudora Welty offered her own version of “Write what you know.” Her version was this: “Write what you don’t know about what you know.” Read that sentence a few times. What we know are people, places, conflicts. What we don’t know are the whys. By using a foundation of familiar human events and then allowing ourselves to expand into the realm of the fictional, we can begin an inquiry into everything we “don’t know” about what it is to be human in this odd, fleeting world.
The New Madrid editors invite well-crafted submissions of fiction, nonfiction and poetry for an upcoming theme issue, “The Great Hunger.” In keeping with Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh’s poem of the same title, the editors seek submissions that revisit the collective trauma of Gorta Mór, the great famine that occurred in Ireland between 1845 and 1852. For this issue, the Irish famine also serves as a touchstone for the exploration of issues of food scarcity today. Thus the editors invite contributions that investigate famines that have taken place outside Ireland, as well as submissions that address hunger as a contemporary phenomenon. Submissions will be accepted between August 15 and October 15, 2013. All contributions should be of interest to the general reader. Please do not submit scholarly articles. Visit www.newmadridjournal.org for further details on this theme, and to learn how to submit your work.