Co-presented by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Changing Hands Bookstore brings author of The Sympathizer 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen to Phoenix. Nguyen will talk about his new short story collection The Refugees at Changing Hands Bookstore’s Phoenix location (300 W. Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85013) on Thursday, April 20th, 2017 at 7 p.m.
The Refugees is a captivating testament to the dreams and hardships of immigration. It is a collection of stories written over a period of twenty years, exploring questions of immigration, identity, love, and family.
Today we are pleased to feature author Sherril Jaffe as our Authors Talk series contributor. Sherril discusses her opinions on art and its relationship to character. In particular, she explains the multifaceted purpose of art and how it is interested in the truth, which is currently under assault.
She also discusses the nature of the short story as an art form, referring to her piece in Issue 18, “During the Republican Convention.” She reveals that short stories are powerful because they can break all the rules, and she emphasizes that “a short story should crack something open in us.”
Today we are pleased to feature author Mathew Michael Hodges as our Authors Talk series contributor. Interestingly, Mathew begins his podcast by discussing how he used to feel claustrophobic in the confines of the short story form, though he has now become “more comfortable in the cozy space of the short story.”
Mathew goes on to describe the variety of ways that his ideas come to him. Specifically, he discusses the process of building “A Sound Man,” which was featured in Issue 18 of Superstition Review. For Mathew, the story started with Rory’s job as a sound designer before the other layers of the story fell into place. Mathew also offers insights regarding the creative process and revision. He describes his “write-and-stash method,” which has helped him be more objective when revising.
A writer friend was visiting from North Carolina. She is a country girl, lived—at the time—in an Airstream in the woods. She posts online pictures of her view sometimes (not too far from civilization to have access to WiFi) and it couldn’t be more different from mine. Trees, dense and green, mountains and untended ground cover. Me, I have trees out my window, too, the third floor of a six-flat in Andersonville on Chicago’s Northside. One tree grows so close to the building that squirrels jump from its branches to a ledge outside our window, dash across to where they can vault to the flat roof of the duplex next door. It drives our cat Pablo insane, this run of squirrels on the other side of the glass, close enough to make eye contact. The wild he can see and too, the wild it sparks in him. Philip (my husband) and I have come to call this Squirrel Highway, and we watch the show of it from our seats in the sunroom.
We—Philip, Pablo and I—live on a Chicago side street, a place of multi-family buildings and the occasional single-family house, small strips of grass that are not quite yards. Mostly sidewalk and street out front. Cars parked bumper to bumper, except when it snows, and then, between the cars covered in heaps of white powder, shoveled-clean spots with kitchen chairs and garbage bins and yellow police-type tape (we can buy it at the Ace Hardware down the block) stretched between broom handles sticking up in the snow. “Dibs”, we Chicagoans call this practice. As in: “I was up in the early morning dark and subzero Chicago winter weather to shovel this small patch of territory out, buddy. I call dibs.”
But this time when my friend visits, it is autumn, early autumn, and the trees are still leafy and the air is only slightly chilled and we have gone out for a walk to my favorite bookstore three blocks away. Women & Children First, an independent that despite the odds (Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon) has been in operation since 1979.
We are strolling, in no real hurry, book-talking and catching up. The city bustle is behind us back on Clark Street where it never seems to stop: buses, a taxi garage open 24 hours, bars and restaurants (fine and casual), firetrucks with lights and sirens going, a small (wonderful) bodega that sells both PBR and craft beer, fresh produce and canned vegetables, expensive organic and gluten free stuff, toilet paper and brightly colored hard candies in plastic packaging labeled with Spanish words or Asian lettering.
On my street, a small branch of Chicago’s famous grid system, there isn’t much going on. Middle of the day in the middle of the week. Ahead of us, a half-block away maybe, is an animal walking off-leash on the sidewalk.
Dog, I think, and maybe say. A little irritated because it is without a human, and I have once been bitten badly in this city by an off-leash, un-humanned, “friendly” dog.
“I don’t think that’s a dog,” my friend says. The animal, large, gray, slows ahead of us, sniffs things. It looks a little ragged. We cross to the other side of the road, watching.
“Coyote.” She says. Or I do.
This neighborhood used to be called Uptown, but in Chicago the borders of these places are movable, depending on realtor input. Uptown was a little scary when I was growing up, gangs, poverty and territorial divisions that made some people angry, made some dangerous. Now though, after years of encroaching gentrification little by little, we call it Andersonville, like they call the more desirable blocks with big houses and pretty graystone two-flats a quarter mile away on the north side of Foster Avenue, long ago home to working families of Swedish descent. It is a satisfyingly diverse neighborhood these days, a little grubby and a little grand, and I’ve lived here close to ten years.
I pass my neighbors as I walk along my street on the way to the El in the mornings. There is the paid dog walker with dreadlocks and a red hoodie and five pooches of various sizes pulling in different directions on their leashes. “Morning,” I say. “Yup,” he says. There are the two Asian women who tend their gardens in front of the apartment building three doors down from mine, squatting low and pulling weeds, pushing their wide-brimmed hats back from their foreheads to answer when I say hello. And there is the Cambodian Buddhist monk walking toward me, his saffron robes flapping at his legs. “Good morning,” I say, and make eye contact. The first time I did this, he looked slightly startled, although not displeased. “Mmm mmm,” he said in response, not sure of his English yet, or maybe not sure of me. He looked quickly away. That was a few months ago. Now, after almost daily passings, he holds my gaze, says clearly and with a smile, “Good morning.” Sometimes even before I do. There is the man who lives down the street in the two-flat where a Princess Leia (rest in peace) poster facing outward used to hang in the front, first floor window; he wears bottle-thick glasses and sits on his front stoop with a mug of coffee in his hands and nods when I say hi, smiles like we might really (after ten years) know one another. We don’t, despite how close we live to one another; I don’t know any of my neighbors, but I have watched them and imagined (and occasionally written) their stories for years.
My writer friend who lives in the country is a traveler. She has driven all over the United States, lived in different parts of it for weeks at a time, writing, writing, writing. She is one of those writers who does not believe the old adage “write what you know,” but instead is inclined to “write what you want to know, write what you can learn, write what you discover.” It is her curiosity that informs her writing, that makes it strongest. It is as if the writer in her is not fully satisfied with only what she sees out her window every morning.
I thought, when I started this piece, that it was going to be about writing, about craft. That coyote, I thought, unexpected and slightly exotic on the city sidewalk, was going to be a metaphor for the wild possibilities in even the most pedestrian (sidewalk, get it?) of stories. The extraordinary in the ordinary. And maybe it is that. But as happens with all of my writing, I don’t really know what it is about until I have written it. So let me see.
My writer friend and I stand still near the grass on our side of the street and the coyote swivels his big head toward us. He is a handsome boy (or girl) with a sharp snout that looks almost more feline than dog-like; he reminds me of our skinny Pablo: pointy face, ribs like framework showing under his coat, impressively long tail. We don’t move nor does he, a game of chicken on opposite sides of the road, only despite this wild sighting, my friend and I aren’t afraid. We know somehow, there is no danger here. Wild is not always dangerous. Then a battered-up car with a rubber-band engine passes between us and him, and when we look again, the animal is gone.
I have written this moment over and over again in my journal. Looked at it from all angles. A couple on a first date in a short story see the coyote at night, his wildness sends them into an alley where they press against one another against the wall of a building, breathing heavily and biting one another’s shoulders. A mother, already overly protective, in another short story sees the coyote and keeps her kindergartener out of school for the day. And then for the week. And then for the month. She lies to her husband when he goes to work in the morning. Sometimes, I write it simply like this: I saw a coyote today. On the sidewalk. I saw a coyote. A coyote.
I think I want it to be a sign, this sighting. Something that tells me something else I do not yet know. I haven’t yet figured out what that is, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting. From wondering.
And so maybe this is not a piece just about writing, but about the yearning toward wonder. (Or are those the same things?) About how living in this crowded place in the city, where noise and bustle is just a block away, makes me wonder daily—like a writer should. Who are you? I wonder when I stand on the Argyle El stop platform on an early Saturday morning and a woman in a midnight-colored, shimmering sari and a yellow down jacket stands shivering under the heat lamps; when, at noon, two tuxedoed men holding hands (obviously in love) climb aboard the 22 bus heading toward downtown. When I hear the sounds of what might be prayer from the Cambodian Buddhist Temple down the block. What are you saying? When a coyote walks casually down my city street. Where are you going? How did you get here? What is your story?
It is winter now, and the snow has begun to fall in the city. I hear outside my window the sound of shoveling, of making a “dibs” spot. I hear those sounds I will hear over and over again after the long Chicago’s winter, car wheels spinning and spinning and spinning, engines gunning. That stuck sound. People trying to get out. And when that happens, I understand that, too. Escape. Escape. Like my writer friend in the woods did so often. Like the coyote did when we had our heads turned. Escape. Escape this place where after months of cold and snow I sometimes fear my wonder will freeze over.
But just a couple of days ago it was autumn, at least that’s what it felt like, chilly but not cold, the earth warm enough to still be green. Where my friend lives in North Carolina, there is a drought, there are wildfires. The view from where she lives now, I imagine, is still pretty, but there is smoke at its edges and the ground cover is brown, dead. Her view, like mine, like all good views, must keep changing. A couple of days ago, it was windy here in the city, bits of paper were strewn in the grass and the gutters, advertisements for cleaning ladies, menus for delivery, homework on loose leaf blown from the clutches of children, other scraps blown from where they had been slipped under windshield wipers, or into mail slots or in the diamonds of metal fences. Now the snow has covered the scattered debris. It is white outside, the snow making everything new again, clean: streets and sidewalks and front stoops, and all the places in between.
If I stand up from behind my writing desk and look out the window, I might see the Asian women and the man in thick glasses shoveling their sidewalks. I might see the Cambodian Buddhist monk walking briskly down the street toward the bodega, his saffron robes flying out from under his parka, his rubber boots covering his bare legs almost to his knees. There will be small, wild footprints out there, too, in the strips of yards, in the middle of the street. The dog-walker has been through, probably. The squirrels.
Today, we here at the Superstition Review are emptying out the valves and shining the brass so that we can properly trumpet the release of Michelle Ross’ debut collection of stories There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You. This collection has already garnered a list of accolades and praise that you can really march to, most importantly the honor of the 2016 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Michelle Ross was featured in our 17th issue wherein she provided us with “Stories People Tell.” That story and many more are all contained in her There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, which has been hailed by critics and readers alike as “fearless,” “exceptional,” and “the kind [of stories] I want tattooed on my skin.”
To pre-order this fantastic collection of stories, click here.
To learn more about Michelle Ross and her work, visit here website here.
Hiding in Plain Sight: How Ambient Noise and Clutter Feed a Story
We’ve spent an hour and a half with them at this point, with repeated eruptions—Martha savaging her husband, George setting off timed explosions from his store of resentments. Then suddenly: the voices go silent, no sign of George and Martha, of Nick and Honey, the bested guests. Moonlight through tree branches, a yard we see from above, as if from a bedroom window. In the background, stringed instruments, serene. Then Martha’s voice calling for the others and, before Elizabeth Taylor appears onscreen, the sound of ice cubes in her drink, something we’ve been hearing since the opening scene: director Mike Nichols’ brilliant use of ambient noise.
The dialogue dazzles, of course, thanks to Edward Albee, in this case so perfectly delivered that sometimes as I watch “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”—at least a dozen times I’ve indulged the pleasure of this viewing—I take the words, the execution, for granted and marvel at what the director is doing to riff on what the words are getting at. In the scene referenced above, I am not surprised to hear ice cubes clinking before the camera reaches Martha, meandering drunkenly across the yard to her car. The camera has not followed the station wagon here from the foursome’s drunken dancing excursion, but it feels as if we’ve seen the inebriate braking—front tires up over the curb at an angle so that the vehicle lists slightly, passenger-side turn signal winking, winking, winking, rear passenger door flopped open. Nichols doesn’t waste the turn signal. Martha staggers around the car, opens the driver’s door, reaches in, and the turn signals wink back and forth between each other before they blink out. Martha wanders the yard, then, calling out intermittently, her drink glass clinking the while. Finally, the screenplay gives a nod to what the director is doing: Martha says, “Clink. Clink.”
I recommend “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” to fiction writers. Consider it a tutorial in the uses of your characters’ environment, the details of their surroundings—indoor clutter, appliances, items of food and drink, features of the outdoor landscape, sounds so common (clinking ice cubes, anyone?) a writer might overlook them, and so forth. Always in this film there are things for George and Martha and Nick and Honey to do while they speak the language of wreckage.
In what is for me the funniest moment, Elizabeth Taylor leans into a cluttered refrigerator, opened by Richard Burton, grabs a drumstick from a platter of chicken sitting inside uncovered, grabs a salt shaker from the messy table Burton is clearing, salts and devours her piece of chicken, her mouth open as she chews, talking around mouthfuls. Then the perfect capstone: Taylor returns to the refrigerator, still open, tosses the chicken bone onto the same platter, and shuts the door, all without pausing in her run-on monologue about a movie Martha can’t remember the title of. We see a woman, her husband, their relationship, their way of life here. If you didn’t know a word of English, the details would tell you all you need to know.
A decade ago, I took a weekend fiction workshop with Daniel Mueller, author of the stunning short story collection How Animals Mate. Our focus was landscape, Mueller’s mantra:
Let the landscape of your story tell your story.
If a story stalls, look around. Something in your story’s landscape, its environment, will get it moving again.
As an exercise, Mueller asked participants to picture an odd item, oddly out of place in its setting. We went around the workshop table then, each participant volunteering such an item, all of us recording the items on our own list. Our assignment was to select an out-of-place item from the list and write a scene for it.
I chose a wristwatch buckled to the branch of a tree. I already had fragments for a story about a boy named Berndt whose father has committed suicide. For Daniel’s assignment, I imagined that Berndt’s father had taken off his watch on the morning of his suicide and buckled it to a mesquite tree branch before slashing his wrists. The scene I wrote was set several weeks later. Berndt is on his way to feed pigs on the family farm, when morning sun flashes off the crystal of his deceased father’s missing watch. Berndt unfastens the watch and beats it against the mesquite trunk until the crystal smashes, crying and cursing his father. This scene became the closing scene in a story about a mysterious watch and the riddle of a father who owned it. My challenge was to make the watch real and then to build a story around it, leading to the father’s suicide and his son’s subsequent discovery of the watch buckled to a tree.
What might have been peripheral, unimportant, became the story’s vehicle. The story of a watch becomes the story of a difficult father. A son puzzling over the watch itself provides a way of expressing an inner life that is not accessible to or expressible by the son himself. I loved writing this story, loved unfurling the watch’s story, letting the watch carry the bigger story of son and father. Unanswered questions about the watch stand in for unanswered questions about the father. The discovery of the watch, in the closing scene, provides a believable stimulus, without sentimentality, for the protagonist’s anger, his grief. When I was done, the watch even provided a title, “Center Wheel, Balance Wheel, Escape Wheel” (available at Prime Number).
This approach carries one of my first published stories, “In the Garden,” online right here at Superstition Review. A husband and wife converse over breakfast in their backyard. By increments, without intending to, they say things that can’t be taken back, irreparably damaging their marriage. Talking heads cannot carry a short story, at least not one I am capable of writing, so early on, a mockingbird sings out from a live oak near the breakfast table. Then the household tomcat slinks in from the creek. Turns out his name is Tyger, which opens a window onto the protagonist and his wife. The yard has room for a tomato garden, the wife’s—and a pesky squirrel hanging out among the cages. A newspaper at center table has a photo of Ronald Reagan above the fold, spurring an exchange that gives away the year—1982—when the husband says, “Look on the bright side. Two more years and we’ll vote him out.” The husband has a bit of a thing for his best friend; the wife suspects as much. This is a breakfast just for two, though—no reason for the best friend to drop by. Except then a repairman arrives to address hail damage on the roof. Wife notices that husband has noticed the repairman. Both turn at the sound of the repairman’s hammer. Then this: “A patch of sweat, like the map of a harbor Blake wanted to explore, darkened the blue of the man’s shirt in the space between his shoulder blades.” And so it goes. The conflict reaches a peak vicariously, when the mockingbird dive-bombs the squirrel and the cat leaps at the bird’s sudden accessibility.
Ambient noise is my personal catchall for the material stuff, auditory and non-, that surrounds us, often without our notice, the material stuff upon which we can launch credible and engaging stories. This “noise” includes any and all sensory details, any and all physical aspects of the landscape, any and all items at hand in your characters’ environs. A caveat, though. Ambient noise is not a fiction writer’s sole tool. A story can overwhelm itself and its readers with this kind of detail. Nothing impedes narrative momentum like a margin-to-margin thicket of details. Nothing is more tedious.
Watch “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Let yourself revel in the many ways by which the characters interact with facets of their environment—ice cubes, drink glasses, liquor bottles, cigarettes, a platter of fried chicken, a child’s swing hanging in the tree outside, door chimes, a chain lock on the front door. . . .
Read good stories. Here I’ll mention only two—and very short. In “Say Yes” by Tobias Wolff, a husband and wife wash dishes and prepare for bed. That’s it. But the meandering path of talk over dishes leads this couple into a hypothetical question about mixed-race dating, with an answer that changes everything. A younger couple, five years married, figures at the center of “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw. As they walk New York City on a lovely day, the wife catches the husband more than once distracted by the girls of the title passing by on the street. Questions lead to defensive answers, and as in “Say Yes,” things are said that cannot be taken back, that change everything between man and wife.
Immerse yourself in the quiet noise of Wolff’s story, in the vibrant noises of Irwin’s city walk. Then settle into the noises that will tell your next story.
Editor’s Note: David served as co-editor of Wingbeats and Wingbeats II, collections of poetry writing exercises from Dos Gatos Press.
Katie M. Flynn is Fiction Editor at the Indianola Review. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Carve, Flyway, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, and elsewhere. She’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice and holds an MFA from the University of San Francisco. Recently, she completed her first novel about love, revenge, and uploaded consciousness. When she’s not writing, she’s teaching herself classical guitar, nerding out over chess, or chasing her two kids through the wilds of San Francisco.
The man ran late. He hailed a cab. The cab was packed with milk jugs of laundry detergent pre-mixed with water. There was a lot of talk between the man and cab driver. Nothing happened.
Understand, this was a short story.
Understand, this was the first short story I ever wrote, some 25 years ago. I spent a hundred-plus hours in a dim loft on Occidental Street in Seattle crafting the six page story that was—at least in my mind—pure, brilliant literature.
What it really was was awful. Pointless. Embarrassing.
If my present-self had been around then, I would have destroyed my then-self’s typewriter. “Stop,” I would have said. “Trust me, please. Just stop.”
July 2016. Colorado.
Two miles in, my girlfriend Micah and I saw the summit. The guidebook claimed the Mount Belford hike, a 14,150 feet trundle to the summit, was 3.1 miles long. We were close, twenty more minutes of hiking, at most. “We can make it,” I said.
Two hours later we discovered the summit we’d struggled toward was a false summit, the real one a solid half mile farther.
But we’d committed. We were here. Now. We were going to make it.
And we did. After nearly four hours of hiking and climbing, we reached the peak.
At the base, in the dirt parking lot with toxic Port-A-Potties, the day had been brilliant. 76 degrees. A pleasant breeze.
Up top, the temperature bottomed to 43 degrees and the winds whipped so brutally that we had to crouch then crawl the final hundred yards.
Five pictures on the phone. Proof.
Rain clouds wedged their way onto the once blue skies.
We made the descent, believing we’d conquered the mountain.
The first fall left me bloody and laughing.
The third found me on my back like a broken turtle, my plastic water bottle cracked and draining and the mountain air crowded with my curses.
Rain hit, lashing and full.
I hobbled the remaining way, miserable.
In the parking lot, the rain stopped. The sky brightened.
I took my boots off. My socks were red with blood. My right knee had taken on the hue of a eggplant. “I can drive,” Micah said.
I refused, for no good reason.
Driving the once-dirt-now-mud road toward the highway, we saw three men sunning themselves on rocks, shirts off and smoking with a bottle of Dickel whiskey on the ground.
Pointing to the three, Micah said, “There’s a lesson there.”
The writing group met in Brooklyn. I was the only male. “This is a meet-and-greet, a trial to see if you’d be a good fit,” the woman hosting the session said.
I brought a bottle of wine—rather, I bought a bottle of wine. I dropped it in the subway station, staining the pages we were to review that night.
Snacks, soda, and cupcakes. The critiquing was a combative free-for-all, with arguments erupting and people being cut off mid-sentence. I managed two comments over the course of the hour, both which were dismissed.
“I’m not sure you’re a good fit,” the host said, seeing me out. “You don’t seem to understand how to make thoughtful comments.”
Micah and I sat at a small table at Sunny’s bar in Redhook, Brooklyn, drinking scotch and debating the cultural significance of the new World Trade Center with Steve Buscemi while Norah Jones played. The place was packed, though there were no more than forty.
Pausing mid-song, Norah said, “Look everyone, it’s Mick Foley,” and then invited the former pro-wrestler on stage, where he played a woodblock in time to the tune.
“Where else but New York City,” Micah said of our evening as we rode home to Harlem.
The next day, Micah got pulled over by the police and ticketed. $425 for turning right on a red.
On her bicycle.
Where else but New York City.
When my first novel came out, I organized a reading for myself and three others at Bluestockings Bookstore on the Lower East Side. I sent out invites, contacted the media. Time Out New York featured the event both in print and online, calling the three authors reading with me “literature’s new, important voices.”
My name was missing from the announcement.
I sold four books at the reading, left ten more with the bookstore on consignment. “Stop back by in a few weeks and we’ll cut you a check for tonight’s sales and whatever else we sell,” the manager said.
When I returned three weeks later, all my books were gone.
I was thrilled, positive I’d sold them all.
“What’s your name again?” the manager asked. I wasn’t in their system. My book wasn’t in the system. “I can’t pay you for what we didn’t sell,” the manager said, adding, “Are you sure you left them here?”
September leaked into October. The weather grew cold. I was squatting on a boat in the Puget Sound, Seattle, Washington, sneaking aboard at night. I’d rifled the cabinets for crackers and canned oysters, polished off the bottle of cheap port.
This was 1994. My situation was temporary, I was sure. I was going to be famous. Soon. I’d published my own chapbook of poetry, had handed it out to the people who mattered, the Seattle artists and writers who were on the path to make it big.
Through them, I’d make it.
Twenty-two years later, Wikipedia has no mention of the Seattle artists and writers I once knew. Barnes & Nobles doesn’t carry their books.
In graduate school, the Brazilian boy who wore prescription sunglasses to the nighttime writing workshop said of my story, “You cannot start a sentence with the word ‘And.’”
“But what about the piece?” the teacher said. “Overall, what do you think?”
The boy lifted a shoulder, a half shrug. “It’s a draft,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The next day, I mailed the story off to a magazine. It got published. It received an O. Henry Prize.
After three months of sleeping on the streets, I called my folks. Collect.
“What do you want to do?” my father said. “You need to decide on something to do and then we can help.”
I needed money, needed a place.
The pay phone was sticky and a fight between a man on the street and a woman in an apartment above had erupted. Beer bottles flew down from her window.
“I can do anything,” I said, watching the explosion of glass in the street.
“But you’re doing nothing,” my father said. “So how am I supposed to help?”
The next day, I moved into the homeless shelter.
The man ran late. He hailed a cab. The cab was packed with milk jugs of laundry detergent pre-mixed with water. There was a lot of talk between the man and cab driver. Nothing happened.
Thinking about it, I wouldn’t tell my younger-self, “Stop. Trust me, please. Just stop.”
And I wouldn’t destroy the typewriter.
I’d destroy the story.
And I’d say, “If you want to do this, then do it right.”
I’d say, “Move into the shadows. Get lost. Be scared. Find that place where the light stops being light for you. And then sit down. Just sit and wait. Trust me. It’ll happen. As long as you just wait.”
It occurred to me recently, not for the first time, that my swimming reminds me of my writing process. I’m a lap swimmer in a community pool. I swim very long distances. My pool is not part of a fancy gym. The locker room is way too small. Sometimes it’s as crowded in there as a subway at rush hour. There’s a grungy gang shower too, with cracks in the tile and some broken fixtures. Hot water is more a hope than a reality. You have to bring your own towel to this place and last week someone pried open my combination lock and stole the money from my wallet while I was doing my laps. I was grateful they left the wallet though, and figured maybe they needed the $22 more than I did. Actually, I love this gym and I love the pool, which, unlike the locker room, is clean and well-maintained. The lifeguards are friendly. Now, writing has its challenges too. Sometimes the water isn’t hot and the fixtures are broken. And the most obvious comparison between the two is that lap swimming is this solitary effort, where you literally throw yourself into the deep end and just take off. Most writers understand that part. Personally, I’m not the flashiest swimmer or the fastest. My technique isn’t the prettiest either, but I do keep at it. That’s like my writing. And like writing, the benefits of swimming work best when you stick to a regular schedule or routine. You increase your stamina over time. Writing a short story is like a long swim for me. It’s tough to get started sometimes. You can struggle at first. You flail away. And then you eventually find a rhythm and you pace yourself. You don’t stop. You try not to lose steam before the finish. (If writing a short story is like a long swim for me, then working on my unpublished novel was more like running a marathon at a high altitude – but that’s another topic entirely.) I don’t think of lap swimming as only a metaphor. It has become part of my writing process too. Sometimes a swim will clear my head and get me back into a space where I can work. But I’ve also tackled plot problems, created back stories for characters and tried out dialogue as I thrash around in the pool, sometimes losing count of my laps as a result. I’m grateful for my time in the water and for my time at the computer too, when things come together and I have enough momentum to carry me through. I think my writing and lap swimming have become somewhat linked in my mind, the endurance part anyway, the personal challenge, the dogged persistence. As with anything, it comes down to commitment — that happy dedication to something that will eventually become part of who you really are, at any moment, on any particular day.
‘You’re home early,’ and he says, ‘Yes I am.’ He fumbles through boxes in the basement.
There is a 35-millimeter Nikon FG-20 buried in here somewhere, beneath football jerseys and an antler chandelier she’d made him take down.
All through dinner she asks questions about work. To pacify her, he says he has managed to collect some overdue funds from Hitachi, one of the ‘majors.’ This is an outright lie. The tree book sits on the hall table, waiting.”
Announcing Transatlantic, the first anthology from long-running London literary magazine Litro, Transatlantic collects together some of the best stories – and the biggest names – to have passed through its pages.
Litro magazine has always taken a global view of the literary world, and this collection is no exception. There are stories from authors on both sides of the Atlantic, spanning locations as far apart as Ithaca and Nairobi – and even the surface of the moon. What connects them is the strength of their voices, and the vibrant originality of their storytelling.
Transatlantic contains disturbed choristers and post-apocalyptic survivalists, aspiring rock stars and morally bankrupt nuclear power plant workers – but more importantly, it contains some of the most exciting and unique new voices to have appeared in modern fiction over the last few years.
Transatlantic: The Litro Anthology collects some of the best writing to have passed through the pages of Litro magazine, including stories by Anthony Doerr, Sean Beaudoin, Nikesh Shukla, Lucie Whitehouse and Jenn Ashworth.
It also introduces Reece Choules and Iain Robinson – the first two authors to sign to Litro’s bespoke literary agency, Litro Represents.
Why not join the Litro community and connect with like minded people and support our efforts to find new ways of looking at the world through stories, as well as providing opportunities and exposure for emerging writers, perhaps kick-starting their careers.
A membership to Litro will help us to continue to support our many emerging writers, and who knows, your support could be the one that helps launch the next great literary talent!
Membership to our Book Club gives you access to a community of writers, as well as the following:
Four times a year you will receive an advance copy of the featured book in the post (worth more than £50)
See your book reviews published online and have the chance to enter special Book Club member writing competitions
Exclusive author access including face-to-face events in London and online Q&As
And much more “Members Only” content including special reader gift offers from our many partners
Other Membership Options:
With our all-access UK membership, you get Litro Magazine delivered to your door: 10 issues of Litro Magazine a year, plus exclusive access to hundreds of short stories from past issues in our digital archive.
Get in on our quarterly Book Club: four new books a year from our Book Club, plus access to live author Q&As, and the chance to see your reviews published on litro.co.uk. Discounts on Litro Live! events: 50% off Litro Live! events and priority booking.
With our all-access International membership, you get all the same benefits as for UK readers, but at a small additional cost to cover postage and packaging.
Our Student membership gives you the same benefits as a full membership, but at a discounted rate. You will be asked to show proof that you are a student of a school or university in the UK.