The Narrative Storytelling Initiative‘s goal is to enhance access and public engagement with narrators and narratives. They are currently looking for messages written to Mother Earth in the future, with a maximum of 100 words. These messages will be included in a special exhibition piece at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory during the last two weeks of October.
Alice Kaltman’s short story collection Almost Deadly, Almost Good will be released this November, published by the Word West Press. Kaltman’s book features fourteen interlinked short stories: the first embody the seven deadly sins, the last the seven heavenly virtues. With rich, reoccurring characters and compelling plots, Kaltman creates a collection that’s impossible to put down.
Kaltman’s opening story “Sunset Lounge (Lust)” follows a woman pining after her daughter’s attractive older boyfriend. In an unexpected but riveting twist, we discover tantalizing details about the boyfriend in “A Fancy Job (Gluttony),” and the ultimate conclusion comes in “Knickers in a Twist (Charity).” Just as the stories are linked, Almost Deadly, Almost Good links good and bad, with a special attention to gender and class.
Story after brilliantly written story, we’re shown our own fears, our own foibles, our own forbidden desires, and tenderest heartaches. These are stories of human beings under pressure, at their most “changeable” moments, and we readers can’t look away. Nor do we want to. With candor, wisdom, and humor, almost deadly, almost good reminds us to be good to ourselves and to each other for we are all at once, beautiful and aching and ridiculous.
Kathy Fish, Author of Wildlife: Collected Works from 2003-2018
Alice Kaltman is the author of Staggerwing, Dawg Towne, Wavehouse, and The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh. To learn more about Kaltman, visit her website.
We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Kaltman’s collection. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.
Brennie Shoup: Could you discuss your inspirations for Almost Deadly, Almost Good?
Alice Kaltman: The original idea for a linked collection occurred to me after I wrote the first story in the book, Sunset Lounge. It was so clearly a story about LUST that it got me thinking how fun it would be to create a chapbook based on the Seven Deadly Sins. I already had a few stories and characters that fit the bill for other Sins: Greedy Senator Levinson from Into the Woods, poor languorous Cecil from Cecil’s New Friends, envious Greta from Come On Over to My Place. Once I’d finished the other sinful stories, I fiddled with content to link them. Characters appear deeply in the plots of other stories, or sometimes they just pass by. So much fun!
BS: This collection is full of humor. Could you discuss this humor and how you balanced it with more serious themes?
AK: I’ve always felt that pathos is more tolerable if it can be softened with humor. That’s not always the case, and there are writers out there who do gut-punching stuff that I love, that make me weep. Sometimes tragedy needs to stand on its own broken, bloody legs. But in my own writing, I veer towards the humorous. It makes it feel more human and authentic to my vision of people and the crazy misguided things they do. I’ve been a psychotherapist for over 30 years. If you can’t laugh, you’ll sink. Need I say more?
BS: Despite its title and theme, most of the stories in this collection don’t appear to be explicitly religious. What made you choose the motif of the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues?
AK: I can’t recall who it was, but I mentioned this project to someone along the way and they said, “Hey, why don’t you do the Heavenly Virtues also?” I had no idea what the Seven Heavenly Virtues were. I’m an agnostic Jew, who veers towards the areligious. And Jews don’t really ‘do’ sins and virtues. But I looked the Virtues up and …goldmine. I fiddled with new content and old content, pulled some sections from my novel Dawg Towne, added some new stories and revisited old ones. It was super fun to change POVs, add links that weren’t there before, change timelines, etc. Plagiarizing one’s own work is one of a writer’s deepest pleasures. Or at least one of mine.
The Symmetry of Fish (Penguin Books, 2022) | Su Cho
Congratulations to Su Cho for her debut poetry collection The Symmetry of Fish, published by Penguin Books. Winner of the National Poetry Series, Cho’s collection explores immigration, family, and language. At the heart of the collection is a coming-of-age narrative, and Cho offers insights about how language changes and condenses over generations, not diluted but distilled.
Each year, the National Poetry Series chooses five poetry manuscripts to publish, with the goal of increasing the number of poetry collections published and available. Paige Lewis, author of Space Struck, chose Su Cho’s manuscript for publication.
In her debut collection, The Symmetry of Fish, Su Cho presents us with a speaker who attempts to separate seemingly unlike things: the religious and flippant, the fishbone from the flesh, herself from her memories. In one poem Cho writes of a desire ‘to isolate these moments / pipette them into test tubes / whirl them in a centrifuge.’ Lucky for us, this turns out to be an impossible endeavor. Instead, we are graced with a glorious combination of the incompatible…
Paige lewis, author of Space Struck
Su Cho’s essay “Cleaving Translation” won the 2019 Wabash Prize in Nonfiction. She was a finalist for the 2019 Black Warrior Review NonfictionContest and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. To learn more about her, visit her website.
This poetry is quite marvelous. All hits no skips. I was incredibly moved by these poems about family and immigration and the relationship we have to languages. I particularly loved the poem about translating for parents. I look forward to more from Su Cho.
Roxane gay, author of Hunger
The Symmetry of Fish will be available October 11, 2022. To preorder the collection, go here.
Crossroads (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021) | Jonathan Franzen
Join ASU’s TomorrowTalks with Jonathan Franzen Wednesday, October 5th at 6pm AZ time. TomorrowTalks is a student-engagement initiative meant to put students in conversation with authors who explain how they use their writing to address society’s most pressing issues. It’s led by the Division of Humanities at ASU and hosted by ASU’s Department of English in partnership with Macmillan Publishers.
This event takes place over Zoom and is free, although registration is required. Franzen will be discussing his book Crossroads, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. His book is set in December of 1971, and it examines a Midwestern family in the midst of a moral crisis. With careful attention to each of the family members, he interweaves their perspectives into a tale of suspense and complexity.
Thank God for Jonathan Franzen . . . With its dazzling style and tireless attention to the machinations of a single family, Crossroads is distinctly Franzen-esque, but it represents a marked evolution . . . It’s an electrifying examination of the irreducible complexities of an ethical life. With his ever-parsing style and his relentless calculation of the fractals of consciousness, Franzen makes a good claim to being the 21st century’s Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Ron Charles, The Washington Post
Jonathan Franzen has written six novels. He has won a variety of awards: the National Book Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Award, the Heartland Prize, and others. Visit his website to read more about him.
To learn more about TomorrowTalks and register for the event, go here.
Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us (Yemassee, 2022) | Lynn Mundell
Congratulations to Lynn Mundell for her new chapbook Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us. Winner of Yemassee Journal’s 2021 Fiction Chapbook Contest, Mundell’s chapbook is a vivid, visceral look at womanhood. Comprised entirely of flash fiction pieces, Mundell proves she is a master at reaching profound depths with only a few words.
Although Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us focuses on women, there is no one type of woman Mundell writes about. Young and old, idealized and flawed—she writes with empathy about sisters, mothers, and women who simply are. No two stories are the same: Mundell writes as an unborn, reincarnated baby in her first story “Again,” and later she writes from Mona Lisa’s point of view in “Smile, Lisa.” Her final piece, “Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us,” is a mesmerizing capstone to a brilliant chapbook. Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us is perfect for those looking for a collection that’s short but poignant.
The wit, warmth, and skill of this writer struck me immediately. These stories are smart but not smart-alecky, quirky yet polished, broad in their emotional appeal and sharp in their resonance. Again and again, I was taken by surprise—by the originality of the prose, the ingenuity of each scenario, the impact delivered by such a small number of words. I felt for these characters—the sisters in “Cloise,” about to be split apart, the lonely boy in “Mother and Child,” the broken family in “Big Baby,” the pregnant women who refuse to dim their hopes in “Our Bright Lights On.” Though many of these stories are heart-rending, I also found myself smiling, uplifted. This collection and this writer are ready for prime time.
Mira T. Lee, author of the novel Everything Here is Beautiful
Lynn Mundell is a short story writer, publisher, and editor. She and Grant Faulkner founded 100 Word Story in 2010, and her story “Again” appeared in Issue 17 of Superstition Review. To learn more about Lynn Mundell, go to her website.
To purchase Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us, go here.
We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Mundell’s chapbook. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.
Brennie Shoup: Much of your work is flash fiction. Could you talk about what draws you to this form, and how flash fiction appears in Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us?
Lynn Mundell: Flash fiction enables us to tell our stories in intimate ways—a secret whispered into an ear; a tale told over a quick warm drink. We boil down the story to its essence, leaving the tea leaves or coffee grounds for later scrutiny. For me it’s been the marriage of my original writing as a poet with my lifelong love of a good story. All of the stories in my chapbook are flash. They include 100-word stories in triptychs, some using numbering and headings for short sections, traditionally plotted longer flash, and some hybrid pieces where poetry and fiction congregate. The first story in the collection is called “Again,” about a baby born over and over and over again that was inspired by a black and white photo of a happy young family. It was published in Superstition Review and remains one of my favorite stories to have told and to read to others, so thank you, Superstition Review!
BS: The original “Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us” was published in 2018 in Booth. Could you talk about what inspired the piece and how it ended up as the title for your chapbook?
LM: “Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us” was actually inspired by a very small airplane seat on a flight from Phoenix to Santa Fe! Where the rest of that piece came from is a mystery to me, but there must have been a lot of feelings about how women’s bodies are used and used up that fed into it. I definitely tapped into everything from being hit on when I was younger to breastfeeding my kids. I wrote it at a writing retreat hosted by Meg Tuite and Robert Vaughn that encouraged crossing the border between poetry and fiction writing. I recommend working with these writers or just any sort of a change of scenery for a way to feel freed and inspired to produce new things. I sometimes camp out in a new location for four or five days to unplug and have found my best stories come from these times where I am seeing new things while also working in total isolation. When it was time to organize my stories, “Let Our Bodies” really encapsulated the theme for the whole book, plus it made for an intriguing book title that could also provide a lot of fodder for the cover illustration.
BS: Could you discuss the main themes of your chapbook? How have these themes developed over your career? Do you find yourself writing about the same ideas over and over again?
LM: The theme of the book is women’s bodies—what they are capable of, how they are viewed and objectified, as sources of comfort and conflict, and how ultimately women own them. The book is organized from birth to end of life, and each piece is from a female point of view. The theme surprised me as I sorted through my work looking for the common thread. I have other stories I like that did not fit into the collection thematically at all, and one of the most difficult things about creating the collection was having to give these pieces the heave-ho. I have written everything from ghost stories to creative nonfiction about my early teens living in Iran. Frankly, writing wise I am all over the map.
Typically I write a piece and sort of hope that there will be something cohesive among a few years of my work, but there isn’t always—which is why it took many years for this book to come about with its theme that finally surfaced. I admire writers who can set out to write to a theme and have a collection they are purposefully working toward. I was recently trying to write connected fables about animals, but have thus far only created one I like, about a mother and baby elephant that was published in The Masters Review. I’d like to keep trying on that, but may need to expand the theme to just fables in general or even fables and fairy tales.
BS: Do you have plans for future chapbooks, short story collections, or novels?
LM: I would love to write more books. But right now I am just writing and we will see where that goes. During the pandemic I have sort of gotten off the script of life in general, and in writing toward a publishing objective of any kind, with one thing being very different from the next. This has included a long fairy tale published in Gone Long, a book review for a friend’s new collection in Necessary Fiction, a four-part piece about fishing with my father in Under the Gum Tree, a creative nonfiction about family depression written to a painting in The Ekphrastic Review, a longer mystery in collaboration with artist Merrick Adams in 7x7LA, and others that are pushing what I typically do. At the end of this year I’ll look everything over and see if there is a pattern for a new book or one thing that I like enough as a starting point for a new book. I will say that I have continued to find great joy in writing as well as reading the incredible work that is out there lately.
What I love about writing is the wonderful sense of freedom. In our daily lives we are constrained by the demands of work, family, duty, society, finances, and so forth. But in writing we can leave all of that behind to explore anything with total abandon.
Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke (Diode Editions, 2022) | Eric Tran
Congratulations to Eric Tran for his new poetry collection Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke, published by Diode Editions. Winner of the 2021 Diode Editions Full-Length Book Prize, this collection “grieves a lover lost to addiction and also swims in the intoxication of desire.” Tran explores themes of grief, lust, and queerness using a variety of poetic forms. Although not limited to one type of poem or one specific subject, Tran’s poetry remains united to create a cohesive piece. Poems selected for the collection are visceral and candid as Tran dives into his own emotions, writing “I’m lousy and bloated / with love.” His poetry is perfect for those searching for a deep discussion of intimacy.
Wounds, here, are not ornamental. Tenderness, here, is as restless and resilient as pain. The poems refuse transformation, superficial resolutions. Instead, the language—unsparing, striking—attends to addiction and death with grace, awe. The emotional complexity is mirrored structurally: the lines waterfall and halt, a sonnet crown jolts awake the mind, sentences simmer with lyrical momentum. Eric Tran’s second book is heart-rich and deftly written—the poems will stay with you long after you finish reading it.
Eduardo c. corral, author of guillotine
Eric Tran is a queer Vietnamese writer and physician. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon. Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke is his second book of poetry, and his work has appeared in RHINO, 32 Poems, the Missouri Review, and elsewhere. To learn more about Eric Tran, go to his website.
I resent no one / the instinct to run’ writes Eric Tran in his brave and beautiful Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke. But this is a poet who never runs. In fact, he pushes deep into the raw center of desire, admitting ‘I’ve wanted your picked-at / scab, your broken voice through a / morning-night call.’ This is a book of lust and brokenness, of ‘suffering as hot / and clean as a pistol’s mouth.’
Whale Fall (W. W. Norton & Company, 2022) | David Baker
David Baker’s new book Whale Fall, published by W. W. Norton & Company, is a poetry collection that operates on both a macro and micro level. As Baker’s poetry delves into global ecosystems, it also delves into his personal life. His masterful ability to blend these themes is apparent even early on in the book. His poem “Mullein,” the second in the collection, relates the scientific names of plants to the intimate nicknames Baker’s father gave to friends and family.
Whale Fall is filled with scientific terminology. In fact, the title itself is the name of a particular phenomenon. As Baker explains in his interview with Renee Shea in World Literature Today, a whale fall is an “oceanographic term that describes three stages of [a whale’s] death and decay.” It can take years for the whale carcass to settle on the ocean floor, and its body can provide nutrients to other organisms for decades.
Baker’s poetry is known for its sense of place and environmental message, and Whale Fall follows this trend. For those looking for beautiful nature imagery grounded in environmentalism and threaded with a personal narrative, Whale Fall is the perfect poetry collection.
A virtuoso of eco-poetry and acoustics, Baker meditates on the nonpareil majesty of the planet with rigorous consideration and reverence… Baker’s careful, captivating writing sinks under the skin, summoning a long-forgotten need for stillness, wonder, and attention to the sacrosanctity of the world.
David Baker has written nineteen books, thirteen of them poetry collections. His work has been published in American Poetry Review, Antaeus, The Atlantic Monthly, and elsewhere. To learn more about Baker, visit his website.
From the shadow of the garfish to the memory of seabed in Ohio sandstone, nothing appears to be too slight or too immense for David Baker’s powers of lyric transformation. In book after eloquent book, his artistry has become more purely his own: pared down to essentials while refining its scope of generous inclusion. Baker’s method, like his subject, is the fine pulse of human encounter: here in its most distillate manifestation.
Linda Gregerson, author of prodigal: new and selected poems and magnetic north
Four Palaces Publishing is currently open to submissions for their fiction anthology contest. They are searching for short stories between 2,000 and 6,000 words long. They will also accept up to three flash fiction pieces. The theme of their anthology is “Desire to Escape.” The author of the winning story will receive $1,000 and a mentorship from guest judge Ivelisse Rodriguez, whose short story collection Love War Stories was a 2019 PEN/Faulkner finalist and a 2018 Foreword Reviews INDIES finalist.
Founded in 2021, Four Palaces’ goal is to promote and publish works by previously unpublished writers from underrepresented communities.
Frederick Tran is the executive director and publisher of Four Palaces. Emily Townsend is the managing editor, and her nonfiction piece “Consider the Honeybee” appeared in Issue 19 of Superstition Review.
Submissions close August 31, 2022! Go here to submit your story.
It Falls Gently All Around and Other Stories (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2022) | Ramona Reeves
Congratulations to Ramona Reeves for the upcoming release of her debut book It Falls Gently All Around and Other Stories, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, Reeves’ collection of eleven short stories feature Babbie and Donnie, an ex-call girl and ex-trucker looking to reforge themselves. Reeves’ book focuses on themes of race and class within the context of Mobile, Alabama, the same town Reeves herself grew up in.
The Drue Heinz Literature Prize is awarded to authors of short fiction. Winners have their books published by the University of Pittsburgh Press to make their writing available to the world. Past judges have included Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, and Raymond Carver.
These big-hearted stories offer a kaleidoscopic vision of Mobile, Alabama, a place marked by a tangled history and no less tangled present. With insight, humor, and tenderness, Ramona Reeves renders lives as notable for their frailties and bruises as they are for their grace and grit. Like the work of Sherwood Anderson or Elizabeth Strout, these linked stories take us deep inside a community, even as they plumb the solitary, fiercely particular depths of inner life.
Elizabeth Graver, Drue Heinz Literature Prize guest judge and author of The End of the Point
Ramona Reeves’ writing has appeared in The Southampton Review, Pembroke, Bayou Magazine, New South, and elsewhere. Find out more about Reeves through her website.
Ramona Reeves has fully brought to life a cast of flawed, breaking people with bravery and resilience to spare. The book is a triumph of wise and compassionate storytelling.
kevin mcilvoy, author of one kind favor
To pre-order It Falls Gently All Around and Other Stories, you can go to the University of Pittsburgh Press’s website, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.
Ramona Reeves’ nonfiction piece “Hope Chest” appeared in Issue 20 of Superstition Review. Read it here.