Memorious Seeks Assistant Fiction Editor

keep-calm-i-m-your-assistant-editorMemorious magazine seeks an assistant fiction editor who will work closely with the fiction editor to shape magazine content. The assistant fiction editor will be responsible for helping the fiction editor select submissions for the magazine; soliciting works of fiction; assisting in editing the fiction selections; recruiting skilled fiction readers; and weighing in on nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthologies. The assistant fiction editor will also be involved in creating and soliciting blog content to support the fiction section.

We are seeking a responsible, committed person to join our staff and to work with us in continuing to produce and develop the magazine. Applicants should have editorial experience, in print or online, and be comfortable using Submittable and social networking tools. We are particularly interested in individuals who will build relationships in the community through soliciting work and creating and/ or participating in events at AWP and elsewhere, both in the real world and online.

Like many small independent literary magazines, Memorious is a labor of love. We are an all-volunteer staff, so no stipend or salary is offered. We are looking for someone who finds reward in being an active part of the literary community, gaining valuable editorial experience, and supporting work they find exciting and necessary.

Memorious has been around for more than a decade and is one of the most highly-regarded online literary magazines. We’ve had work reprinted in the New York Times Magazine and Best American Poetry, and we’ve been featured in the print anthologies Best New PoetsBest of the Web, and Best of the Net. Previous prose contributors include Steve AlmondBlake Butler, Kim Chinquee, Joanna LuloffMargaret LuongoAmit Majmudar, Nina McConigley, Peter Orner, Caitlin Horrocks, Becky Hagenston, Benjamin PercySandra ScofieldJames ScottRicco Villanueva SiasocoAnne Valente, Holly M. WendtXu XiPaul Yoon, and many more! You can search our prose archives here. We have also published interviews with writers such as Laura Van den Berg, Sigrid Nunez, Don Lee, Jim Shepard, and Brock Clarke.

Please send a cover letter and C.V. to Brian Trapp at trapp(at)uoregon.edu by October 1st. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Big Loves: Chad Parmenter on Lucie Brock-Broido’s The Master Letters

chad11-1The first time I came across Lucie Brock-Broido’s The Master Letters was in Ed Brunner’s wonderful class, at SIU-Carbondale, on the book-length poetry project. When I opened it up, I noticed that he was thanked personally on the back page, and I probably started to read it based on a “hey, I know that guy” excitement, not really knowing anything about the book itself. And I don’t really know how the first reading impacted me, except that it probably demanded a second reading—not only the poems’ incredibly lyrical richness, or the mix of mystery and urgency in what they said, but some combination of those and more, that simply got me going back to it, and has kept it in my line of poetry vision since then, wonderfully and importantly resisting codification and attracting repeated readings through the MFA and PhD, and many other changes in between.

In 2004, visiting Carrowmore, I had the book’s first poem, with that name, not just in mind, but printed out and maybe in my pocket—not saying that to anyone, probably, because of not wanting to seem like a poetry nerd, but being one, anyway. It’s a megalithic cemetery not all that far from Yeats’s grave, and mostly humps of stone that might seem naturally set there if it wasn’t explained that they are graves. And the poem does some scene-setting, showing lambs “blotched blue, belonging,” running a root through the Romantic pastoral mode about as far back as one can go in the Western tradition, since lambs were a big deal back then, and goes in twists both dizzying and primordial through the presentation of a sacrificial victim, the speaker’s identification with her, and the fragmentation of attention and reference that make the poem bristle with referentiality that finally floats free of anchoring in any one statement, place, or persona. It wasn’t a lens on the cemetery, of course, being both about and not about so much more, but I walked around it getting fairly soaked in the fitting rain, and the poem’s mix of a seemingly peaceful surface and intentions with everything coming undone underneath, in lines like “my belonging I remember how cold I will be,” helped me accept the mystery of where I was.

Master+LettersThe project that frames a lot of the poems, epistles mostly in prose and some in verse to a mercurial addressee who’s sometimes the Master, seemed at first like a way of reading Dickinson, until, again, those repeated readings that the poems seemed to demand, with titles like “And Wylde for to Hold” and “The Sleeping Hollow of His Face Shall be the Straight Pass of Surrendering,” with so many moments of mesmerizing lyricism within them—”fanatic against the vanishing,” “The thrushes sing at auburn dusk / Like parlor ornaments wound up,” “the fire’s leathern eye”—started to show me so much more.  Maybe I had never seen intertextuality as a strategy to both build a poem, or series of them, and to make a sound that stays both surprising and amazingly cohesive, considering the intertexts, the references that go from Sappho to a famous execution in the “chair electric with bad news.”

One voice, and many voices, at the same time. Not the one getting subsumed into the many, like The Waste Land seems to me, or the other way that Whitman goes for me, but this balance, where the speaker acts as choir without losing that sense of an identity—a mystery of one, even a lack, but there, not only orchestrating but present throughout. Cracked mask after cracked mask, and the goal isn’t for the reader to delineate a face behind them, or to trace references through to a life story, at least for me—I started to find a play with language inseparable from a play with persona, that helped me see, really see, how much fun Shakespeare may have had, and to remember how much I definitely did as a kid with shifting from game to game that had their own costumes and parts to play, not as a way of hiding or even revealing, but connecting.

That’s another wonderful thing that I get from this book, and keep getting from it—a sense that the reader matters, is present for the speaker, but not stuck in a role, not fixed in any one place. Maybe the letters suggest that the reader is master in that reader-constructs-the-text kind of way, but “My Most Courteous Lord” and other addresses like it get dynamited out of any clear power relationship by the saying of the poems themselves, by a speaker who masters and, ha, remasters that leap from one persona to another, one setting and reference to another, and one urgent emotional register to another, even in the space of a single poem like “Did Not Come Back”:

                                                                   . . . the best of them,
The slowest velvet suffocation of their kind, did not come

Whittled back by autumn, at an hour between thorn & chaff,
Not come riddled with oblivion, the crossing & a shepherd’s staff,

The moment between Have & Shall Not Want, we who have salt
Always know, that we who have—the best of us—did not come
back.

The speaker, and the speakers, of these poems, are mastered by no one, but potentially connected to anyone, to me.  And, maybe they argue, if they do argue anything—how can I not be?

Chad Parmenter’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry and Kenyon Review, and are forthcoming in Crazyhorse.  His chapbook, Weston’s Unsent Letters to Modotti, won Tupelo’s Snowbound Chapbook Contest, and was published last November.

For original poetry, fiction, art song, art, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

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Poetry Spotlight: Contributor Emilia Phillips

Emilia Phillips HeadshotEmilia Phillips’s second collection of poems, Groundspeed, travels. Recently released from the University of Akron Press, this collection takes to the road through trauma, grief, and memory while offering a means of preservation. Like the roadside through a car window, these poems flash with brilliance as Phillips describes a passengerless wheelchair sitting in a hayloft, the body post-surgery, and lingering moments from childhood. The collection brings you to the edge of the earth and asks you to keep going. But even within these moments of movement and return, there is a quiet searching for the self, for strength beyond grief and loss. Through intensely beautiful—and occasionally grotesque—images and language, Phillips stills for an instant life’s relentless journey forward.

Groundspeed coverPhillips is the author of two poetry collections from the University of Akron Press, Signaletics (2013) and Groundspeed (2016), and three chapbooks including Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike (Bull City Press, 2015). Her poems and lyrics essays appear in Agni, Boston Review, Gulf Coast, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, Ninth Letter, Ploughshares, Poem-a-Day, Poetry, Verse Daily, Memorious, and elsewhere. She received StoryQuarterly’s 2015 Nonfiction Prize, The Journal’s 2012 Poetry Prize, as well as the 2013-2014 Emerging Writer Lectureship from Gettysburg College and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, U.S. Poets in Mexico, and Vermont Studio Center. She is the Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Centenary University of New Jersey.

Phillips has recently completed a third poetry collection and is at work on new poems, a collection of lyric essays titled Wound Revisions, and Offset: A Poetry Broadside Digitization Project. In 2016, she is blogging for Ploughshares.

The collection is like a road trip, especially with poems such as “Wheelchair in a Hayloft” and the “Pastoral” series.  There is a continual, seductive motion in this book. When putting the collection together, were you thinking of it as a type of journey? How did the collection come together for you?

The collection is all about transience, the literal and figurative kinds in equal measure: road trips and afterlifes, interstates and states of being. In some ways, the book was the vehicle for me to say, hold on, I want to still this object—this life—in motion. Some of the first poems in the book were written before two of the most consequential events in my life: the death of my brother in 2012 and the subsequent year’s diagnosis of cancer. The poems move and morph and evolve as I encountered those events, and so there is a kind of journey-like progression of the poems from those in which I was engaging in my subject matter from a very intellectual headspace to those where I’m engaging my subject matter from a very bodily point of view, the latter of which I’ll talk about in depth in a couple of questions. The collection, however, isn’t necessarily ordered with that progression in mind; I didn’t want the book to feel too linear. Instead, I wanted to demonstrate that these waypoints on my journey were visited again and again. My journey was made up of going in circles.

In “Lodge,” you have this wonderful line: “But a word might change us, our landscapes, our movements.” Was there a word, image, or poem in your work or someone else’s that you kept coming back to as you worked on this collection or that changed the original direction of the book?

 For years I’ve been seduced again and again by two lines of Fanny Howe: “My vagabondage is unlonelied by poems.” In some ways, this statement has become a kind of mantra for me, especially in difficult times. My vagabondage / is unlonelied by poems. Not only does it recognize the loneliness of one’s life in that word “vagabondage,” it also speaks to the restlessness I’ve felt my whole life—this draw to move from one place, physical or otherwise, to another. As I was doing so much traveling around the time of writing the book, I think these lines also helped me think about the ways in which these ordinary movements of one’s life are relevant to the work I was doing on the page.

Last year, I also made a letterpress postcard of the quote, which also helped me see these lines in and of themselves as vagabonds.

While the collection keeps us moving, there are also moments of searching and of observation that slow down the momentum to hold us in place. Sometimes these moments involve childhood memories. How do you use memory in the collection or your work in general?

Memory is both an anchor and a current. In my poetry, it allows me to stop and to plumb the depths of my life, even as it tries to push me forward, to carry me with all the great movement of time. In this way, memory is both about what happened in the past and what’s important to you in the present and how that shapes the future. For me, the past and the present are equally relevant when I sit down to the write poems and, in some cases, they make a good justification for the inclusion of one another. In “Static, Frequency,” for instance, the memory of singing country music in the presence of my dad’s cop buddies allowed me to really interrogate my privilege while I exercised in front of a gym TV on which the video of Kajieme Powell’s murder at the hands of St. Louis Police was played over and over. For me, memory helps me understand the broad-strokes, both the moments of stillness and the moments of movement.

The book begins and ends with the body. The body is always present in one way or another from physical descriptions to the observing eye and the speaking “I.” Can you talk a little bit about the role of the body in your work?

This is a question I’ve been asked more often than not, and it’s one that I’ve wrestled with since I began writing poems. There’s a cynical (or even more practical) side of me that says that how can one not write about the body since so much of our experience—some would argue all—is rooted in the body. But then there’s another side of me that says that I wrote about the body because I wanted to reconnect to my own body, especially in the wake of a severe diagnosis that made me feel disconnected from my body, as if it was “out to get me.” Additionally, I think there’s something to be said for the ways in which we disconnect from the body every day—the internet, taboo topics, etc.—and I also can’t help but wonder if poetry, in the ways it reconnects us to the body through sound and language and mouthfeels, might also help us reconnect to empathy, the sympathetic string of the body for other bodies.

Within the three sections of the book, there is a wonderful range of formal variety from couplets to long, sectioned poems and poems whose text seems to float across the page. How does form play a part in this collection?

Sometimes I have a hard time articulating what I’m after in regards to form, mostly because it feels incredibly intuitive. Someone said to me recently that there’s really a lot of hidden/slant/internal rhyme in the book, and I was shocked to go back and find that there was. This was not something that I had intended or even realized. In many regards, that’s my approach to form: do what feels good for that poem. But that’s, of course, an easy answer, an easy way out of what you’re asking. I suppose I could go all meta on you and say that poetic form here is closely aligned with physical form, bodily form: it’s disjunctive and fragmented, and that’s how I felt. This is something that continues into my third manuscript.

You’ve just finished a third collection of poetry, and while working on new poetry are also working on a collection of lyric essays, Wound Revisions. How does practice of both genres affect your writing?

The collection of lyric essays allows me to go back and address some of the things I’ve addressed in my first two collections of poems, Signaletics and Groundspeed, but do it with much more fidelity to the facts while expanding the scope of those concerns through research, associations, and juxtapositions. So there’s essays about my brother’s death and my reconstructive surgery and so on, but they are elaborated upon and, I would say, complicated by new threads. These threads come in the form of essay sections and whole new essays. For this reason, I feel like I’m able to tap into another part of my brain, the part that wants to connect, to weave, to web together past and present, history and personal narrative. With the poems, I’m after something else: a representation, a translation of my experience into another kind of experience. In the lyric essays, I’m after the original experience. By writing both genres at once, I’m able to prismatically split the white light of experience into its composite colors, really appreciating each one for what it is.

Interviewer Anastasia Stelse is a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Fairy Tale Review, (parenthetical), and Meniscus, among others.

For original poetry, fiction, art song, art, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

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Fiction Spotlight: Margaret Luongo

I firsSONY DSCt became acquainted with Margaret Luongo when she drove the short distance from Hamilton, Ohio, to Cincinnati to read at a literary festival. In a dark bar full of half-drunk aspiring writers, she read from a story called “The War Artist” and cast a spell over all of us. She transported her audience to a dystopian artist residency where military officials lock a visual artist in a room and task her with making art about a war she has never seen. In equally beautiful and unsettling language, Luongo challenged her audience to question their own relationship to distant wars.

Later, when I was an editor at the Cincinnati Review, we published Luongo’s delightful story “Word Problem,” which is …you guessed it…a story in the form of a word problem. For this one, she assigned herself quite a doozy: Can she tell the story of ten music students over the course of their careers, in a multiple point-of-view panorama of finely observed success, defeat, compromise, and adaption, which is by turns both funny and heartbreaking, both dark and hopeful? And can she provide her answer in less than sixteen pages? Her answer seemed utterly true and absolutely correct.

In Memorious 16, we were lucky enough to publish Luongo’s story “The War Artist Makes God Visible,” a haunting and surrealist series of vignettes (based on Stanley Spencer’s Great War memorial), in which WWI soldiers are resurrected from their graves, “entwined…in their white picket crosses. Already their capes make wings.” These finely crafted stories are now collected with many others in Luongo’s second collection, The History of Art: Stories (LSU Press), published in April. In it, Luongo meditates on the relationship between violence and creation, in sharp and nimble stories that vacillate between the surreal and the real, the traditional and the formally experimental.

Luongo is also the author of the short story collection If the Heart is Lean (also by LSU Press) and has published stories in the Cincinnati Review, Granta, Tin House, the Southern Review, and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. She is an associate professor of English at Miami University in Ohio, where she teaches creative writing and contemporary fiction. She spoke to me via email about writing, the relationship between war and creation, and the current (hopeful!) state of publishing.

–Brian Trapp, Co-Fiction Editor

We were lucky enough to publish “The War Artist Makes God Visible” in Memorious 16. It changed quite a bit since you first published it with us. Can you tell us about the development of this story?

When I was teaching in London in 2010, I traveled to Burghclere to see Stanley Spencer’s Great War Memorial. It’s the mural the story is based on, painted on the walls of a chapel built especially for that work. I’d already written the version of the story that Memorious published. My feelings about the paintings changed when I saw them in the chapel. Previously I had only seen them reproduced in books, and I’d been puzzled by the religious imagery in them. Spencer had a front row seat to the misery of war, tending to wounded soldiers in a military hospital. Yet he still seemed to find solace in this idea of resurrection and redemption. I couldn’t understand it, so I wrote about it. Then I saw the paintings in their true scale and setting, and I understood that the redemption Spencer believed in came through caring for others. So I went back into the story and expanded it slightly. In no way did I capture the tenderness and generosity of Spencer’s work.

That story seems to be a companion piece to the first story of the collection, titled “The War Artist,” in which military officials lock a visual artist in a room and task her with making art about “the war,” in a sort of dystopian artist residency. An obsession with art seems to connect all the stories in this collection, but these two stories seem to ask about the connection between war and art, violence and meaning. Can you speak about this connection, and, in general, your obsession with art throughout this collection?

The two obsessions were going on parallel tracks for a while. Visual art helps me think about writing—and just helps me think. War is everywhere. Even if the bombs aren’t falling on you, with the speed of communication these days it’s hard to remain totally ignorant of what’s going on around the world. Humans have been making art and war side by side for millennia, creation and destruction—and then there’s the obsession with beautiful ruins, from tourist photos of ancient Rome to art photography of defunct Detroit. We love those traces of our faded glory, however romanticized our notion of the past may be. Hitler based his Reich on that idea—leaving a glorious ruin. We make meaning through story, and I think people believe that for the story to have a meaning, it has to end. So the link between violence and meaning does make some sense, I suppose.

Art to me is mostly about perception—how we see the world and others—in addition to those issues of craft, technical skill, and materiality. I appreciate our drive to perceive and make sense, even though we so often get it wrong. The struggle sometimes elevates us.

In one of my favorite stories, “Word Problem,” you write a story in the form of a word problem. You write another story in the form of notes on the type and another as directions for bird watching. Can you talk about how “Word Problem” developed and, in general, your interest in playing with various forms?

“Word Problem” came about partly because of that inclination and partly because I’m really horrible at math and I still resent word problems. I thought it would be a good idea to do a story in that form, but I didn’t know for a couple of years what it would be about. Then I attended a performance of John Cage’s Music for Radios at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. That’s what set it off.

I like to create constraints for myself in writing—at least I think that’s what I’m doing—so forms that make storytelling difficult appeal to me. I think it’s just that I like the indication of a story, the fragments. I think the main thing is brevity. I really like the short story game, and I also like to think of puzzles for myself within the form: how short can I go? What rule might provide a new challenge? I like to choose forms that make telling a story somewhat difficult (like “Word Problem”). I also like to get away from traditional character development, maybe to find a balance between head and heart. I want people to think and feel.

LuongoHISTORY_covfront(HR)

Both of your books were published with LSU Press’ Yellow Shoe Fiction Series, edited by my former professor at the University of Cincinnati, Michael Griffith. What was it like to work with Michael and LSU? As someone who is teaching a course on publishing, what is your opinion of the current publishing landscape?

Michael is a great editor. His focus is razor sharp and he just knows a lot about a lot of things. I never realized how important context is for editing. It’s not enough to know about literature and to know how stories are made. You also have to know about people, places, music, art, sports, clothing, religion, animals, train stations, wall-to-wall carpet—everything terrestrial and extra-terrestrial. He also trusts writers. He’s not a heavy-handed editor and seems to have no need to make his mark on a book that isn’t his. No excessive ego, just enough confidence to do right by a book and its author. LSU makes gorgeous books, and Baton Rouge is on my list of places to relocate to, mostly because I fantasize about hanging out with MaryKatherine Callaway and the other LSU people. I went there once for a book festival and I still think about the people and the place. It’s a little creepy that I want to hang out with my publisher, but it’s a good sign, I think.

Despite the corporatization of publishing, I’m optimistic. So many small independent publishers have sprung up. However strange or marginalized a work may be, its author can probably find a home for it. The independents are not so concerned with the bottom line, so they’re more free to publish books that will have a smaller audience. This means more freedom for writers, so long as they have a day job. The abundance of smaller publishers like Rose Metal Press and Black Lawrence should encourage writers to create more freely.

In the UK, independent publishers like Tilted Axis, And Other Stories, and Peirene are bringing out translated work by authors whose books have never been available in English. That could help to shift aesthetics in America and the UK. For instance, what’s mainstream in Korean fiction—nonlinear, multi-voiced, and surreal—is often considered experimental or just strange in the US. Maybe some of that will find its way to American readers and writers and inspire appreciation for more diverse forms. I’m very hopeful about publishing, almost exclusively because of the small independents.

In the UK, publishers can declare that they are a Community Interest Company, which means, among other things, that they cannot be bought by a for-profit enterprise. I find that very promising.

And now some process questions: How did you write the stories in this collection? Are you a ‘write everyday’ person or does it come in bursts? Do you have any consistent habits or rituals for when you are most productive? Any advice to emerging fiction writers?

When I first started writing, I wrote every day and that helped me learn to take myself—or the task I set for myself—more seriously. The daily work improved my writing and in general gave me some sense of purpose, as well as confidence. The mental activity kept me happy. History of Art developed over something like eight years, so I can’t say I worked every day on those stories. I’m usually most productive over the summer, and I can sustain writing through mid-October or early November. Then I won’t really write again until winter break. Spring semester is usually a loss, for the most part. I’ll give myself smaller assignments then, just to try to get some time back.

About four years ago, my husband and I rented studio space in downtown Hamilton (Ohio), and that’s been a huge help. The space is pleasant, uncluttered, and internet-free. I only write there—I do nothing else. I can drop everything, go to the studio, and almost immediately find focus. It’s walking distance from our house and it’s just a good happy space for me. I keep a little chart on the wall of all the things I could work on, in their varying stages of completion. There’s one column for stories that are just ideas. I think there’s even a poetry column, though the poems might be under another heading—“in progress” or something. There’s always something I want to work on, and I can choose whatever I like, so there’s no obstacle to working.

I also like to listen to music, but it has to be music without words. I particularly like classical guitar—Segovia, Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Christopher Parkening. I was on a Bach kick for a while during the latter stages of History of Art. I’d listen to Foo Fighters on the way to the studio, then switch over to Bach. Having that space outside the home has made a huge difference for me. For a while I was working at coffee shops and getting really angry at people who dared to have audible conversations. Even at that time I knew my anger was unreasonable.

Advice for emerging fiction writers: don’t make problems for yourself that you can’t solve. Be flexible. If something’s not working, try a different path. Be a good boss to yourself; while it’s true that discipline is important, you have to know when to ease up on yourself.

Can you tell us about what you are working on now?

I’m working on a story for the ACRE Books anthology, The Very Angry Baby. ACRE Books is a new press edited by the people at The Cincinnati Review, including Nicola Mason. That’s all I can say!

What are you reading now?

I’m teaching a London-based course in publishing, so I’m reading books published by smaller UK houses:

The Man I Became by Peter Verhelst, translated by David Colmer (Peirene Press)

Lunatics, Lovers and Poets: Twelve Stories after Cervantes and Shakespeare, edited by Daniel Hahn and Margarita Valencia (And Other Stories Press)

Kauthar, by Meike Ziervogel (Salt)

Our Man in Orlando, by Hugh Hunter (Monday Books)

As a supplement to this, I’m also reading Panty, by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay, translated by Arunava Sinha (Tilted Axis) and The Vegetarian, by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith (Portobello Books), which just won the Man Booker prize.

I also just picked up Mary Beard’s SPQR, a partial re-reading of Roman history. Beard has an easy style, and she exposes the way the Romans crafted (revised?) their own history, rewriting it through the lens of the present moment. It’s a good reminder to those of us writing historical fiction, which Henry James warned us about: We can’t really be accurate. We’re always writing through the film of the now.

For original poetry, fiction, art song, art, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

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Big Loves: Paula Whyman on T.C. Boyle’s “Greasy Lake”

 

WhymanToday’s contributor to our Big Loves column is Paula Whyman. Whyman’s debut collection of linked short stories, You May See a Stranger, is out this month from TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. In the book, she follows Miranda Weber from her teens through her late 40s as she struggles with sexuality, marriage, politics, and the fate of her disabled sister. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly writes that these “smart, artful stories capture a woman’s life and the moments that define her.” Her fiction has appeared in many journals including McSweeney’s Quarterly, Ploughshares, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Paula is a Fellow of The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. A native of Washington, DC, she now lives in Maryland.

We were nineteen. We were bad. We read Andre Gidé and struck elaborate poses to show that we didn’t give a shit about anything.

When I was in high school, I remember short stories being examined as if they were curios or warm-ups for the authors’ longer works. These were classic stories—“A Rose for Emily,” “The Bear,” “Barn Burning”—great stories, don’t get me wrong, but the message was that the novel was the real game: Faulkner and Hawthorne again, plus Dostoevsky and Melville. In college, there were more and more and more novels, in my case, 19th century English novels; novels by Conrad and Ford Maddox Ford; novels of the existential and the absurd; and, in a survey of American lit, novels by Didion, Bellow, Morrison, Vonnegut, Heller, and Roth. I had not yet read the short stories I could relate to, by Ann Beattie, Lorrie Moore, Grace Paley, and others; all of those would come later.

Then, sometime in my early twenties, I was working on the production of a free 600-page apartment shoppers guide, a job that still involved a linotype machine, paste-up, and bluelines, in an office like the one that later became a hit TV show. I was living in a government-subsidized apartment that was not advertised in the magazine I produced, and my main entertainment was seeking out the happy hours that served the best free Buffalo wings, which would become my dinner, while hanging out with other disillusioned and financially strapped co-workers. In other words, just when I thought my life could not be more absurd, I discovered the early stories of T.C. Boyle, and I nearly drowned in “Greasy Lake.”

Greasy

“Greasy Lake” is a story of teenage boys who want to be seen as bad, set out to prove it, and almost succeed. The narrator is a likable screw-up whom you root for even as he gets too close to the edge of “true” bad. After they run out of bars to go to and mischief to make, the boys park at a local lake where they unwittingly anger a dangerous character who’s making out with his girlfriend in a car. This happens:

 The first lusty Rockette kick of his steel-toed boot caught me under the chin, chipped my favorite tooth, and left me sprawled in the dirt….The three or four succeeding blows were mainly absorbed by my right buttock and the tough piece of bone at the base of my spine.

This is not “A Rose for Emily.” Boyle’s stories are about regular people doing regular stupid stuff. To some readers the Technicolor language and lurid scenes seem over the top—the lusty Rockette kick? the favorite tooth?—but to me, this is the way a certain kind of clever boy that age will describe and embellish his experience.

Even when imminent danger leads the narrator to reach under the driver’s seat for his crowbar, he admits he’s never used it for anything but changing a tire. The boys skirt the edge of serious transgression when they nearly gang-rape a girl they call only “the fox”—the girlfriend of the mean character they’ve accidentally riled. That they are stopped just in time doesn’t make them less bad. But it does save them.

cover1-683x1024One of the features of T.C. Boyle’s stories that I’ve always admired: the inevitable downward spiral. As a writer, it can be hard to allow your characters to hit bottom. Boyle’s characters often don’t stop, they can’t stop, until the worst has occurred. But in “Greasy Lake,” they stop just short of it.

While hiding in the lake to escape from angry steel-toed boot guy, the narrator stumbles into the drowned body of a drug-dealing biker. Everything seems alive, even the lake, even the dead body:

[I] was pitching face forward into the buoyant black mass, throwing out my hands in desperation while simultaneously conjuring the image of reeking frogs and muskrats revolving in slicks of their own deliquescing juices.

 A 19-year-old boy who summons up the word “deliquescing”? This feature of Boyle’s stories always gets me. His narrators may have poor judgment, but many of them have big vocabularies. They’re underachievers with a ready store of SAT words at their disposal. Sure, you could accuse the author of putting words in his characters’ mouths, but here, at least, the words fit.

The sheer exuberance and surprising sensitivity of this narrator strike me as distinctly contemporary and American. Will these boys become as bad as that dead biker floating in the lake? In the end, they pass on the chance. For how long? One can only guess.

Why love this story? For god’s sake, why not?

For original poetry, fiction, art song, art, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

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Fiction Spotlight: Becky Hagenston

Hagenston_Becky_M3B1627Becky Hagenston’s third short story collection, Scavengers: Stories (University of Alaska Press) Scavengers was published mid-March, 2016. The collection won the Permafrost 2015 Book Prize in fiction, with Memorious favorite Benjamin Percy serving as final judge. Hagenston is no stranger to prestigious prizes. The associate professor of English at Mississippi State University has two previous prize-winning collections, A Gram of Mars (Sarabande Books; winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize) and Strange Weather (Press 53; winner of the Spokane Prize), and has twice taken the O. Henry Prize. Her work has also received nods from Best American Short Stories, Best American Mysteries, and the Pushcart anthologies.

Memorious is thrilled to be publishing Hagenston’s “The Celebrity,” a story that does a million things in 1,000 words, in the upcoming Memorious 26. We’re also thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to Becky Hagenston about Scavengers, a collection so jammed with great stories, it’s impossible to decide on a favorite without breaking it down further. “Let Yourself Go,” for example, takes the prize for most brilliant ending; “Ivy Green” wins most virtuosic point of view. “Secrets of Old Time Science Experiments” is a marvel of compression and a playground for the reader questioning whether supernatural forces are at work. And Hagenston makes it all look easy! Memorious fiction reader and contributor, Wendy Oleson, had a chance to email with Becky about her recent collection.

Thank you for agreeing to talk with us about Scavengers: Stories. Which story in the collection gave you the most trouble and which came the smoothest? What did the experiences of difficulty and ease teach you about your work and process?

Of course, it’s far, far from easy. I can tell you that the story that took the longest to get right is “Secrets of Old-Time Science Experiments,” which I workshopped in my first fiction class ever, in (I think) 1993. The draft was drastically different, with Aunt Julep being a trouble-maker who had recently died. But there was something I liked about the story—the narrator’s voice and her family—and so I put the story away for years but never gave up on it. I’d take it out every few years and give it another go, but it just wasn’t working. Maybe it was when I started reading George Saunders’ and Aimee Bender’s stories that I realized I could take fanciful leaps into weirdness.

“Cool” was probably the smoothest process. I wrote that in a couple of months—which is very, very fast for me. I did end up cutting a lot of backstory to make it more cohesive, and the ending gave me some trouble, but overall it came together pretty easily once I figured out how the flashbacks and current action connected.

In this collection, being seen, heard, and understood by another person can be a double-edged sword, as it often precipitates moments of painful self-reflection; the same might be true of putting oneself in the position of really seeing another person. In this light,“Good Listener” feels like the keystone of the collection: the precise unspooling of the narrative even participates in the protagonist’s struggle to communicate after a tragedy. It dares readers to pay close attention to Laura’s thoughts and fears, to believe we understand her pain. Could you talk a bit about this story—how it fits in the collection and how you found the perfect timing and balance in revealing and concealing the circumstances of Laura’s life?

This was the first Mississippi story I ever wrote, and I’d been living in Mississippi for about three years already. I think of it as a story of displacement, of trying to find your place in the world, and also for Laura it’s about the moment when she realizes what she is and isn’t ready to accept for her life. It’s sometimes really difficult for me to know what line of work my characters should be in, but making Laura a high school guidance counselor opened up a lot of possibilities. The story took off for me when I added Kayla, the high school student, and Patty, the hard-drinking engineering post-doc. I think those characters are the key to the revealing/concealing that goes on, the things Laura reveals and doesn’t reveal to them. Those characters helped me begin to understand Laura’s thoughts and fears and pain.

Your endings are, to borrow Brad Watson’s term,“heart punches” as much as gut punches. They’re both startling and satisfying, an effects coupling so difficult to achieve. How do you write endings? Do they ever come first?

I do a lot of rewriting when it comes to endings. Sometimes I’ll think I have it, and I’m completely wrong. On more than one occasion, I’ll have what I think is a brilliant—evocative but not overstated—ending, and I’ll give the story to a trusted reader who will say, “Huh? This makes no sense.” And then as I’m trying to explain why it does make sense, I’ll realize: Hey, I shouldn’t have to explain the damn ending! Back to the drawing board.

Sometimes the ending will shimmer in the distance when I’m about halfway through the story. Sometimes it’s a mirage. The endings that I love the most are the ones that surprise me as I’m writing them, and this did happen with “Let Yourself Go.” I think endings should make a story feel complete without tying anything up or solving anything. And that, as I’ve discovered, is really hard to do.

I love what Flannery O’Connor says in Mystery and Manners about the ending of “Good Country People”: “I didn’t know [the Bible salesman] was going to steal that wooden leg until ten or twelve lines before he did it, but when I found out that this was what was going to happen, I realized that it was inevitable. This is a story that produces a shock for the reader, and I think one reason for this is that it produced a shock for the writer.”

The story “Cool” first appeared in One Teen Story (One Story’s magazine for the many, many passionate readers of Young Adult fiction). How, if at all, did you revise the story for Scavengers?

Patrick Ryan, the editor of OTS, is such a great editor that there wasn’t really anything left to change! He was great at pointing out some confusing moments in the story, and he suggested perfect ways of rewording clunky lines. He suggested changing the title from “Cool Mom” to “Cool,” which I thought was an excellent idea. The only real change I made for the story collection was the name of the mother. Her name was originally Patty, but there was already a Patty in “Let Yourself Go.” So now she’s Jenny. That’s one of the unexpected challenges of putting together a story collection: realizing how often I reuse names!

Your characters behave idiosyncratically—even eccentrically—without it feeling forced. They drink too much at a dinner party and end up under the hosts’ kitchen table kissing the Labrador. They say things like,“‘Oh ho! That’s cranberry sauce!’” They tweet and take great pleasure when a stranger tweets back. Their vulnerability and disillusionment forge humor and pathos. Even when the stories skew fantastic, there’s an emotional honesty present. Your work evokes a dazzling range of contemporary authors, from Lorrie Moore to Aimee Bender, Ken Liu, and Carmen Maria Machado. Who and what inspired you as you wrote these stories?

I am absolutely a fan of Aimee Bender and Lorrie Moore, and I haven’t read Ken Liu or Carmen Maria Machado but now I’m definitely going to. I teach great stories like “Sonny’s Blues” (speaking of brilliant endings!) and “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and every year or so I read “The Dead” out loud to myself. The ending of that story actually had a huge influence on the ending of “The Afterlife.” I was inspired by Kevin Brockmeier’s fables to write “Puppet Town.” And maybe it was when I started reading Haruki Murakami’s, George Saunders’ and Aimee Bender’s stories that I realized I could take fanciful leaps into weirdness.

I wrote and revised these stories over a span of many, many years. I wrote them in grad school in Tucson and New Mexico, and I wrote them as a newbie and then a not-so-newbie to Mississippi. I wrote them in between travels to Russia, France, and England. Travel always inspires me, as does talking to people. I’m very, very nosy!scavengers

And I’m always reading: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, occasionally graphic novels. I love biographies of doomed royalty. I’m addicted to gruesome true stories of adventures gone awry. For me, it’s about just filling my brain with stories all the time. I just finished reading Kelly Link’s new collection, Get in Trouble, and that inspired me to go down a much weirder route in a story than I’d planned to.

Would you be willing to share a bit about what you’re working on now?

I think I’m finished with collection #4, which mostly takes place in France and Mississippi. So now I’m just working on more stories, and I like to have stuff in every possible stage of the process. There’s one I feel pretty good about, and I’m revising two that I think have potential, and I’m also taking notes for stories that may or may not turn into anything—or may turn into something years from now. And even though I’ve written five novels that don’t have enough plot to be publishable, I’m still always trying to get that right!

 

Wendy Oleson’s recent stories appear in Cherry Tree, Quarterly West, and Carve Magazine (as the winner of the 2015 storySouth Million Writers Award). A 2015 Vermont Studio Center fiction fellow, Wendy teaches creative writing for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and writes about people who do very bad things for Bellum Entertainment. Visit her (@weoleson) on Twitter or her handsome dog (gr8winstoni) on Instagram.

For original poetry, fiction, art song, art, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

 

 

 

 

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Big Loves: Katie Chase on Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum’s Madeleine Is Sleeping

chase_photoToday’s contributor to our Big Loves column is Katie Chase. Her debut short story collection, Man and Wife, is out this week from A Strange Object. In these funny and subversive stories, marriages are arranged over tea, blood feuds simmer beneath football games, and cities burn while their characters struggle between holding on to their families and seeking out new ways to live and love. Publishers Weekly calls Man and Wife “a consistently provocative debut collection.” Chase’s fiction has appeared in the Missouri Review, Narrative, ZYZZYVA, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, and the Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize anthologies. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Born and raised outside Detroit, she lives currently in Portland, Oregon. Here she shares her love of Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum’s Madeleine Is Sleeping.

As a writer of short stories, I’m addicted to the sprint, to the puzzle. That out-of-breath hurtling toward an ending always in hazy sight, that picture-perfect sensation of clicking in the final pieces in revision (both fleeting: hence the addiction). I can’t be the only one constantly scouting for ways to cheat at novel-making: Do others have favorite novels that seem to have stumbled upon shortcuts to the finish? “Seem” being the operative word, for even the novella, even the novel-in-stories, necessarily has moves utterly distinct from those of the short story.

Let me take you back to a pre-VIDA Count 2004. This was the year that the National Book Award shortlist was scandalous and scrutinized for being composed entirely of women—little known women; women who had all written difficult, little books; women all living in New York, no less (as though we should picture them together at brunch, scoffing at the very Middle America in which I lived, plotting the takeover of just such a list). What is the purpose, went the debate, of such awards, and had the committee, led by known experimentalist Rick Moody, failed in their task? Writing for the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Laura Miller calls Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum’s Madeleine Is Sleeping “novel-ish,” one of the “two weakest” on the list: “Neither book merits a spot…let alone deserves the award itself.” Yet, I am grateful for this uproar, and to this list for doing what one might think it should: helping into a reader’s hands a book she loved. I’m grateful even for Miller’s diss, as it puts a finger on what it is about this book that I love best, that it is novel-ish, that it just sneaks beneath the ribbon cordoning off that category.

MadeleineWritten in short, titled chapters—some only a sentence, none longer than a couple pages—Madeleine Is Sleeping conjures a familiar nineteenth century-ish world of corsets and castrati, and then melds it with the tropes of familiar fairy tales, from “Sleeping Beauty” to “Bluebeard” to Ludwig Bemelmans’s twentieth-century Madeline. The result is something far less familiar. As Madeleine sleeps, tucked into bed at her mother’s house in rural France, we enter her dreams. We’re introduced, piece by piece, to a cast of misfits and oddities: a hirsute woman resembling a viol; M. Pujol, aka Le Petomane, a “flatulist” sharing the name of an actual entertainer in nineteenth-century France. But are we in Madeleine’s subconscious, or in a reality tangential to her sleep? Soon it becomes clear that the pattern is not simply one of alternation between the real and the dreamed; the two will converge even as they diverge. On page four, a village woman described as “grotesquely fat” sprouts wings and raises herself to the sky. We are in her point of view. Later this same woman lands on the family’s roof and exchanges words with the mother.

Many of these short chapters seemingly could stand alone, stories in themselves. The language is detailed and lush; images recur, are repurposed; and in this way, many chapters—as with the short story—have more to do with the poem than the so-called novel. But before long, this misfit cast meets up, as Madeleine embarks with a “gypsy” troupe on an adventure that has her practicing as a contortionist, posing for pornographic photography, and falling in love. Yet even as the novel’s momentum begins to rely less on the mystery of its structure and more on the energy of a plot, its pieces remain parts to a puzzle: the truth behind why Madeleine sleeps and sleeps, why the fingers on her hands have melded together, deforming them into “paddles.” I will refrain from spoiling, but let’s just say that, as in a short story, there is much left off the page.

During this summary, you may have been plucking phrases for evidence that this book is not for you: “bearing resemblance to a viol,” “sprouts wings,” “’gypsy’ troupe.” Let me assure you that I too felt wary, at first, in the face of such quirkiness. Yet I am a lover of style in art to the extent that it’s possible I overvalue it. Never at the expense of substance, but the best stories, to me, are those in which the two are inextricable: How they’re told has everything to do with what they want to say. And ultimately, this book is so much more than clever acrobatics. It’s a profound portrait of adolescence, a subtle examination of the mores and undercurrents of society, and a celebration of and lament for the body, in all its beauty, grotesquerie, and attendant shame. Beneath an unconventional structure and a “voyage and return” plot, is a story fully under the sway of its own interior logic, laid line by line. Its ending holds such magic that it truly no longer matters what is dreamed and what is real.

cover-man-and-wife-finalIn Madeleine Is Sleeping, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum has on display all I want to read in a book, all I hope to write in one: lyrical writing with a sense of humor, metaphor and rhythm, subversive intentions, and a wide and generous imagination. It may not be a book for everyone, or even for a national award meant to stimulate book sales as much as honor good writing. But it belongs to a tradition that is, to me, much more illustrious, one of odd, difficult little books by women. Books judged for being little because they are short, as though unassuming, when among their aims and accomplishments is to shoot cracks through the ground that traditions stand on. I’d put among them Jane Bowles’s Two Serious Ladies, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, and Joy Williams’s The Changeling.

I love this book for its inventiveness, its audacity, its utter originality, and most of all, for its answer to the question, What can a novel be?

For original poetry, fiction, art song, art, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

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