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Archive for November, 2011
We’re in the home stretch for production of Issue 8.2, due out in January, and our excitement is growing. We’ve got a cooler full of Gatorade to shower Managing Editor Nicola Mason with (shh, it’s a secret), some end-zone-style silly celebration dances, and a trophy made out of toilet-paper rolls and licorice. In order to rev you up, too, here are some contributors to the issue discussing their fabulous pieces:
Kate Finlinson (on her story “The Jesus Party”):
I grew up attending Sunday school. One year, a series of Biblical visitors came through a time machine (a white sheet covering a back doorway) to address us. We met Adam and Moses and John the Revelator. I recognized the special visitors as men from my neighborhood that held Dutch-oven cook offs or mountain biked with my father in the Uintas. I knew I had not met the Real Adam or the Real Moses or the Real John. Later, remembering those men in robes and sandals, I wondered: what if a man in our congregation had dressed up as the Son of God? We had, of course, been taught that if He showed up, it meant the world was over. What if children, in this case at a birthday party, were confronted with a fake Jesus? My story began with this question.
(Read an appreciation of Kate’s story by Assistant Editor Becky Adnot-Haynes.)
Rochelle Hurt (on poems from her sequence The Rusted City):
During a visit to my hometown, Youngstown, Ohio, as I was crossing a bridge that overlooks a dilapidated industrial complex, I noticed, nestled among the old factories, a hardware outlet sign that read Star Supply. I was struck by an image of stars molded from light like steel, hammered and pumped down an assembly line, as if the entire city had made itself out of steel, doomed to corrosion. Suddenly the surrealism of a place generally understood to be dreary and dying presented itself to me everywhere. That was the beginning of this book-length series of poems. Surrealism may be a dirty word in some circles, but it has the power to transform, to avoid the paralysis of realism and to animate the static. For me, it was the only way to write about the rust belt that I knew—a place in which the physical corruption and decadence of the city’s exterior are ever-present in the psychology of its residents, as a funhouse mirror—both whimsical and terrifying—of one’s own personal losses and degradations.
Kevin Prufer (on his poem “I Am Knocking at Your Window”):
I am fascinated by the way one story may live inside another, the way two narratives can twist around each other in one poem. I’m especially interested in the way a completely invented story can help us make sense of true stories. “I Am Knocking at Your Window,” for instance, contains two competing narratives. The literal (though understated) story of the poem has to do with a narrator trying to make sense of the sickness and eventual death of a loved one. To do so, he invents another story nested inside his true story—a post-apocalyptic tale in which, after a terrible plague, he and a band of others move into a highway tunnel, leaving only now and then to forage for food. One day, he meets a badly scarred, strange young boy. . . .
Our submission manager is available again, bug-free! Apologies for any inconvenience to our submitters…
Our online submissions manager is temporarily down as of Friday, November 18, but we hope to have it up and running shortly. We’ve been informed that the website has been infected with a trojan horse, so please refrain from attempting to log in until we eliminate the threat of infection. We apologize for the inconvenience. We’re also still accepting submissions through the mail.
CR staff member Don Peteroy is a curious guy. “Where are the fire extinguishers?” he asked us when he first came to a staff meeting. When he stopped by the office a few days ago, he wanted to know what we would do if we were walking down the sidewalk and someone threw a baked potato at us. When he lobs these loaded (with butter, sour cream, and chives) questions, we mostly hedge and then make an excuse about needing to go get the mail.
But Don’s put that curiosity to good use lately, asking relevant writers he admires some pretty irrelevant questions. Here’s the latest installment in his series, which we are delighted to host:
Melinda Moustakis was born in Fairbanks, Alaska, and raised in Bakersfield, California. She received her MA from UC Davis and her PhD in English and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. Bear Down Bear North, her first book, won the 2010 Flannery O’ Connor Award in Short Fiction and was published in September 2011 by University of Georgia Press. Her stories have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Conjunctions, Cimarron Review, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. She is currently a visiting professor at Pacific Lutheran University and was recently named a 2011 National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 writer.
Question: Let’s say that a huge publisher is interested in giving you a $50,000 advance for your next work. But you must first pass the General and Literature Subject Exams—the dreaded GREs—before the book goes to the printer. They want a score of at least a 720 on both, including math. Also, if you expect them to promote your book, you’ll have to take the SAT again, and score 30% higher than you did last time. Any state exams that you took in high school, of course, would have to be taken again. They’ll be kind, though; they’ll give you a week to study, and a tutor at a reduced rate of $100 an hour. What would you do? Why or why not?
A) Every time I take a test, a moose shows up and eats it. Apparently, GRE tests taste better than bark. Must be something about all those bubbles you have to fill in. If the test is administered on a computer, the moose simply kicks in the screen.
B) It is my understanding, and the understanding of the state of Alaska, that GRE actually stands for Grizzly River Exam and SAT for Salmon Aptitude Test. The verbal portion of this GRE requires one to roar loader than a 720-pound grizzly while standing on a river bank. The math portion of this GRE requires one to calculate how many moose per second it takes to outswim a 720-pound grizzly across a river. As for the SAT scores, in the tradition of every storytelling fisherman and fisherwoman I have encountered, each salmon one catches is thirty percent bigger than the previous salmon in the previous version of the story of catching said salmon.
C) The answer to every question: Go fishing.
D) All of the above.
E) None of the above.
Brock Clarke (former Cincinnati Review fiction editor) is the author of five books, most recently Exley and An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, which was a national bestseller and has appeared in a dozen foreign editions. His stories and essays have appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, OneStory, The Believer, Georgia Review, Southern Review, have appeared in the annual Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South anthologies, and on NPR’s Selected Shorts. He lives in Portland, Maine, and teaches creative writing at Bowdoin College.
Question: Here’s what happens: some tech-savvy kid in Worms, Nebraska (a real town), creates a computer program called The Clarke-1. It writes Brock Clarke–like stories. The stories are completely indistinguishable from yours; so similar, in fact, that even the most enlightened Clarke scholars cannot tell the difference. Furthermore, the program’s coding mimics your metal processes to such a great extent that it knows what you’re going to write before you even write it. The kid produces a Clarke story every week and sends them, under his name, to all the great literary magazines. One day, you get in a magazine in the mail. You read a story by some kid in Worms, Nebraska. It happens to be the story you’ve been thinking about writing. You investigate; you comb through back issues of Tin House and Hudson Review and so on, and discover that this kid has written everything you’ve thought of writing. What, Brock, are you going to do about this?
BC: What I do is: I start thinking of a story in which a kid in Worms, Nebraska, creates a program called the Clarke-1, etc. And when the kid and his computer program begin to write a story that I’ve thought about them, they realize that a) the jig is up, or b) this computer program was even a more pathetic and navel-gazing pursuit than they’d thought possible. And when they realize this, they’ve not only created an exact replica of a Brock Clarke story, but they’ve also created exactly what it feels like to read and write a Brock Clarke story.
We’re hard at work proofreading the new issue (due out in January!), but in between bursts of intense, disturb-me-not concentration, we’ve been enjoying the captions you all have proposed for the photo posted in our Game of the Month. Laxatives, kegel exercises, mannequins: what more could we have asked for?
We can determine whether “which” or “that” is correct in a particular sentence, but we’re stymied by the task of picking just one winner—because you’re all so good! Perhaps we’re suffering from decision fatigue . . .
So, you’re all winners! If you are Cornelius Speckle; Tabitha Rae Barenblum; Prof. Michel Musselhands; Dan Peterson, Master Brewer; Illah R. Nourbakhsh, Robotics Engineer; Garrison Hearst; Linda Flavonoid; Charlie Green; Douglas; Jessica Gama; or Lawrence Cady, please email editors [at] cincinnatireview [dot] com to claim your prize (thermos, slingpack, or issue of choice). Thanks for playing!
Volunteer Chris Koslowski is secretly really good at flag football. We’ve seen him play, and let us tell you: He runs the best hitch-and-go we’ve ever seen, and dude can catch, too—he has hands like Spiderman, only stickier. Rumor has it, in fact, that Chris turned down the chance to be Mark Wahlberg’s body double in Invincible to pursue a graduate degree in creative writing and join our staff of volunteers here at CR. And we’re very happy to have him—he’s a sharp evaluator of manuscripts and a tireless applier of postcard labels. He chest-bumps us every time we make a good copy edit, which hurt at first, but now that we come to work wearing protective padding, we kind of like it.
Here’s Chris on one of the stories from our upcoming issue:
Chris Koslowski: I’ve had more than a few religious figures in my life tell me that God does indeed answer every prayer, just not always in the way we expect. In Scott Kaukonen’s “Where Your God Ends and My God Begins,” a prayer is answered, but the liberty God (or fate, or whatever chaotic principle governs this pale blue marble of ours) takes in his/her reply would make even a holy man squirm.
After years of doctor visits, false hope, and prayer so intense that two knee-shaped spots are clearly worn into the carpet at the foot of her bed, Maggie, an American missionary worker in Uganda, discovers she is pregnant. Her husband, Elliot, is waiting in the States for the end of his wife’s long absence. Her lover, Andrew, who manages the field clinic for which Maggie volunteers, is a Catholic priest.
Kaukonen recognizes that Maggie’s story has little room for certainty. Is her pregnancy a curse or a blessing? A sin or a miracle? Would Elliot, if he had a say, welcome or condemn the product of his wife’s infidelity? Kaukonen expertly blurs the boundaries of right and wrong, choice and fate, and even Maggie’s own sense of logic. To counter the karmic debt accrued through the sin of her child’s conception, Maggie turns to another priest, the physically imposing yet gentle Marcus, who risks his reputation to protect her with a mysterious ritual that smacks of the supernatural. Over the course of their weekly meetings, the weave of contradictions that defines this story grows more intricate. Is Marcus pious or pagan? Wise or wicked?
Kaukonen keeps readers moving through his layered narrative with near perfect expositional timing. The moment information feels needed, Kaukonen provides it while subtly assembling his next mystery and hinting at turns far down the road. He builds to a compelling series of reveals which prove that ambiguity can be more satisfying than truth, and that a successful twist isn’t a twist at all, but the completion of an arc the reader had yet to fully understand. Most impressive of all, “Where Your God Ends and My God Begins” resists classification. Is it a domestic drama set half a world away? A slow-burning, escalating thriller with a roller coaster’s worth of stomach-wrenching turns and drops? The story combines elements we’ve all seen into something that’s tough to put a finger on. When I’m finished, I want to read it again. And that’s why I like it.
Becky Adnot-Haynes: As a third-year doctoral student here at UC, I’m currently studying for exams, which means that my days are divided evenly between my work as an assistant editor at CR and reading lots and lots and lots of books. And then reading some more books.
One of the books I’m enjoying right now is Jincy Willett’s excellent novel The Writing Class. It belongs to one of those genres rarely attempted by contemporary writers: the literary murder mystery, or—as I like to think of it—the workshop whodunit. Protagonist Amy Gallup, who hasn’t published a novel in decades, teaches a community writing class to keep herself financially afloat and to combat her reclusive tendencies. As in real-life workshops, the fiction in the class runs the gamut from lackluster to predictably competent to shockingly outstanding. The difference is that the actions of a class prankster, identity unknown, quickly go from annoying to menacing. For anyone who has ever taught (or taken) a workshop, the characters will ring true, and it’s laugh-out-loud-and-slap-your-knee funny. The novel’s hero, Gallup, shines most brightly in a sparkling lineup of characters.
The best thing about the book is the way that Willett manages to intertwine the workshop satire with the murder mystery, making the two narrative elements lean on one another for necessary support, the mystery affecting the class’s writing and vice versa: When a student calls Amy to tell her that he has received a threatening note, she interrupts him to ask about the placement of a comma. It’s a mystery solved through syntax: What more could an editor want?
Lisa Ampleman: Like Becky, I’m compelled to devote most of my reading these days to my comprehensive exam lists. Up this week: Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and some medieval troubadour poems.
However, I’ve made an exception for Rosanna Warren’s new collection, Ghost in a Red Hat. What I’ve long loved in Warren—her vigorous diction and meticulous evocation of image—are amply displayed in these new poems. For example, “At the Lake” begins with a familiar trope—description of landscape—re-envisioned: “We sat at a picnic table at the edge of your lake in honeyed September/ as wavelets fractured sky-bits, sun-bits, distant/ russet hill-shapes into hill-shards.” The rest of the poem moves with similar energy, describing the scene with as attentive (and as carefully emotional) an eye as Elizabeth Bishop’s. Those fractured images and hyphen-split words echo a terminally ill character’s revelation late in the poem that “I may not come through this,” and this poem, part of a powerful series remembering Warren’s friend Deborah Tall, is not atypical, as the elegiac lyric underlies much of the collection.
So, too, does careful reading of world literatures and cultures. The title poem describes a girl growing up in Italy, enigmatically reciting Petrarch in order to become “picturesque,” and the rest of the collection references The Odyssey and the Koran, and describes French, Italian, German, and Iraqian landscapes. The poems do not exoticize; instead, they apply that careful eye to what remains in these places despite the erosions of time. In “Mistral II,” Warren writes, “It was I who prayed/ yesterday to make this refuge cry with a different breath,/ hoping some new word would be snatched up out of my throat.” I found many such new words in Ghost in a Red Hat.
Nicola Mason: I recently received word from one of our contributors, Jamie Quatro, that her story collection has been taken for publication by Grove/Atlantic. (CR was lucky enough to present the title story, “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement,” to our readership in issue 6.2.) When I read this excellent news, I was put in mind of a similar email from Ron Currie some years back. Grove/Atlantic also took his first collection, God Is Dead, which included “False Idols” (CR 2.2).
Curiously, there is yet another, albeit more tenuous, connection between CR and Grove that involves an interesting bit of publishing history.
The story begins with the legendary Richard Seaver, who, as a Fulbright scholar in Paris in the 1950s, championed the work of an unknown playwright named Samuel Beckett. His essay on the young Irishman caught the eye of Barney Rosset, who had just acquired Grove Press. Rosset went on to become Beckett’s first American publisher, and a few years later brought Richard Seaver on board as an editor. Grove was already known for being avant-garde, and after Seaver arrived, the press became notorious—issuing US editions of such works as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, The Story of O, and Che Guevara’s The Bolivian Diary, as well as publishing other controversial texts like Naked Lunch, Tropic of Cancer, Last Exit to Brooklyn, City of Night, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Seaver went on to become Grove’s editor in chief, then in 1988 started his own independent publishing house—Arcade. And here is where, from the standpoint of this post, the tale comes full circle, for it was Dick Seaver—then in his seventies—who acquired the first novel of our fiction editor, Michael Griffith. Spikes was followed by Bibliophilia, but before Arcade could issue Michael’s third book, Seaver suffered a heart attack. He passed away at age eighty-two, and without his vision and force of personality behind it, Arcade went bankrupt. Michael’s marooned manuscript (Trophy) found a home with TriQuarterly Books. Though very happy with his new house, Michael has great memories of his dealings with Seaver, a brilliant editor and one of the last of the midcentury titans of publishing.