Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Contributor Round-Up

9L contributors Gary L. McDowell (vol. 4, no. 1) and Kathleen Rooney (vol. 4, no. 2) list their picks for best poetry books of the year over at No Tells.

Iowa Public Radio spoke to Benjamin Percy (vol. 6, no. 2) earlier today about his new novel, The Wilding.

Dan Chaon (vol. 4, no. 2) is auctioning off the chance to name a character in his next novel after you to benefit the First Amendment Project. Margot Livesey (vol. 6, no. 1) and Dave Eggers (vol. 1, no. 1) are also participating in the auction.

The Rumpus Book Club interviews Adam Levin (vol. 1, no. 1) about his book, The Instructions.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Lobster/Verse Daily

We're very happy to report that 9L staffer, Matt Minicucci is featured on Verse Daily today! Head on over to Verse Daily read his poem, "Lobster," which appears in the current issue of Copper Nickel.

Congratulations Matt!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thank you, readers!

Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers. Many thanks for supporting us and other lit mags through the years. We hope you have a lovely day.

To make it even better, check out 9L contributor (vol. 1, no. 2 & vol. 6, no. 2) Ander Monson's fantastic video essay, "I Have Been Thinking About Snow."

Monday, November 22, 2010

5 (or so) Questions with Angela Woodward, Part 2

Sorry for the delay in posting this second part of 5 (or so) Questions with Angela Woodward. I promise it is worth the wait! Let's get to it. Here is part 2 of Philip Graham's interview with Angela Woodward.

PG: I'd say that the book's effect, at least for me as a reader, was complicated. Sure, it is sad, at times frightening, but this is balanced by the imaginative building that the couple shares, which explains without needing to say so directly their attraction to each other.

AW: There might be another link to the compressed, miniaturist form, but I don't know if I can quite say it. I took something very personal and private, the dissolving marriage, and made it on a big scale, as this conflict between countries. I don't know if this is the same as, or the obverse of, some historical novel where the personal travails are allegorical for the historical pageant. I want to take what's extremely heartfelt, and what's very personal, and see it in a different way, non-traditional, not sentimental, but still felt. So moving the landscape out, talking about these competing cultures and rival political systems, rather than focusing on the everyday reality of two people in an apartment, was a way of doing that. It may seem incredibly oblique, but for me, that was the most direct way I could get at a mudslide of emotion, to make a pretty ordinary tragedy a lens onto an extraordinary world.

PG: You certainly succeeded there -- End of the Fire Cult is quite unlike any other book I've read. And yes, there is that mudslide of collapse, but even when relations between the couple's two "countries" go sour, I found myself hoping they might return to a more productive period of co-creation -- after all, they'd done that before, hadn't they? -- and at a certain point this gave the book an odd type of dramatic tension.

AW: For me, it was implicit in the first chapter, that after that, it seemed there was no way for the couple to continue on together. I saw them as doomed. She invented her country, and he asked her if he could contribute. She said no. If she had said yes, then you've got a much happier story ahead of you. But she said no, and I never thought she could come back from that. There is some gentler co-creating in the middle of the book, where they offer the stories back and forth. There's something of a respite there. But it's only a lull, before the bad thing happens. I'm talking about this as if it wasn't me who made all these choices that steered the plot. But I remember the day I wrote the part about the invasion, and I was surprised and devastated. I could see it coming, but I couldn't deflect it. I was so sad.

PG: You mentioned "Arachne" as a turning point in the novel. Could you talk about that a bit more?

AW: The "Arachne" chapter was one of the first ones I wrote, before I really knew what the whole story was. I was toying with Ovid's Metamorphoses. The book was always in the back of my mind when I was writing Fire Cult, but "Arachne" is the only chapter that actually lifts a story from it. This is I think the only place where you really see the narrator and her husband telling their stories together. He's made up this horrible, creepy brothel in the capital of his country, and she's uncomfortable with that. And then he tells her about a spider woman who's an attraction at this place. The wife interrupts him with a different version, which is the Arachne story from Ovid, where a weaver is turned into a spider for boasting that she's more skilled than the goddess. But he gets out his story, which is that the girl was cold-hearted and cruel, and becomes a spider when her lover curses her. It seems aimed right at the wife, that he's accusing her, and the whole chapter is dark, grotesque. Some of the earlier chapters are pretty dark too, but here he's used their game in a deliberately cruel way. I actually thought of leaving this chapter out, because it distressed me. But I couldn't. And this opens the gate to the more tender section that follows, that gentler middle section where you might have been feeling your hopefulness.

PG: Yes, I have to confess I'm a sappy optimist when it comes to relationships, but you do clearly portray the husband as someone whom the wife needs to escape from. Which reminds me of one of the most electrifying moments in the novel for me, the lovemaking scene where, early in the couple's relationship, the (not-yet) wife, already catching on to the potential menace in this man's behavior, "was only dimly aware at that point of how much farther in there was to me, to both of us, and what I would do to get away, to keep him out." Does this impulse to hide later transform into the building of her imaginary country?

AW: I think so. She's got this whole complex refuge from him, and from the ordinariness and somewhat trapped economic circumstances of their lives. In a way she owes her fertility to him, that she's created this marvelous world, which then gained a lot of clarity in the ways it plays off his imagination. There's a profound debt there. But there's also an awareness of his aggression, which comes out in that scene. Something erotic and tender is at the same time dominating, setting off this tension that seems to have played out through the whole rest of their relationship.

PG: I am, as you may have gathered, a huge fan. So I can't help asking, what are you working on now?

AW: I'm in the middle of something bigger, looser, and more complex than either Fire Cult or Human Mind. The working title is "The Disasters," which in part refers to my chances of pulling this off. I can describe it as a novel in the form of lectures on archaeology, very messed up, rambling lectures. Let me not jinx it by trying to explain more than that. I barely understand myself what I'm up to.

Thanks to Angela Woodward and Philip Graham for such a fascinating discussion. To read excerpts from End of the Fire Cult, pick up a copy of vol. 7, no. 1 in our webstore.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Be back soon

Hi blog readers. I know the second part of the Angela Woodward interview should have been up on Wednesday and I'm trying my best to get it to you as soon as possible. I've been hit with a rather nasty flu, which is getting in the way of typing up the interview. I'm going to try to put it up this weekend. Thank you for you patience and understanding.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

5 (or so) Questions with Angela Woodward, Part 1

Today is the joint Cathy Day/Angela Woodward reading, which is part of the Carr Reading Series. The event starts at 4:30 in the Author's Corner of the Illini Union Bookstore and is free and open to the public. Ninth Letter fiction editor, Philip Graham, spoke with Angela Woodward recently about her work, including the stories that appear in vol. 7, no. 1. Here is part one of their conversation.

Philip Graham: Your first book, The Human Mind, is a collection of very short stories, prose poems in many ways, which explore the interiority in a serious and yet at times playful way. Your new book, End of the Fire Cult, carves out similar interior territory, though this time as a novel. How did you make that leap between short form and an extended work?

Angela Woodward: Saying something about my own work has been relatively rare for me, and I have a strong sense of being only the writer -- I groped around, saw something, heard something, and mashed it into words, but I'm far from being able to step back and think about what I've done. Nevertheless, I was there at the creation, so I'll try to draw on that.

The Human Mind is a collection of short prose pieces about thought and thinking. It reads to me as one complete piece in 20 parts, but the link between each is mostly thematic. A few characters recur -- William James, Robert Hooke, and the "I" speaker -- and I deliberately repeated words, so that they resonated as they went on. I suppose most of those pieces can stand alone, but my hope was that they gain strength and complexity by being read together. I have always liked the short short form, and some of my favorite work has been these little one and two-page things. But they were always one-offs. There's something really satisfying about saying so much in so compressed a form. But on the other hand, I'd like the reader to spend time and linger. When I wrote the first piece of Human Mind, "The Human Mind," I was struck by it being far better than the other junk I was writing at the time, and I had the idea I could keep going with more pieces. Then I wrote that book in a desperate couple of months, because I was so afraid I would lose the inspiration. I had to be inspired all over again for each piece, and they had to hit hard, and be as good as the ones that came before, for it all to fit together. By the end, I thought I had achieved the flash-fictionist's dream, in keeping the intensity of the miniature, but in making an extended work out of them. And I had done something else I had longed to do, which was write about thought in a way that was passionate, embodied and heartfelt. At least that's what I hoped to pull off. This theme of interiority, as you put it, is probably the strongest link in all my writing, and The Human Mind is probably my purest, most dead-set for that.

End of the Fire Cult is also concerned with interiority, in that most of the "action" is in the countries that the husband and wife imagine. A little bit happens in the real world, but the unraveling of the marriage is all played out between their invented lands. Like Human Mind, the book began with the first piece, "Intellectual Property" dashing itself out and seeming to have more behind it. I wrote a couple of pieces, and then wrote almost all of it in one month, where I work uninterrupted at a writers residency. Though there is a whole story to Fire Cult, which I knew at the beginning had to go towards a particular end, I still thought of the work as proceeding in tiny prose-poem-like pieces. Almost all of them came in at under three typed pages, and I set that as my limit -- if it was taking longer than three pages, then it probably wasn't good. The exceptions are some of the "Fire" chapters, and "Arachne," which is kind of a turning point. But mostly I was working out of a similar sense of form as with Human Mind. I had to have fresh inspiration over and over again, all of it was improv, it was written very quickly. I'm not sure I would call Fire Cult a novel, though I don't know what else to call it. You can call it a novel, please do! That would make me a novelist! But for me, the two books are very similar, and it was not much of a transition to do Fire Cult after Human Mind. I had gotten really well rehearsed in the miniature, and so able to play with it in a couple different ways.

PG: The wife and husband in your (well, why not, let's call it a novel!) novel create between them, as you mentioned, a private world of competing countries, each having its own traditions and histories, and the development of this world echoes the couple's marital struggles. Could you talk a little about how this world echoes the couple's marital struggles. Could you talk a little about how this world expanded for you as the author?

AW: The immediate inspiration for the beginning of the book was a student of mine from China, who became a good friend. He told me about this disputed mountain, which I gather lies between China and Korea, and the bit about two-thirds of the mountain belonging to one country seemed so odd and hilarious to me, and also that countries would fight over rights to this holiday. My friend was quite passionate in claiming rights to this holiday, outraged that others would say it was theirs. I didn't see why a holiday couldn't be shared, but to him it was an affront. I never did any more research than that, but wrote the story the next day. As I said above, this piece, like the beginning of Human Mind, seemed to arrive full force, and I felt obligated to see what else was there.

It also arrived, not so surprisingly, during the waning days of my marriage. By the time I really set to work on it, my husband had moved out. I did not want to write about my divorce, but I thought that if I avoided it, I wouldn't get past the feelings I was awash in. It seemed unavoidable, so I made myself go right at it. A lot of what I wanted to recover in the writing was the happiness and creativity of love. The playfulness of some of the "Words" and "Literature" chapters, and the one about fireflies, gave me great joy. They may have sprung from remembered love and anticipated love, more than the drained-out marriage, but that all belongs together, cyclically, and I wanted to get at that. I still find the very end of Fire Cult extremely sad, but I don't know if overall it's a sad book. I hope it takes the reader through a range of feelings, and explores a lot of strange nooks along the way.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow. To read excerpts from End of the Fire Cult, pick up a copy of vol. 7, no. 1 in our webstore.

And don't forget to stop by the Author's Corner at the Illini Union Bookstore today at 4:30pm to hear Angela Woodward and Cathy Day read. It will be a great time. Hope to see you there!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Back Issue Spotlight: Vol. 6, No. 2/ Cathy Day

The next story to be in the back issue spotlight is Cathy Day's "YOUR BOOK: A NOVEL IN STORIES" from vol. 6, no. 2. I had the pleasure of interviewing Cathy for the current issue, which we excerpted on the blog over the summer. Cathy will also be reading as part of the Carr Reading Series on Tuesday, November, 16. The event, located in the Author's Corner of the Illini Bookstore, starts at 4:30 and is free and open to the public. It will be a great event and hopefully we'll see you there. In the meantime, here is an excerpt from "YOUR BOOK: A NOVEL IN STORIES."


You write a book. The manuscript is 241 pages long. Devotedly, you mother each of its 64,739 words, especially Fred, Helen, escape, snow, vaudeville, never, Indianapolis, time, bed, father, night.

How do you know this? These are the biggest words in your word cloud.
What the hell is a world cloud? A visualization of your word frequency.
Where do these clouds come from? That is a very good question.

How do you make one of these things? The same way you Obama-fied a picture of your cat -- you go to a website, upload a file, click "Go," and abracadabra! Your cat is red, white, and blue, and ordering you to CHILL instead of HOPE.

Why make a word cloud? Because you have just finished the 245th and final draft of the book. You've just had three martinis and you're feeling giddy, emailing your word cloud to all your friends -- until you realize that it's possible to extrapolate the entire plot of your book based solely on a 75-word cloud.

But this story isn't really about words, which is surprising, considering it's a story about a book and what happens once you've decided that it's time. You've done all the work, and so you wrap a scarf around its neck, kiss the book on the forehead, and push it into a cold, gray afternoon at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

The Big Push

Once upon a time, there lived an editor with the Midas touch. Every book he liked turned to gold. Back then, he had a twenty-something assistant who chewed sunflower seeds at her desk ("bird food," he called it). He dubbed her "Bird Brain," then "Birdie." At first he used these terms with endearment, but once she began moving up -- toward, then past him -- he used them sparingly, usually before contentious editorial meetings.

This morning, for example, when she walks into the window-walled conference room, he says, "It's not like the old days, is it Birdie? We used to sit in this room and argue about which book showed the most talent. Now we argue which book will sell." He waves his hand toward the marketing types who all stiffen in their chairs, as if he's just told an inappropriate joke.

She lets the Birdie crack go, as she always does. She isn't that girl anymore. Now, she's the one with the Midas touch. She's YOUR EDITOR, which is why your ambitious-but-as-yet-unknown-and-so-still-lowercased agent called her every Friday for six months to schedule a lunch, and she finally agreed for no other reason than his impending call was beginning to taint her Friday afternoons. When it's time, she makes her pitch to the crowded room. "This is the book we should push next summer." She observes the marketing types: the more YOUR EDITOR talks, they lean forward in their chairs, tapping their pens. When her former boss pitches his author, the marketing folks cross their arms like a gauntlet of high school principals. Even before the decision is made, YOUR EDITOR knows she has won.

To read the rest of "YOUR BOOK: A NOVEL IN STORIES" and to check out all the awesome fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, pick up a copy of vol. 6, no. 2 in our webstore. To get it for $5.95, choose, "sample copy, editor's choice" and enter "fall back sale" in the special instructions box.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back Issue Spotlight: Vol. 6, No. 2

This month we're putting the back issue spotlight on vol. 6, no. 2. It was our second issue in the new smaller format and was designed by 11 graphic design alumni. And it featured some tremendous fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. So we're quite fond of it (although it's hard for us not to say that about our other issues). The nonfiction piece I'll excerpt from today was awarded a Pushcart Prize. Here is a look at Sarah Einstein's "Mot."

The KOA campground in Amarillo sits in a surprisingly seedy neighborhood, more urban than I had expected. A very middle-class couple with impossibly wide smiles advertises an adult video and novelty store from a billboard just before the final turn-off to the campground. Cattle graze in a pasture along the road. An unsettling mixture of the bucolic and the pornographic. Rusted trucks sit the driveways of rusted mobile homes.

I am here to visit Mot, a new and unlikely friend who wanders from place to place, dragging a coterie of dead relatives, celebrities, Polish folktale villains, and Old Testament gods along with him in his head. He left our home in Morgantown, West Virgina a month ago, heading for Amarillo, because cars, he said, can be had more cheaply out West, and he needed a car. But more than that, although he didn't say it, he needed to move on. By his own report, he hasn't stayed in anyone place for longer than three months in more than thirty years. Friends have sometimes lasted a place or two, never many, but while they are around his voices are quieter, more easily managed. Having someone real to talk with keeps him grounded, he says, and humor helps.

Our friendship is an experiment for both of us; we are trying to see if it can fend off our individual demons. His the literal sort, mine the metaphorical. Mot is dubious. "There are a lot of bad characters over here," he tells me on the phone. "And most of them don't want you around."

To read the rest of "Mot" and to check out all the awesome fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, pick up a copy of vol. 6, no. 2 in our webstore. To get it for $5.95, choose, "sample copy, editor's choice" and enter "fall back sale" in the special instructions box.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Upcoming Events

Here is a quick round-up of upcoming events featuring 9L contributors.

Dave Eggers (vol. 1, no. 1) will be on the University of Illinois campus on November 11 for the One Book, One Campus Lecture. The lecture, which starts at 7pm, is free and open to the public.

In Seattle, WA, Jo Scott-Coe (vol. 3, no. 2) will be reading on November 19 at the Elliot Bay Book Company. The reading begins at 6pm. She will also be reading on November 20 at Parkplace Books, 2-4pm, to promote her new book, Teacher at Point Blank.

Winter Wheat: The Mid-American Review Festival of Writing starts November 11 and runs through November 13 in Bowling Green, OH. Michael Czyniejewski and Matt Bell, both forthcoming in vol. 7, no. 2, are featured on panels. If you're in or around Bowling Green, be sure to check out the schedule, which also features former 9L staffer, Andrew Ervin, and stop by the festival.

The next Carr Reading Series event takes place on November 16 and will feature Cathy Day (vol. 6, no. 2) and Angela Woodward (vol. 7, no. 1). The reading start at 4:30 in the Author's Corner of the Illini Union Bookstore. To gear up for the event we'll feature an excerpt from Cathy Day's story from vol. 6, no. 2 and have 5 (or so) Questions with Angela Woodward. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Nonfiction Now Conference

The University of Iowa's Nonfiction Now Conference begins on Thursday November 4 and runs through Saturday November 6. 9L fiction editor Philip Graham is on two panels: Containing Multitudes: The Discovery of Voice in Nonfiction (Nov. 4) and When the World Changed (Nov. 5). Also check the schedule for panels featuring 9L contributors, including: Cathy Day (vol. 7, no. 1 and vol. 6, no. 2), Robin Hemley (vol. 6, no. 1, vol. 3, no. 1, and vol. 1, no. 1), Kim Dana Kupperman (vol. 4, no. 1), Michael Martone (vol. 3, no. 2 and vol. 1, no. 1), Ander Monson (vol. 6, no. 2, and vol. 1, no. 2), Lia Purpura (vol. 5, no. 1), Ira Sukrungruang (vol. 1, no. 2), and Nicole Walker (vol. 4, no. 1).

There are readings that are free and open to the public, so check it out if you're in or around Iowa City!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

new content @ ninthletter.com

The Ninth Letter website has been updated with terrific new content!

The Where We're At section focuses on the Allan deSouza exhibit at the Krannert Art Museum (KAM) in Champaign. Allyson Purpura, Kam's exhibitions curator, discusses deSouza's work and gives a quick preview of the feature that will appear in the next issue of Ninth Letter.

On the occasion of the opening of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, IN, we are proud to present Marsha Koretzky's tribute to Vonnegut in the Featured Writer section.

Click on over to those sections and we hope you enjoy what you read. If you do, be sure to tell you friends, so they can check it out too. Thanks!