Thursday, December 15, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Thursday, December 08, 2011
In the meantime, be sure to check the blog for submission manager reminders, news regarding our next issue, and contributor updates.
Hope everyone out there is having a great holiday season.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
- PANK co-editor, Roxanne Gay
- Chris Newgent
- John Rubins
- 9L staffer, Eric Tanyavutti
- Josh Wild
- And making her Stories & Beer debut, former 9L staffer and one of our favorite people, Amy Sayre-Roberts
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Sara Gelston: I’d say what I’m looking for changes day to day, but things I’m always attracted to: poems that are risking something; poems embracing mystery, not obscurity; poems resisting artifice. Really, I’m looking for poems that are engaging with something substantial to the poet. I guess what I mean by that is I want to feel a poet’s investment in their subject. A real connection. I want a confident poem. A carefully considered one. A poem that risks revealing too much. These are the poems I want to share. I’m always looking for a poem to be more than a birdcage—more than a “lovely” or “decorative” or “precious” thing—and instead be something with a solid sound, an undeniable pulse, and a real sense of urgency.
Max Somers: More than anything, I’m looking for a distinctive voice. There is a lot of very competent writing in the slush pile; so many poems are well-oiled, tight little machines. They’re tough to hate, but harder to love. What’s rare is wildness.
Of course, competent writing is a prerequisite to making it out of slush and into the editorial meeting, but a certain lack of control is what really gets my attention. This, I suppose, is not just a matter of the poet’s “skills” but also her disposition. What is she doing to me, to herself, to the world? Is she giving something up? Is she imposing on me and my sensibilities? Is she asking something of me? Is she a little uncouth? I hope so. I want a poet who is willing to step on a few toes. Too many poems in the slush pile simply want me to nod my head in agreement and enjoy them in a very vague, forgettable way. Boring.
So, what does this elusive, wild poem look like? I have no idea, it’s different every time. I came across Jenny Hanning’s poem, “Litter,” the other day---from our Fall/Winter 2010-11 issue (vol. 7, no. 2). That poem has it, whatever the hell it is.
9L: As you know we don't put issues together with a theme in mind. However, there often ends up being connections between the pieces. Is that something that happened in poetry for the current issue (vol. 8, no. 1)? If so, could you talk a little bit about how some of the poems might work together?
MS: Once the issue starts coming together--toward the end of the semester, when we've accepted a number of poems--it's easier to see how certain pieces might be working with others; that certainly has some effect our decision to take or "toe-tag" a particular poem. As readers/editorial assistants we don't have a say on the final order of poems, but there are some really interesting connections in this issue. Looking at it right now I see a nice little boy on boy love theme encircling Ansel Eiken's "On Leaving the Boy in the Battlefield" and Matthew Dickman's lively, lovely love poems to the beat poets, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Kaufman. Someone was smart enough to put these poems next to each other, let them ping off one another.
SG: As Max said, certain themes definitely emerge as our reading period draws to a close. In this particular issue, we’ve got some real odes to icons running through several poems—Ilya Kaminsky shows up in Scott Minar’s “Reading the Odyssey,” Allen Ginsberg and Bob Kaufman are the headliners in Matthew Dickman’s poems, and then of course we have Maxine Skate’s star-studded “Sirkian.” It’s hard not to sit back at some point and look at the similarities emerging in the accepted poems pile, whether it’s an issue with a surprising number of livestock poems (which we’ve had), or in this case, some heavy names being dropped between the pages.
And really, that’s a really terrific part of our meetings—holding two poems next to each other and hearing some kind of conversation, some kind of echo. It happens whether you’re trying for it or not.
9L: Obviously we can't predict how readers will react to certain pieces, but what's your hope concerning their reading experience? What do you want readers to walk away with after reading the poems in the issue?
SG: I want for readers the same thing I want for myself whenever I open a journal—to find poems that resonate somewhere, make me uncomfortable, rough me up a little. I want our readers to feel that more often than not. I’d like for them to pick up the issue again after a year and remember Scott Minar’s “Pecadillo” or Roy Giles’ “Before I Go to Bed.” Then again, I’d like each time they come back to the issue to be a bit different—for two poems to finally knock together or for an old poem to raise its head and surprise them.
MS: I second everything Sara said and I’ll add just a thing or two. One, we are extremely tough on poems in editorial meetings. Poems that make it into a given issue worked hard to get there, meaning we were floored (in one way or another) by every piece. There’s not too much else to say. I hope our readers like the poems we bring to them as much as we like the poems. I hope they tear a poem out of the magazine and stick on their wall…or at least remember a line or two.
Thanks to Sara and Max for taking the time to answer my questions and for all their insights. To read the poems talked about here as well as all the other wonderful poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from the current issue (vol. 8, no. 1) or from vol. 7, no. 2, head on over to our webstore to pick up copies of the issues.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Peter Orner's new novel, Love and Shame and Love is now available. If you've read any of Peter's work before, including his beautiful and heartbreaking essay, "Horace and Josephine" from vol. 7, no. 2, you know what a treat it is to have a new book from him. However, if you're not familiar with his work, this is the perfect to become acquainted. Beware: once you start reading, you might become addicted to his stories.
Here are some links you should check out:
- An excerpt from Love and Shame and Love.
- The excellent book trailer for the novel.
- A video of Peter reading at a recent Granta event, which also featured fellow 9L author, D.A. Powell (vol. 7, no. 2).
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Monday, October 03, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
Before they find Lisa in the river, before the doctor goes to prison, before any of that happens...it is just a normal pre-matinee August afternoon, and there we are, five cast members in our costumes, sitting in the room next to the boiler, talking about our divorces; and there he is, the doctor, far away in the eyes, not listening to us, thinking about something else."You're not listening to us," we tell him. "You're thinking about something else.""I'm not," he says, but he is. Maybe he's thinking about the other casts he's doctored on board the Ohio River Lady Queen, a four-story steam powered paddleboat that in the Golden Age of four-story steam powered paddleboats (we're quoting directly from the Ohio River Lady Queen Players' program) hauled its passengers and their steam trunks from Cincinnati to Memphis to New Orleans and then back again. Now, the Ohio River Lady Queen is docked in the port of Cincinnati, where each summer it hosts a nightly dinner theater.....We were once the cast of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and now we're the cast of Trouble at the Chocolate Factory: Strike! and in between we all got married and then divorced and now we want to talk about it, again, again, and we want the doctor to listen....We know soon someone will come downstairs, knock on the door and say, "Five minutes until curtain" and before that happens we need to say what we need to say. About how we fell in love with Gene Wilder when he was our Willy Wonka and we were his fat German, his spoiled heiress, his gum chewer, his gun-crazy American, his goodhearted Charlie Bucket.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
It's time for another installment of 5 (or so) Questions! This time I had the pleasure of talking to Naomi Williams via email about her story from the current issue, "Folie à Plusieurs." The story, which is part of a linked story collection about the La Perouse expedition, demonstrates the hardships and disappointments of mapping the world. During our conversation, as you'll see below, we discussed the process of putting together a linked collection, ghostly narrators, and discovery. Hope you enjoy it!
9L: One of the things that really interested me about the story was the voice. The narrator is part of the crew, yet knows things about what becomes of the places they visit. How did you go about constructing a voice that can speak from beyond the grave? Any unexpected challenges in using this particular voice to tell this story?
Naomi Williams: I guess I'd say the narrator isn't just part of the crew, but is the crew speaking in a ghostly, omniscient collective voice. I've always been interested in experimenting with point of view, but I didn't sit down and say, Ok, now I'm going to write a first-person plural story. The POV was suggested by what I wanted to explore in the story, which was this idea of a voyage of discovery that ended up "un-discovering" more than it discovered. That seemed to require a retrospective view. And the disappointment around that failure to find new places felt corporate rather than individual, hence the collective voice. The biggest challenge, voice-wise, was to keep it believably 18th-century-ish (whatever that means) while allowing for that after-the-fact knowledge. The original draft had the crew sounding much more contemporary in places. Several of my readers balked at the unevenness in tone, so I worked to smooth it out in subsequent drafts.
9L: Do you consider this to be a ghost story?
NW: I guess you could call it a ghost story, seeing as the narrators are dead. But I feel like the traditional ghost story has the ghost or ghosts interacting with the living, and these folks just talk among themselves. Although I suppose they're talking to the reader, and that's a kind of interaction. So sure--yes, let's call it a ghost story.
9L: Do you consider how a reader might interact with a story when planning or writing a piece?
NW: The short answer is no. Obviously I hope readers--some readers, at least--will find my work engaging or interesting, and in putting together the collection of which this story is part, I've worked in elements--recurring motifs or connected plot threads--that I hope an alert reader will pick up on and appreciate. But while I'm writing, I just do my thing. I show my drafts to a small group of people whose feedback I take very seriously; otherwise I don't have expectations or preconceived notions about how people might interact with a piece once it's out there. Once it's out there, it's out there, you know, and except in a narrowly conceived, legal sense, it's no longer mine.
9L: Can you talk a little about the process of putting together a linked collection? Did you have a certain number of stories in mind when starting out or was it more about exploring different aspects of the expedition to see what stories could hang together to form a larger picture? What has surprised you most, if anything, about working on the collection?
NW: The basic idea for this project came to me quite suddenly almost ten years ago, when I first learned about the expedition, but the overall shape of the collection, the total number of stories, and the kind of stories I've ended up writing have all changed a lot over time. I've thought a lot about both variety and balance as I've worked on it. I've tried, for instance, to tell stories from various points of view--first person, third person, omniscient, limited, etc.--and to cover the expedition's "highlights," if you will, so that readers of the complete manuscript will, hopefully, feel like they've gotten some sense of the voyage as a whole. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been how rich the material continues to be after all these years. Every time I dip back into the primary sources or the research available about the expedition, I come up with a new story idea. Right now I'm planning 14 or 15 stories, but I feel like there could be twice that many.
9L: Okay, last question: is there anything you wish you had discovered or would still like to discover?
NW: Sure. There are still several stories in the collection that I either have yet to draft or remain dissatisfied with, and the obstacles usually have to do with not knowing what it is I'm trying to discover. Right now, for instance, I'm wrestling with a story I want told from the point of view of a truly rank-and-file member of the crew, someone who didn't leave letters or journals behind, someone who was, perhaps, illiterate, and about whom I know nothing besides a name and job title. But I can't decide which of the 200-plus members of the crew I might pick as my point-of-view character, much less what his issues might be on the expedition or what might happen to him in the story. I have a lot of faith in the power of mulling stuff over, however. Something will eventually come to me. I just wish it would hurry up and do it already.
Friday, September 09, 2011
Monday, September 05, 2011
If you're in or around Boston, head on over to Newtonville Books on September 7 as Michael Griffith (vol. 7, no. 1) and Brock Clarke (vol. 4, no. 1) will be reading from their new books, Trophy and Exley, respectively, at 7pm.
The Carr Reading Series kicks off this month! First up is Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, who will be reading on September 14 at 4:30pm in the Author's Corner at the Illini Union Bookstore in Champaign. As always the event is free and open to the public.
Friday, August 26, 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Friday, August 05, 2011
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
If you haven't already, head over to the current issue page to see the list of contributors and for samples of this issue's design. To take advantage of the July special head over to our webstore and enter SUMMER11 in the special instructions box when ordering a 1-year subscription.
Monday, July 25, 2011
The 7th Annual Printers' Ball is this Friday, July 29, in Chicago. In addition to many wonderful events, and their awesome logo (pictured at the left), they will be previewing an animated version of César Aira's novel, Ghosts. An excerpt of the novel appeared in vol. 5, no. 2.
The Great Frustration by Seth Fried (vol. 6, no. 1 and vol. 3, no. 2) was chosen by Poets & Writers as one of this summer's best fiction debuts. Check out an excerpt from the collection here and be sure to pick up a copy of Poets & Writers to read Hannah Tinti's interview with Seth.
Mud Luscious Press will be publishing Matt Bell's novella in stories, Cataclysm Baby in 2012. Three of the stories from the book appeared in our vol. 7, no. 2 issue.
Speaking of 2012 books, Dan Chaon (vol. 4, no. 2) returns with a new short story collection, Stay Awake, which is scheduled to be released in February 2012.
Benjamin Percy (vol. 6, no. 2) and Ira Sukrungruang (vol. 1, no. 2) will be reading at St. Olaf college as part of the Hamline Summer Writers' Conference. The event is free and open to the public.
Finally, and excuse a little bragging, here is a terrific review of the summer/spring 11 (vol. 8, no. 1) issue: "Art, Design, Defamiliarization: A Lit Mag for the Avant-Garde." We're very happy to know readers are enjoying the issue.
I also want to remind you that there is a week left to get in on our July Subscription Special. If you buy a 1-year subscription you get vol. 8, no. 1 issue for free! More details are here.
Did I miss something? If so, let me know because we love sharing good news from our contributors. If you're a contributor and have a book or a reading or another event coming up send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, July 14, 2011
9L: With all the other mysteries out there, what drew you to write an essay about Bigfoot?
BJ Hollars: I've got a bit of a Bigfoot obsession (though perhaps that's putting it mildly). A few years back I actually attended a Bigfoot conference just outside of Pittsburgh, in which 500 or so "Squatchers" gathered to report on the latest findings and debate where the Big Guy was hiding (a note to the reader: we concluded that he likely wasn't hiding in Pittsburgh).
Throughout the conference, I assured myself that I was there only as an outside observer, but I soon became utterly charmed by the community of Bigfoot researchers--many of whom were actually far more skeptical than I would have imagined.
Then a few years later, I found myself teaching rhetoric to a class of freshmen, all of whom were growing tired of my insistence that they argue a wide variety of positions. And so I agreed to employ my own rhetorical skill to argue a position too. "Pick the most difficult argument you can dream up," I dared, "and I'll defend it."
They selected Sasquatch. This essay was my best effort.
9L: One of my favorite sentences and ideas from the essay is when you say, "At what age did I give logic permission to supersede imagination?" Why do you think there's an uneasiness about imagining when it comes to things that might be considered supernatural or other things, like Sasquatch, that cannot be explained?
BJH: We seem to care far too much about what other people think. That was sort of the beauty of the Bigfoot Conference--people felt free to believe or not believe without fear of any kind of persecution.
Given my somewhat bizarre interest, many of my friends and colleagues have pegged me as "the bigfoot guy," but everyone assumes I just write about him (by which I mean Bigfoot) in an ironic sense. Very rarely do I get asked if I actually believe in him (and to be honest, I'm not sure what I'd tell them if I was asked). All I know is that I have very distinct memories of spending the summers of my youth tromping the neighborhood solving crimes that never occurred and seeking monsters that never existed. Then one day I woke up and it was as if there were suddenly no more crimes worth solving, no more monsters worth tracking in the woods. I traded in my magnifying glass (used to solve crimes, of course) and my butterfly net (my primary Bigfoot-capturing tool) for a baseball glove, and suddenly scoreboards and batting averages felt a whole lot more important than Bigfoot.
It's difficult to pinpoint when that day arrived--the day I started caring more about what others thought than what I wanted to believe.
9L: Other than trying to meet your students' challenge was there an advantage to tackling this subject matter as an essay instead of a story? Has Bigfoot shown up in any of your fiction? Any worries about being labeled the Bigfoot writer guy after this essay?
BJH: I think there is certainly a special challenge in approaching a beast like Bigfoot in a nonfiction form. Fiction seems the likely genre for a cryptid such as Bigfoot, but that's exactly why I wanted to try it from a different angle. In the end, my attempt to "defend" the possible existence of Sasquatch is only one of two arguments I'm setting forth. The underlying argument (and the one pointed out in your previous question) is: "What happened to our ability to believe even in what we don't see?"
And you bet I've written about Bigfoot in my fiction. One story, "Sightings," was published in The Southeast Review a few years back. It's basically a Bigfoot-love story. Our man falls in love with a high school girl, joins the basketball team (a la Teen Wolf), takes the girl to prom, only to get slighted, drink Boone's Farm in the school parking lot and vanish into the wilderness once more, heart-broken. I think of it as a comedic story, but in the end, it's just another story of unrequited love (only this character has bigger feet than most).
I doubt I'm actually labeled "the Bigfoot writer guy," though I'd certainly wear it as a badge of honor if I was. What I like about Bigfoot is that he represents a subject that requires us to move beyond our boundaries of believability. He gives us the opportunity to forget all about sub-prime mortgages and wars and stock quotes and just deal in a whole different kind of currency.
And an addendum to being labeled "the Bigfoot writer guy": My first book, Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence and the Last Lynching in America is forthcoming in a few months, so it's probably more likely I'll soon be better known as "the guy who writes about lynching" rather than "the Bigfoot writer guy." I have very varied interests, obviously.
9L: Well, obviously. You also edited an anthology of coming of age stories, You Must Be This Tall To Ride. Can you talk a little about what inspired the project and what it was like to put the anthology together? Any unexpected challenges?
BJH: I've always been interested in coming-of-age stories--from The Catcher in the Rye to E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. I think coming-of-age stories give us one thing we all have in common; that is, growing up. It's a struggle we all face, and we're bonded together in that way. However, I believe these coming-of-age tales often get a bad rap (mainly because so many of them are terribly cliche), but there's more to coming-of-age stories than Gossip Girl and Dawson's Creek and I put You Must Be This Tall To Ride together in an effort to prove that. However, putting together an anthology has its challenges. As an editor, you spend a lot of time not only selecting the work, but you spend a lot more time obtaining the rights to that work. Thankfully, I had a pretty good experience working with the writers themselves, which makes that process easier. I've got two more anthologies in the works: The Borderlands: Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction and Monsters: A Collection of Literary Sightings. Yes, Bigfoot is likely to make an appearance in the latter.
9L: Speaking of Bigfoot, and here is my last question: if you could have definitive proof of Bigfoot, would you want it or is the mystery more important?
BJH: Ahh, the best question of all. I suppose I prefer the mystery over the proof, which is a funny answer, but the one that best fits my greater interest in keep imagination alive. I'm one of those guys who isn't 100% convinced a dodo bird might not come strolling out of his backyard, and to have definitive proof of Bigfoot would seem to undercut the dreamer in me. If Bigfoot is real, and we toss him in the zoo, then you take a wonderful legend and turn him into a common gorilla.
There's a show on Animal Planet called "Finding Bigfoot" and it's pretty hilarious, because you got this team of Bigfoot hunters, many of whom are convinced every snapped twig is a Bigfoot--no questions asked. And it's pretty obvious the director's doing everything he possibly can to make a TV show in which nothing ever really happens. It's not like they're going to uncover Bigfoot in the season finale. Which is just fine by me.
Thank you very much to BJ Hollars for taking the time to speak to me. It was a pleasure. To read "In Defense of Sasquatch," pick up a copy of vol. 8, no. 1 in our webstore. And don't forget our July subscription special is still going on. If you sign up for a 1-year subscription, you get vol. 8, no. 1 for free!
Saturday, July 02, 2011
Any skinny man who falls in love with a painter will one day be asked to pose nude. This man may wave away such a request, may protest on the grounds of modesty (when he means "insecurity"), may say that he'll do it if he can wear briefs, or even suggest that his painter-lover find someone else. (He will not recognize, at first, the obvious complication of telling his own boyfriend to stare at some other naked man.) But the painter will continue to beg, then pout, demand, and argue--painters always argue--and in this way, he will prevail. The skinny man may be able to negotiate: he may, for example, specify acceptable poses, ones that don't reveal everything or look pornographic or show his face. The painter will agree to all terms because he knows that when he's taking photos in the spare bedroom, which is also his studio, he can shoot anything he pleases without the skinny man really knowing the difference, as he is on the other side of the lens, sitting there, naked.
To read the rest of "Look at Me," pick up a copy of vol. 8, no. 1 in our webstore. And don't forget, if you sign up for a 1-year subscription, you get vol. 8, no. 1 for free!
Thursday, June 30, 2011
If you haven't already, head over to the current issue page to see the list of contributors and for samples of this issue's design. To take advantage of the July special head over to our webstore and enter SUMMER11 in the special instructions box when ordering a 1-year subscription.
We love it, we hope you will too. As always, thanks for reading!
Thursday, June 23, 2011
9L: "Again St." includes a lot of very specific details of the characters' home and work lives (from the very beginning of the story, e.g. with the exact date/time/location) and grander views of the cosmos/universe. Did you have a purpose in mind with this minute vs. grand juxtaposition?
Jimmy Chen: I would admit that this was less on purpose than a Joycean impulse, having kind of been hard-wired to see the world that way, especially concerning writing, since reading Ulysses, which I know sounds totally annoying, to answer an earnest question by whipping out Joyce--and this solipsist apology feels rather D.F. Wallace-ish, another writer who does the same micro-macro thing, who I just managed to whip out--but that's the truth. I feel like saying "sorry" right about now.
9L: I know a lot of pet owners who "talk" for their pets. Your story kind of goes crazy with this idea. Do you have any pets? What are they saying to you?
JC: All of my relationships ended badly with a cat being involved more than a standard pet should be. "Again St." is an attempt to trace the downfall of a relationship, using various consciousnesses indiscriminately, one of which includes a cat, based off my actual cat back then. I have the scars to prove it. I think cats are aware of relationships more than other pets, maybe even more than people. I love cats, but I become obsessed by their whereabouts, often searching for them throughout the house for no reason, which drives them batshit. Bats, now that's a good pet. They would just hang out.
9L: Your story is full of these hilarious aphorisms: "Life is a loop, a hula hoop lying around the ankles of the paralyzed"; Humor is a cruelty that besets other people"; "Life is a hairball, to gag on the chronic aggregate of oneself." Which of these rings truest to you and why?
JC: I think the second example verges more on an aphorism than the others. The others seem lyrical at best. As for why, I would say because it's sort of true, which is why we are running in circles, given that we are discussing aphorisms.
9L: A lot of your work seems to combine both humor and tragedy. Do you think funny stories call for these sad/tragic elements? Who are some of your favorite funny writers?
JC: In Crimes and Misdemeanors, Alan Alda's character Lester, a deluded self-absorbed ego maniac, waxes didactically about humor for a documentary about him: "Comedy is tragedy plus time," he happily concludes. Lester may be a douche, but he's onto something. Of course, everything that a character says in a Woody Allen movie is Woody Allen himself. I guess what I'm saying is humor, as invoked above, is cruelty plus the time it takes to fully absorb that cruelty, to elapse the hurt, to reconfigure it, to impose empathy, until it seems funny one day, I guess. This is not possible without forgiveness--of the other, and of oneself. Humor then, is both apology and the acceptance of. It may well hold the universe together.
So yes, funny stories cannot be funny without sad or tragic elements, as they are the same thing at various points in time. I can't think of any funny writers that I like now, sorry.
9L: Finally, the protagonist in your story prefers bourbon. What's your drink of choice?
JC: Single malt Scotch, like a nice 16-year old, which sounds like statutory rape, but really, they are relatively old, and so good.
Thanks to Jimmy Chen for taking the time to speak to Laura. To read "Again St." pick up a copy of vol. 8, no. 1 in our webstore. Don't forget we're running a special deal: sign up for a 1-year subscription and get vol. 8, no. 1 for free!
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
As promised, we have the second preview of the new issue. Today's is an excerpt from Alice Bolin's poem.
Think of Buddy Holly by the light of Hanukkah candles.
Think of the doors we drag from the alley like Ach ja
die türen, die schönste türen. Photographs stashed in the breviary:
Mother crying after the house fire We lost the baby blankets.
Think the cavern is my brother. His ribs whistle a tin birdcage.
The movie shows us huddled in lamb-fleece pajamas,
Christmas Eve bunk beds pulsing us. The scene of the lovers:
a mouthful of hair, laundry room bicycle,
fever preserved in vinegar. The church bells are defined
as regret, as the shape of snow.
To read the rest of "Antiphon" as well as the other wonderful poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, pick up a copy of vol. 8, no. 1 or subscribe via our webstore!
Monday, June 13, 2011
A television crew, out to document the use of historic steamboats as observation platforms for the air show at the end of the 1993 Stockholm Water Festival, filmed the crash from a boat anchored just south of the island of Långholmen. There is also footage taken from what appears to be roughly the middle of the crowd on the island itself. In both films, the bottoms of the frames are lined with upturned faces and hands blocking the sun. In the second film there is something unusual in the plane's approach. It is halting and unsteady. The nose beings to rise straight up to the clouds at a drastic angle. A small explosion can here be seen as the jet's canopy separates from the fuselage and the small, dark fist of the pilot punches out into the sky.
Lars Rådeström was not yet falling from the sky. He felt the plane begin to shake. He received a signal to eject. The plane's computer had determined that reversing the trajectory of the plane was currently not possible. If he did not override the signal, the plane would begin the ejection procedure on its own. Lars once owned a 1967 Alfa Romeo Giulia, which dropped its transmission in roughly the middle of the intersection of Luntmakargatan and Kungstensgatan. He eased out into the intersection and then stopped to avoid a speeding garbage truck. When he put the car in gear after the garbage truck had passed, he felt an unfamiliar resistance in the clutch. He gave it some gas and suddenly there was a terrible scraping noise and the car lurched forward and stalled. Lars opened the door to get out and put the car to the curb and a taxi plowed into the rear passenger side. The Giulia spun through the intersection rapidly and came to stop on the sidewalk in front of a woman holding a small dog. Lars thought of this as he floated to the ground.
As you can see from the this sneak peek at the cover we have a lot of outstanding contributors. Stay tuned all week for other previews and for more news about the issue!
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
9L: "Mot," which is so layered and rich, poses a lot of questions that don't have very clear cut answers or ones that can't really be answered at all. This is part of what makes it so effectively unsettling, so powerful. Many essays seem to be less comfortable with this, trying to make some kind of grand gesture that tries to sum up or explain a lot of complicated issues that can't be. I appreciated how you never do this in "Mot," and even at times say you don't know the answer. It never feels like you're withholding, but simply acknowledging the complexities of the situation. As you wrote the essay, did you ever feel any writerly discomfort with the ambiguity?
Sarah Einstein: Actually, I was far more uncomfortable any time I approached the sort of grand gesture you mention, whenever the writing wandered toward suggesting that sort of authorial insight. My goal in "Mot" wasn't to explain what happened to the reader. It was to offer the reader the experience itself. I'm not wrong about what happened but if I tried to say why it happened, or what it meant, I almost certainly would be very wrong.
As a reader, you probably have insights into the larger questions raised by the essay that I don't have. Like everyone, I'm blind to much of what is right in front of me. And I don't want to limit your understanding by superimposing my own. And, in truth, most of those larger questions don't have clear answers. If I tried to convince the reader they did, and I knew what they were, I'm not sure I could call the piece nonfiction. I think there would be something dangerous and immoral about pretending a wisdom I don't really possess.
9L: I want to talk a little about the mood and the characters in the essay. There's a quietness to the essay and at the same time there's a lot of tension. This seems to mirror both Mot's personality and your relationship to him. I'm curious about the process of rendering those juxtapositions on the page. Did one click better than the other at first or did they develop at the same time. What were your concerns, if any, in creating Mot and your relationship with him on the page?
SE: One of the first things I knew about the work was that it would fail if I invited the reader to reduce Mot to the spectacle of his delusions and that, if I put Mot on display in that way, the piece would be exploitative. Ultimately, this isn't an essay about mental illness or homelessness, it's about friendship. Foregrounding the tensions would have obscured the comfort and happiness that friendship brought to both of us. So I tried to give more weight to the moments that connected us than to the ones that broke us apart. And because the friendship itself was a quiet one--we were at our best when we were just out driving or walking together in the desert--that meant the writing needed to be quiet, too.
This ties directly with my concerns about creating Mot, and our relationship, on the page. It's no small thing to try to recreate someone as a character, and frankly I think writers have to earn the right to do so, that simply having crossed paths with someone isn't enough to grant that privilege. It requires a commitment to that person, and to the truthfulness of the telling over the artfulness of the writing. I knew I was going to write this essay before I went to Amarillo, and I took careful notes which I often showed to Mot. He sometimes made corrections, particularly to the way I described the inner-workings of his delusional world, but also to my understanding of my own actions or motivations. And sometimes those corrections made the story a little more ambiguous, a little less compelling. But, still, the work is more true because they were made, and I think that's crucial to writing ethically about someone else.
9L: Every time I read "Mot" I come away with something new. One thing that really stood out to me this last time was the vivid sense of place. It could have been very easy to let Mot and the questions you're struggling with throughout the essay overshadow the fact that this is happening in a town with its own struggles. I ended up getting this sense of Amarillo as a kind of lost, almost forgotten place. You weave the details about it so well into the narrative that it feels rooted and not like, "okay, let's stop and talk about the town." How did you go about balancing the place concerns with the character ones? Also, when it came to creating Amarillo, or place in general, did you feel a sense of responsibility in how you portrayed it like you did when creating Mot as a character?
SE: The lostness you identify, the almost forgotten air of the part of Amarillo where we spent most of our time, let me--and, hopefully, the reader--see Mot a little more clearly. It was exactly the sort of place where he could live out of doors, or in his car, unnoticed and undisturbed. It had a ruined quality that's common to the places he's said he'd called home over the years: the remnants of a bombed-out monastery in Italy, a wrecked boat half-hidden by a stand of trees near a fishing village in Croatia, a kudzu-covered gazebo on the lawn of an abandoned manse in Florida.
We met up in Oklahoma City for our second visit and the KOA campground there was further outside the city, more in keeping with what you'd expect from a campground. There were a couple of houses nearby, but they were new and of the McMansion sort. If the essay had been about that visit (as several chapters of the book-in-progress about our friendship are), place wouldn't have been nearly as prominent in the story because, on his own, it's exactly the sort of place Mot would avoid. There, we needed my middle-class expectedness to mask his homelessness. In Amarillo, he was the one who belonged and I had to hide behind his identity to go unnoticed.
But no, I didn't feel the same responsibility toward Amarillo that I did toward Mot when I was recreating each on the page. We were tourists, and the reader knows that from the very first paragraph. My portrait of Amarillo is specific to our experience there, and because the reader knows we're only visitors, I didn't feel obligated to provide a more well-rounded picture of the city.
9L: You won a Pushcart Prize for "Mot," which we were all very excited about in the Ninth Letter office. Did winning a Pushcart make getting a table in a restaurant easier? Just kidding. Did winning a Pushcart have any effect on your writing life? Did it change how you approached writing at all?
SE: This is a tough question, because the answer isn't what it's supposed to be. It's not No, I don't write for prizes and recognition, I write for the art of it or I'm grateful for the prize, but it hasn't really changed anything. If I'm honest, I have to say it's made a significant difference in my writing life. I think we all worry about whether or not the quality of our work justifies the sacrifices we, and the other people in our lives, make so that we can practice and grow in our craft. For instance, it's no small thing to be a forty-five year old woman and decide to spend another five years living on a graduate student stipend. My choice to do so requires not just emotional, but also financial, support from my partner and from my parents. The prize made it easier to ask this of them, and I suspect it also made it easier for them to say yes.
I've always been afraid that I was one of those people who really wants to be a writer, who works hard at being a writer, but who just can't make all the elements gel on the page. I think most of us secretly fear that our work isn't very good. And how could we feel differently? I just checked. I've received 214 rejection, and 9 acceptance, letters since I started sending work out. That's a lot of rejection! Pre-Pushcart, each rejection made me doubt myself. I haven't noticed that winning the prize has made it easier to place new work, and I still rejected about ninety-six percent of the time. (And doesn't Duotrope love to tell me so!) But post-Pushcart those rejections don't sting so much. I'm able to see them for what they are: decisions by editors that a particular work isn't right for a particular journal at a particular time. And that's how every writer should feel, but that's easier said than done, especially when you're just starting out.
And, of course, a Pushcart Prize isn't a bad thing to have on your vita. I will never know if I would have gotten in OU's Creative Writing PhD program without it, but I have to imagine it helped me compete against all the other wonderful writers who applied. I was also contacted by a few agents after Publishers Weekly included "Mot" on their list of notable pieces in their review of last year's anthology. It would be dishonest, then, not to acknowledge that it's opened certain doors to me. It has, and I'm grateful.
Finally, one of the best things about winning a Pushcart is that you then become a contributing editor. You get to nominate other writers whose work you admire and have some hand in sifting through the torrent of nominations to pick out pieces that will be awarded the prize in the following year. Winning the prize makes you a part of the literary community in a way that I, at least, was not beforehand. And that is, no doubt about it, seriously cool.
9L: That's a great point, choosing a life as a writer requires an enormous leap of faith and often knowing if it was the right choice doesn't happen for a long time. Any advice for people considering/struggling with that choice?
SE: Very little that's of any practical use and hasn't been said many times before, except maybe this: writing isn't something most of us can learn on our own. Everyone seems to be worried about the value of MFA programs and the questions of whether or not writing can be taught. This baffles me. You wouldn't tell a promising young pianist to go sit in her practice room alone every day for a few hours and expect her to emerge ready to win the Van Cilburn competition. I don't think it's any more reasonable to expect that of writers. I've been lucky to study with some amazing writers--Kevin Oderman, Mark Brazaitis, Ethel Morgan Smith--while at WVU, and it has made all the difference. So, if you're serious, consider entering a writing program, or at least taking advantage of local workshops. Good feedback is invaluable.
9L: Agreed. Feedback is so important. Okay, last question. In the essay, you and Mot spend some time at the movies. What was the last movie you really loved?
SE: Okay, the last movie that I really loved--in that buy-the-DVD, make-your-friends-watch-it kind of way--was the documentary Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale. I can't say much without ruining the film for those who haven't seen it, but there is a moment of amazing serendipity in the movie, a moment when something that just shouldn't be possible happens and, because it does happen, the viewer gets to see something true and beautiful about the enduring nature of love. And that's what draws me to nonfiction. It's a scene no fiction writer would dare to try to pull off because it's so improbable. But so much of the best stuff in life is. And the payoff--in this film, one of the sweetest kisses you'll ever see--makes it worth waiting around for those moments so that you can tell them true.
Many thanks to Sarah Einstein for taking the time to speak with me! To read "Mot" pick up a copy of vol. 6, no. 2 in our webstore.
Stay tuned to the blog all summer for more contributor interviews, news on the soon to be released spring/summer issue, and other surprises.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
As you can see the winners were picked by drawing names out of a cowboy hat. Quick aside: The hat might have to start joining us at events. Maybe.
Monique, who named Jedediah Berry's "Ghost 7, Prince 9" (vol. 7, no. 2) as her favorite 9L story, won a 9L t-shirt and a 1-year subscription (prize pack 1).
Dan's favorite 9L story pick was Threnody by Kellie Wells from vol. 4, no. 1. He won a 9L bandana and a 2-year subscription (prize pack 2).
Thanks to everyone who entered. We always love to hear from our readers, so feel free to tell us what you're enjoying in the magazine even if it's not Short Story Month. Again, congrats to Monique and Dan!
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
May is Short Story Month and we are eager to celebrate it. One thing we are going to do this year is hold a SSM contest. We want to hear from you, our readers, about your favorite short stories from Ninth Letter. Simply leave a comment in this post telling us which Ninth Letter story is your favorite and why. We will share your thoughts here on the blog. But wait, there's more. Telling us about your favorite 9L story also enters you into our drawing for 9L prize packs!
Prize pack 1: a 9L t-shirt and a 1-year subscription
Prize pack 2: a 9L bandana and 2-year subscription
So, yes, there will be two winners chosen by a random drawing! Start posting about your favorite 9L stories today and the winners will be chosen at the end of the month.
Also, like we did for National Poetry Month, we are going back into our archives to post some of our favorite 9L stories. Those posts can be found below. Enjoy!
Thursday, May 26, 2011
PaintRead the rest of "Paint" here, and don't forget to enter our Short Story Month Contest, either here, on Facebook, or on Twitter! Visit our webstore to pick up a copy of vol. 7, no. 1.
Paint, the young man, is thin. "You'll blow away," he's told, sail that he is.
Out her back window, a neighbor woman, Ribeiro, sees the ring of teenage boys, more young men, circle around him. As if they sense her watching, they leave, setting Paint on his now-unmolested way home, along the worn path following the creek behind her house, a short cut to the sidewalks of his neighborhood.
"I wonder if you could help me with something," she asks him the next day as he passes along the path, a day when he's not stopped and bothered. "My car keys have fallen back behind the refrigerator. Can you see if you can grab them for me?"
He is happy to oblige and slides between the white panel and the counter, snaking his arm around the corner and hooking the ring with his finger. For his help, he gets a peck on the cheek.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Delhi, 1991. You don’t go there. You don’t go to the Hotel Bel Air (named for the owner’s ’62 bubbletop, baby blue, photo pasted behind reception). A hotel recommended by your Air India stewardess, whom you trusted because of the bindi on her forehead. But no, it’s not a hotel, it’s a hostel, a hovel, really, catering to itinerant carpet dealers, Kashmiris who knock on your door, who knock and knock and knock, and unfurl carpets with well-practiced flicks of the wrist when finally, bleary-eyed, you open your door, the most beautiful carpets in all of India, pure silick, would you like to see another? You’re dismayed, in disarray, it’s been days since you’ve slept, but still they offer you tea, send for it when you say, No, no tea, inquire, What is your good name, where are your husband, your children, chuckle when you say you are poor, for no white woman is ever truly poor. You put a sign on your door—I hate Kashmiri carpets, I will never buy a Kashmiri carpet—and fall asleep only to be awakened by a rat skittering across your chest, forcing you to disturb management, in the form of a sleepy desk clerk named Raj. Show me, Raj says, show me where a rat could possibly have entered your room and surely I will give you another.
Room, he means, not rat.
You don’t go to Delhi. You don’t go to a poetry reading to escape the Hotel Bell Air, you don’t meet Ravi Singh, you are not seduced by his dark eyes, the taste of chai on his tongue.
Read the rest of "Zanzibar, Bereft" here, and don't forget to enter our Short Story Month Contest, either here, on Facebook, or on Twitter!
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Listen While I Speak
We were at the doctor's, Tip and I, to see about getting me off the Pill and getting him a vasectomy.
But the room was more comfortable than our doctor's office, with a hanging fern in one corner and framed prints of flowers on the wall and a nice, airy smell instead of that awful antiseptic one that gets right into your breathing.
I was lying on a table and Tip was on one side of me and on the other side was an ultrasound machine with the glowing screen and the jelly on my stomach with the doctor running the pointer over me. It was my obstetrician, I saw then, from when Scott and Brennan were born, not our usual doctor, but I didn't tell him that I wasn't pregnant.
You can read the rest of the story here. Don't forget to enter our Short Story Month Contest. Winners of the 9L prize packs will be announced at the end of the month.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Also, congratulations to Adam Levin (vol. 1, no. 1)! His novel, The Instructions, won the New York Public Library's 2011 Young Lions Fiction Award.
The Spring 2011 online edition of Barrelhouse is guest edited by Mary Miller (vol. 7, no. 2). Be sure to check out what she has to say about the hotness (kind of) of reality TV stars.
Publisher's Weekly has an interview with Kevin Wilson (forthcoming in the soon to be released vol. 8, no. 1) about the potential of children to kill their parents' art and his new novel, The Family Fang.
Vol. 7, no. 2 contributor, Matt Bell is presenting a ton of good Short Story Month related posts on his blog. Some examples of the cool stuff you'll find there include: Brian Evenson (vol. 2, no. 2) discussing destabilization in stories, Michael Czyzniejewski (vol. 7, no. 2) reviewing "Wife Leaves Left" from The Southern Review and a review of Kathrine Vaz's "Below the Salt" from vol. 7, no. 1 by Megan Fink.
Don't forget to tell us about your favorite 9L story for our Short Story Month Contest. Leaving a comment here on the blog or on Twitter or our Facebook wall automatically enters you into the drawing to win a 9L prize pack.
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