Tag Archives: essays

The Hybrid Writer’s Life (Post-MFA)

I love this article from Paige Sullivan with Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog!

There’s a lot of pressure and uncertainty for writers around the question of whether or not to go for an MFA, and then, what if you do? What if you go for that MFA, graduate, and then…what? Do you get to say, “I’m a writer” when people ask what you do for a living (even if your writing isn’t what pays the bills)? And what if being a writer isn’t your career dream, but you know that writing is an invaluable skill that you want to further hone and develop? Or what if it’s like Rae Pagliarulo says in her terrific follow-up article to Sullivan’s, where you have no intention of shucking off your non-writer job, but you know that pursuing an MFA will feed your soul regardless?

In other words, what does a writer look like, and how can we as writers (whether professional, self-proclaimed, or otherwise) come to grips with this wild identity?

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

zz headshot.jpg Photo by Chris Marley

By Paige Sullivan

A newly-enrolled MFA student, my job as an assistant editor at my program’s top-tier, in-house literary journal was what you’d expect: reading the slush pile. The journal accepted both paper and online submissions, meaning each week I’d work through a stack of submission packets colorfully paper clipped together in addition to sifting through the online queue.

While the work was sometimes dull, it was crucial to sharpening my reading skills, and it afforded me an invaluable understanding of the spectrum of talent and skill that exists out there. Truly, we got it all: exceptional work, promising work, and strange poems that tried to compare love to meatball marinara.

My favorite part of reading the paper submissions were the more personal touches of the printed and hand-signed cover letters, which were sometimes accompanied by a business card. For me, these submissions became fascinating character…

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6 Great Essays on Craft: Talking Plot, Sex Scenes, & More

1. Claire Rudy Foster’s “Considering the Sex Lives of Your Characters” for The Review Review

Allowing sex to take its proper place in a story adds the third dimension, a dimension of flesh, and sets the reader’s animal self twitching. Even the deliberate omission of sex begs the question: where did it go? Who are these comic characters, gleefully reassuring one another of their button-eyed innocence? It is possible to leave sexuality as an implicit force in the text, but suppressing it entirely does a disservice to both the reader and the story.  …

2. Emily Barton’s “Literary or Genre, It’s the Plot That Counts” for Literary Hub

We writers like to talk about elements of craft. Character, theme, setting, voice, point of view, language. But I seldom hear fellow writers talking about plot. When I first taught a seminar on non-traditional plot construction at NYU’s Graduate Writing Program, some students signed up because they hadn’t previously given the topic any thought. …

3. Alison Mattison’s “How to Write Coincidence the Right Way” for Literary Hub

One way to use coincidence and make it work is to have nothing turn on it. Coincidences feel illegitimate when they solve problems. If the story doesn’t benefit from the coincidence, it’s simply pretty and suggestive. Another way to make a coincidence work is to begin a story with it. Make it the reason there’s a story to tell in the first place. …

4. Bartleby Snopes’s Dialogue Writing Tips

One tendency people have when writing dialogue is to try to write everything exactly how it “sounds.” This often results in dialogue that sounds too slangy or forced. While you may know someone who says “like” after every other word or drops twelve “f-bombs” per sentence, this doesn’t translate well on the page. …

5. Linnie Greene’s In the Mines: A Craft Essay on Creative Nonfiction for Cleaver Magazine

In her MFA vs. NYC essay “The Invisible Vocation,” Elif Batuman argues that the classic maxims “Write what you know” and “find your voice” are sometimes damning, convincing writers that if they don’t know some sort of spectacular, novelistic trauma or oppression, their stories aren’t worth telling. …

6. Steve Almond’s “How to Write a Sex Scene: The 12-Step Program” for Utne

Nipples are tricky. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and shades. They do not, as a rule, look like much of anything, aside from nipples. So resist making dumbshit comparisons. …

Happy Writing!

Fresh Summer Reads

You guessed it! The latest issue of Cleaver Magazine is out in style. Issue 14 is one of my personal favorites so far with some very odd, off-the-wall pieces that leave me pumped full of energy.

Here are just a few highlights to get you warmed-up:

First, Judith Schaechter’s glass art (see featured image above for an example from this issue) is basically some of the coolest, creepiest, most painfully lovely work I’ve seen in a long, long time. Check out more of her art in “The Stigma of Beauty, The Stain of Glass.” LOVE! –Also, her essay discussing her work is just freaking awesome:

I am fairly certain that many people experience my pieces kind of like this: Judith Schaechter is an artist who makes images in stained glass of anguished women set against highly decorative backgrounds. People often see my works all at once as a group — presented in a show or reproduced in an article — but to me, each piece is vastly different and each one arose over long periods of time. But yeah, I get it: anguished women and lush, decorative backgrounds. …


BIRCH WATERS
by Meg Pendoley

(short story; emerging artist; the characters here just rock)

The three older women are buckled into the bench seat under a fleece blanket printed with howling wolves. Jess is in the driver’s seat, smoking out the window. Davi walks up next to Beth. Jess’s black hair is buzzed short and she’s got one heavy boot braced against the dashboard behind the steering wheel, her knee cocked halfway out the window. The truck is already covered in dirt, so it doesn’t really matter that she’s stamping mud all over the broken vent. Jess is wearing tan cut-off overalls and one nipple keeps nudging out. …


IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE END
by Evan Anderson

(flash fiction; love, love, love this author’s work–so glad we landed this piece!)

No one really expected the world to end like this. For one thing, it took too damn long. People want bad things to happen like a pulled-off Band-Aid rather than the slow pushing of a knife. Instead, this is how it happened …


THE WHOLE DAMN LOVELY THING
by Melissa Goode

(short story)

Hannah made a cherry pie, and it relaxed her. Only when she was carrying the pie from her house to the neighbor’s, still warm in its tin, did she think it might be inappropriate for a barbecue. She should have brought a six-pack of beer, or some cheese and crackers, because a barbecue probably did not even make it to dessert. In any case, it was too late. Amy had come to her front door to let in a couple of people and spotted Hannah walking up the drive. …


HOMMAGE À MACK SENNETT
by Kathleen Rooney

(flash fiction)

The nightgown in the painting crosses genres: detective and farce. It has a partial body—breasts—but not a face. You could say it’s peekaboo. You could say it’s diaphanous. Either way, it reminds Georgette of how her husband uses recurring motifs to create a story, or at least a semi-story, for a story full of holes is a story full of mystery, a mystery like lace. …


ANGELS HAVE CORDONED OFF SECTIONS OF MOUNT SINAI
by John Harvey

(poem; LOVE this piece!)

Say nothing of this to the doctors of Geneva,
to the folks who rock back and forth
on front porches down in Key West,
or the old woman dreaming of Palestine …

Happy Reading! Happy Writing!

Great Reads from Great Magazines

Check out these great stories and essays! Then–why not?–go ahead and check out more from these truly wonderful publications.

Tangerine” by Amy Roher, Room Magazine

(short story)

I once kept a tangerine in my purse. I watched it turn leathery, sweet and puckered. Eventually, there was nothing to it at all, just a dried-up husk.

“Life is hard,” says my ex-roommate Jeena, who spells her name that way because that’s the way you say it. She likes to tell it like it is. That’s the drinker’s philosophy. …

Cheese Baby” by Anna North, Talking Writing***

(I love this flash fiction story — I wish I’d written it!)

When my period came again, a day ahead of schedule, I carved myself a baby out of cheese. …

Wild Flowers” by Chelsea Ruxer, Hermeneutic Chaos

(flash fiction)

It was four years ago she slipped on the flat stone steps by the strawberries. She always wanted to get the weeding done after a rain, while the ground was still soft enough to pull the roots from the soil. But she was ninety-two then …

Deep Intellect” by Sy Montgomery, Orion Magazine

(I’ve probably promoted/suggested this CNF essay before but…who cares? It’s good enough to warrant all the good press it gets — Montgomery is amazing!)

On an unseasonably warm day in the middle of March, I traveled from New Hampshire to the moist, dim sanctuary of the New England Aquarium, hoping to touch an alternate reality. I came to meet Athena, the aquarium’s forty-pound, five-foot-long, two-and-a-half-year-old giant Pacific octopus. …

The Final Problem” by Scott Onak, SmokeLong Quarterly

(flash fiction)

The seven detectives lived together in a rented house. Two shared a bedroom, four had their own rooms, and one slept on the screened-in back porch, where it was darkest. …

One Lover. Two Lovers. Three Lovers. Four.
by Donna Hall, Muses & Visionaries 

(CNF essay)

I am a 60-something-year-old working, professional woman who has traveled the world, had some wild adventures, and then hunkered down to work and family, first as a mother, now as a (youthful!) grandmother, and always as a career woman. I thought there was little left to shock and upset me, but I was wrong. …

The Moon is a Wasteland” by Daniel DiFranco, SmokeLong Quarterly

(flash fiction)

At night, Thomas climbed up onto the roof of his house carrying a lasso. He threw it out, and it fell, limp and coiled. He tried again, and again, and on the seventh try, Goddamnit, he really did put that bastard right around the moon. …

***Also, for some truly breathtaking poetry, check out Acorn Journal.***

 

Happy Reading & Writing!

Fresh Writers Series, Part V

Fresh and exciting writers are just popping up all over the place right now! For the first time since I began this series, I’d like to dedicate a segment to spotlighting two different writers.

The first writer is a woman I know personally and whose work only impresses me more and more every day: Donna Hall. Her debut essay, “One Lover. Two Lovers. Three Lovers. Four.” with Muses & Visionaries Magazine is a bold and impressive work focused on the joys and challenges of polyamory.

Polyamory, Hall explains, is much more than being a “swinger,” it’s being involved in “‘romantic non-monogamy with the consent of everyone involved. There are almost as many different types of polyamorous relationships as there are people who engage in a poly lifestyle.'”

But Hall’s writing is striking not only because of its subject matter, but because of the naked honesty she offers her readers throughout the essay:

… I confess to feeling slightly jealous, wondering what we old, solidly monogamous, married people were missing. I thought that the fluidity of moving from polyamory to monogamy was enviable.

The entire essay runs a tight 1,663 words in length, but Hall doesn’t let the brevity of the piece fence her in. She tells an intense story of deep love, heartbreak, and resilience, and all while raising up classic, troubling questions for her readers:

How well can we ever actually know our loved ones?

How do we know what we want as opposed to what society tells us we should want?

Could I ever decide to break my spouse’s heart?

Could they ever decide to break mine?

No doubt about it, this is a strong publishing debut and I cannot, cannot wait until her next piece inevitably comes out.

***

The second writer for this segment is Evan Anderson, author of the flash fiction piece, “The Boy Who Carried Fire,” published with Gone Lawn (a consistently strong literary magazine if you haven’t checked it out before; definitely worth exploring!).

When I first came across Anderson’s work, I was blown away. I read “The Boy Who Carried Fire,” and then I read it again, and then I immediately went hunting for more of Anderson’s work. Unfortunately, his author bio doesn’t provide any information about further publications, so the hunt was frustrating and long. I even went searching for him on Facebook and met a number of patient, good-natured Evan Andersons, but none ended up being the author in question.

So, here’s to eventually finding more of Anderson’s work out there! For now, here’s just a taste of “The Boy Who Carried Fire”:

Clocking in at only 519 words, “The Boy Who Carried Fire” is definitely a masterful work of flash fiction. Flash fiction can be a particularly difficult and unwieldy genre given its difficult and unwieldy list of demands: Be meaningful! Be poetic! Be entertaining! Oh, and keep it brief–super brief! But Anderson meets these demands gracefully in this piece (which very well might be his debut publication!).

Here’s the bio Gone Lawn provides:

Evan is a writer living in a bowl of a city surrounded by swamps and brimming with stories and music.

***

Congratulations to both Donna Hall and Evan Anderson on your publications!

I definitely expect to be reading more work from the both of you very, very soon. Keep writing!


 

What is the Fresh Writers Series?

It’s a way for me to spotlight different emerging writers whose work I’ve stumbled across and–for one reason or another–fallen in love with. Check out the previous spotlighted writers here.

Notable Essays of 2014 – Congratulations!

Good news!

William Bradley’s essay, “Marked,” published by Cleaver Magazine, has just been named a “Notable Essay of 2014” by Best American Essays.

Congratulations, William Bradley! And a special thanks also to Cleaver‘s terrific Editor-in-Chief Karen Rile — her vision and hard work allow works like Bradley’s to find the audiences they so deserve.

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Autumn Reads!

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Let’s bring in autumn with a big Cleaver Magazine THWACK! —Except quietly. People are trying to read, guys! Issue No. 11 is out—so let’s see what’s on the thwackin’ table.

***Full disclosure, I’m an Editor-at-Large with Cleaver, and am incredibly proud to be so given its talented staff, dedication to including emerging writers/artists in each issue, and its combination of traditional and nontraditional forms of storytelling.

I recommend giving the entire issue a read, but here are just a few of my personal favorites:

THE DEATH OF A BABY
by Kirsten Aguilar

(creative nonfiction; emerging writer)

The day we went to see the baby, it rained. One of those rains that dumps and then is done, leaves you soaked but not shivering. The family lived on the same road as Celia and worked a plot of land that now, in the spring, burst up in stocks of corn. The father of the baby sat on the porch and waved us in despite our dripping clothes and mud-caked shoes. I cannot remember now where we were coming from or whether we’d planned the visit, but I do know that it was evening and Celia had her camera and inside the little house, two boys sat on stools eating rice and fish with their fingers. …


HEDERA HELIX
by Claire Rudy Foster

(short story)

That morning there was an email from Paul. Gemma clicked on it without thinking. Her coffee mug steamed at her elbow, too hot to drink. She forced her eyes to focus on the tiny electronic letters.Legal issues, he wrote. Looks like it’s back to jail, do not pass go. I’ll try to be out by summer break so we can meet again in the usual place. She had to read it twice, slowly. Then she slammed the laptop shut, as though extinguishing a flame. …


THE DOGS OF SAN JUAN AND THE FISH OF PHILADELPHIA
Works on Paper and Beyond

by Paula Rivera

(visual art)


THE AIRPORT AND THE MUSEUM
by Laura Tanenbaum

(short story)

I decided to ask for the manual scan, so I was listening to this woman telling me to spread my legs, where she was going to put her hands, and I laughed because it seemed like porn. Not really like porn, of course, just like the way I imagined porn would be when I was a prim pre-internet teenager who’d never seen porn, right down to the crap lighting I somehow knew was something you were supposed to know about porn. The word banal came to mind. …


BOYS WITH FACES LIKE MIRRORS
by Joe Baumann

(short story)

The bus crash devastated everyone.

That morning, Jane Philban looked out the kitchen window and tsked at the thunderheads perched above the trees. Her son bounced on the balls of his feet behind her, telling her it didn’t matter because the field trip was to the bowling alley and the bowling alley had a roof. …


WANING
by Caitlin McGill

(flash fiction; emerging writer)

Saria rocked in her chair on the porch, wondering how the trees kept still on such fierce nights. The house had grown so quiet since her mother’s boyfriend left—since she told her mother what he’d done—that it seemed like…