Tillie Olsen Short Story Award 2018 Final Judge

The Tishman Review is pleased to announce the final judge of the 2018 Tillie Olsen Short Story Award is the award-winning author Tori Malcangio.


Tori Malcangio received her journalism degree from Arizona State University and her MFA from Bennington College. She lives with her family in San Diego where, besides writing fiction, she is also a freelance advertising copywriter. Stories are forthcoming or have appeared in: Glimmer Train, ZYZZYVA, The American Literary Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Mississippi Review, AGNI Online, Tampa Review, cream city review, River Styx, Ruminate, Passages North, and more. She is a winner of the William Van Dyke Short Story Prize, The American Literary Review Fiction Prize, and the Waasmode Short Fiction Prize. She was awarded a 2016 Writing by Writers Residency and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She hopes to one day find the last line to her novel.

Submissions open February 1 to March 30, 2018

Best of the Net 2017 Fiction Nominees

We are beyond delighted to nominate the following pieces and writers for their work to be included in the Best of the Net Anthology, a project of Sundress Publications.

René Houtrides nominated for her fiction piece “The Ride of Her Life” TTR 2.4

Rene HoutridesRené Houtrides was born and raised near Manhattan’s Chinatown and Little Italy. Her stories have appeared in The Georgia Review, New Ohio Review, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Mississippi Review, Carve Magazine, and other publications. Her story “Knife, Barn, My Harvey” was included in The Georgia Review’s Spring 2011 retrospective of the finest short stories from the past 25 years, and her story  “Workers in Trees” was included in the print anthology of the best Crack the Spine Literary Magazine stories of 2013. She was a staff writer for the Woodstock Times, and her weekly sports column, for the same newspaper, received a First Place New York Press Association Award. Her personal essays have aired on public radio. Her play Calamity Jane was produced in New York City. She holds an MFA in writing from Bard College and is currently on the faculty of The Juilliard School’s drama division.


Rick Hoffman, nominated for his fiction piece “Biyanî” TTR 3.2

HeadshotRick Hoffman is a high school English teacher. His stage play, The Rocky Road to Dublin, won the Huntington Village Theatre Company’s contest for Long Island playwrights in 2003. He is the author of the novel The Devils That Haunt You, and his short fiction has appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and Driftwood Press, where he has also served as a guest editor. His upcoming work is scheduled to appear in the December 2017 issue of Edify Fiction. He lives with his wife and sons on Long Island, where he is writing his second novel.


And the WINNER Is …

The Tishman Review is pleased to announce that final judge Linda LeGarde Grover has selected the short story “Confluence” by Adam Kotlarczyk as the WINNER of the 2017 Tillie Olsen Short Story Award!


Adam Kotlarczyk
Adam Kotlarczyk

Adam Kotlarczyk’s fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His stories have appeared in such publications as The Tishman Review, The First Line, Alt Hist, Dual Coast Magazine, Dovetales Literary Journal, With Painted Words, and SQ Mag. Adam has written articles and produced scholarship for publications including The Illinois Association for Gifted Children Journal and Notes on American Literature. He recently completed his first novel, a fantasy epic. Adam has a Ph.D. in English and teaches literature and writing at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a public residential high school near Chicago for gifted and talented students.

You can read more of Adam’s writing here:

“Prison Ghost Tours, Inc.” in With Painted Words

The Super Sea Trade League Strike Force (TM)” in Cahoodaloodaling

Outbreak” in SQ Mag

Big Teacher” in The Tishman Review 2.2

Congratulations, Adam!


Tillie Olsen Short Story Award 2017 Special Mention by Linda LeGarde Grover

Oshini by Grace Singh Smith

Tillie Olsen Short Story Award 2017 Semi-Finalists

Sangfroid in Two Movements by Lee Kvern

How Poor People Decorate by LB Johnston

Vacancy by Keren Heenan

Boat People by Y.L. Fein

Make Your Mother Happy by billy lombardo

The Road to Leongatha by Alex Reece Abbott

Let Mythical Beasts Flourish by David Armstrong

Addition by Ksenia Lakovic

The Nebraska Hula by Kendall Klym

Somebody Else’s Christmas by Shayne Laughter

The Paring Knife by Brady Huggett

Cindy Jack and the Town Drunks by Markus Egeler Jones

Crocodile in the Elevator by Gail Schwartz

Such Sweet Thunder by David Norman

The Star Spiders by Douglas Thiele

We Began to Live by Jennifer Gravley

Drenched by Israela Margalit

The Easy One by John Maki

Tillie Olsen


Thank you to everyone who entered the contest. 

The Tishman Review 3.3 Launches on July 30th with the Winning Short Story, the Special Mention, and two of the Semi-Finalists! Upcoming issues will also host other semi-finalists. Fabulous stories to knock your slippers about and make sure we remember Tillie Olsen.

2016 storySouth Million Writers Award Winner

Congratulations to Lee L. Krecklow winner of the 2016 storySouth Million Writers Award!!


Lee won this year’s storySouth Million Writers Award for his short story “The Son of Summer and Eli.”

You can click here to read Lee’s fabulous story in The Tishman Review 1.2 : The Son of Summer and Eli .

Lee L. Krecklow is the author of The Expanse Between (2017, Winter Goose Publishing). He’s lived his whole life in the Milwaukee area, earning his bacehlor’s degree from UWM, where he focused on film studies, English and journalism. He was the winner of the 2016 storySouth Million Writers Award for his story The Son of Summer and Eli (The Tishman Review 1.2). Other recent work has been included in Eclectica, Oxford Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and Storycord.



When former writer and social recluse Thomas Stone witnesses through his window a violent fight between his neighbor and her boyfriend, the scene ignites memories that, years earlier, inspired his only celebrated novel. Revitalized, he writes what he witnessed and, for weeks after, watches his neighbor ceaselessly, secretly following her when she leaves her home, using her to inform his “fictional” character. But when contact with her is threatened, Thomas panics and begins pulling any strings he can to propel his story—his creation—toward a conclusion on his own terms.

“Krecklow delves deep into the issues of lust, morality, and the mirage of privacy in these
pages—his captivating characters are at once unsympathetic and unflinchingly human.”
-Sara Rauch, Editor, Cactus Heart Press

“Krecklow’s voice clamors for a truth, one which comes from the edges of near misses and modern relationships.” -Jim Warner, Host, Citizen Lit


About The Expanse Between

Release Date: May 9th, 2017
List Price: $13.99 Print / $5.99 eBook
ISBN: 978-1-941058-61-9
Language: English
Page Count: 245
Genre: Literary, Suspense, Noir
Formats: Paperback (6” x 9”), Kindle, Nook
Distribution: Ingram

Where to Buy:
Bookstores order via Ingram.
Readers order via barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, Kindle Store and Nook Store


Review of Paul Griner’s “Hurry Please I Want to Know”

train track

Hurry Please I Want to Know (Sarabande Books 2015)
168 pages

Review by Jen Corrigan

image001Patient, meticulous readers will be rewarded. Paul Griner’s depiction of America in his short story collection, Hurry Please I Want to Know, winner of the 2016 Kentucky Literary Award, is, at once, delicate, robust, and familiar, bewildering, exotic, and entirely foreign. While readers may feel disoriented and on uneven footing as they pick through the pieces, I think those who continue on will be pleased with the journey they take through this odd and eerie land of Griner’s unrelenting, unapologetic prose.

Griner’s range as a fiction writer is expansive. He experiments with microfiction, longer pieces, first person and third person narration, characters, places, temporalities, magic realism, traditional narratives. Pinpointing a particular thread, image, voice, or style that ties together these varied stories presents a challenge. While this may create a jarring sense of inconsistency for the reader at first, this grab bag of fiction shorts is ultimately satisfying. If a reader doesn’t feel a connection to one story, she stands a likely chance of being profoundly moved, inspired, or taken aback by the next.

The crowning achievement of Griner’s collection is, without a doubt, the gut-wrenching “On Board the SS Irresponsible,” a story that centers on a father taking his three children on a fishing outing one summer afternoon. The piece explores family dynamics around the rift of divorce, the complex and overlapping relationship of hope and sorrow, and the inescapability of paternal guilt. It is a story that first appears quiet and unassuming, a traditional narrative that is sandwiched in the collection between two flash fiction pieces with experimental flavors; however, this piece, which appears about a third of the way into the collection, has a climatic energy that serves to speed the reader’s pace onward. Not only did I find the story intricate and complex on a purely textual level, it climbed down my throat and made a nest inside my belly, resonated inside my bone marrow and rattled the teeth in my gums; it was all so unexpected. Griner took my readerly expectations and turned them up and over. By forcing my focus onto the significance of a boat through the title and the situation of the family around the vessel, I was unable to predict the arrival of a train, the unapologetic catalyst for the final tragedy of the story. I read the last sentence: “For a few seconds more, he wanted to spare her that knowledge” and my soul ached. I put down the book, exhaled, and gave thanks I had not gone my whole life without reading it. Picking up this collection is worth it if only to read just this one story.

Part of what characterizes Griner’s range as a writer is his ability to suture together the comedy and the tragedy that so often appear alongside one another in life. What makes the prose itself especially elegant is the way in which he takes chaos and loss and places them so easily within the controlled structure of his narratives. After drawing the reader into and out of a sense of comfort with “On Board the SS Irresponsible,” his stories begin to thematically fade into subtlety and quietude, but never relief. The crux of “Separate Love” is the beauty and sadness of fleeting relationships, of reaching out and trying to be a bit less alone. An older woman, Gwynn, meets handsome Terry at a grocery store while buying mustard and attends a local dog show in hopes of running into him again. “Loneliness,” Griner writes, “was a terrible gnawing thing that age only intensified.” By means of the carefully selected diction, Gwynn, a nice-looking but otherwise unremarkable woman, is juxtaposed against the painstakingly and purposefully bred dogs that are much more beautiful to Terry. Griner respects but does not coddle his readers; the collection he assembles is one that is deliberately uneven, forcing the reader in and out of vastly different worlds over and over again, but Griner holds faith that his reader will keep up. Most importantly, Griner has an intense compassion for his characters even as he manipulates them into an emotional space of touching, overlapping, and becoming, once again, sorrowful strangers.

Not all of Griner’s stories in Hurry Please I Want to Know affected me as did these I mentioned. Some pieces are so esoterically crafted that they may resonate solely with the author or readers who have an inside look into the narrative. Others I forgot after I closed the book. However, I think this collection, with its diverse nature and broad scope, contains a story for every reader, a story that echoes one’s regretful humanity, a story that will make the reader, at least one time, close her eyes and exhale.

Jen Corrigan is a graduate student and instructor at the University of Northern Iowa, and former editorial intern at the North American Review. Her prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Heather; Apocrypha and Abstractions; The Gambler; Change Seven Magazine; Hypertext Magazine; Cease, Cows; and elsewhere. She serves as a jury member for Mash Stories. Visit her at jencorrigan.wordpress.com.

A Conversation with Antonio Ruiz-Camacho


by Stella M. Chávez

9781476784977“Barefoot Dogs Stories,” recognized as a Kirkus Reviews Best Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book, both of 2015, and a winner of the Jesse H. Jones Award for 2015, is the debut collection of linked short stories from Antonio Ruiz-Camacho. Ruiz-Camacho is a native of Toluca, Mexico. He spent nearly two decades working as a journalist in Mexico, Europe, and the U.S. He was a 2009 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University and a 2014 Dobie Paisano Fellow in Fiction (sponsored by the University of Texas and Texas Institute of Letters). Ruiz-Camacho received his MFA from the New Writers Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Barefoot Dogs” has been translated in Spanish and is now out in paperback.

I spoke to Antonio by phone in June. I had met him at the Texas Book Festival in Austin last fall after attending a discussion he moderated with author Luis Alberto Urrea, whom I’d previously met at a writer’s conference. After their talk, I walked with the two authors to the book-signing tent. I picked Urrea’s brain about writing and told him a little bit about what I was working on. I was also curious to learn more about Antonio’s book and his journey as a writer.

RuizCamacho_colorI’m inspired by authors. I’m especially interested in the work of journalists and Latino authors whose stories encourage me to continue exploring my family’s roots and thinking of ways to turn that research into a collection of stories.

Family is the central theme in these linked “Barefoot Dog Stories” in which the patriarch of a wealthy Mexican family is kidnapped. Through the perspectives of his family members, housekeeper, and mistress, we learn the impact of his disappearance and extent of the toll—how their lives have changed and how they’re coping. Their journeys take us from Mexico to Spain to the U.S.

[The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.]


Kidnappings in Mexico and the effects of the drug trade are something we hear about a lot. How did the idea to write about this come about? What was the motivation?

I didn’t intend to write a collection of stories about this topic in the first place. I wrote most of the stories when I was in an MFA [program] at UT-Austin. My intention when I entered the program was to write a novel, but I didn’t really know what the novel would be about. And then when I had to start taking workshops, bringing short stories was better than bringing novel excerpts.

So I just start writing stories as they came to my mind and when I had the first three—the first one in the book, the last one in the book, and one in the middle called “Deers”—I realized that the characters were related, that they belonged to the same family, and that this patriarch was missing because of a disappearance.

I also realized it would be interesting to explore how this event had affected other members of the family.

Talk about the class distinctions. In the beginning, you have the 19-year-old granddaughter and friends preparing for their trip to Italy, learning Italian, interning in museums, and mingling with people who “don’t live in the same neighborhoods as us.” And you have the perspectives of the maid Susy who works at McDonalds and the mistress Silvia and her son. Can you talk about why you wanted to show those differences?

The source of all problems in Mexico is income inequality and the huge gap of opportunity between the haves and have-nots. And you can see all those class distinctions and dynamics represented in one single family.

I’ve worked as a journalist for 20 years now. I started my career in Mexico. Those were the kinds of stories that I would write time and time again, about social differences and inequalities and poverty and natural disasters, and I would have to travel to all kinds of really devastated or isolated places in Mexico and then I would come back home.

I grew up in an upper middle class family household and it would be really hard for me to believe that I was living in the same country where these places existed and where these tragedies were taking place, so I think it’s something that I’m carrying with me and that is keeping me to my fiction work.

Your stories stem from a horrific event, but you manage to inject humor. In the story “Deers,” for example, Susana, or “Susy girl” as she’s called, shows up for work at McDonalds and learns a bear is stuck inside. The conversation between her and her co-worker Conchita is pretty funny at times. Is it difficult to take a serious topic and write it in a way that conveys that seriousness but also captures the lighter moments? How do strike that balance?

To make people laugh is actually harder than to make people cry. And when you have a topic as serious and as somber as this one, well I think what you want to do is to bring some balance to the story so it’s not one awfully depressing that the reader will want to put down the book and forget about after [a few] pages.

Of all the things that people have said about the book, what I appreciate the most is when people say that they laughed. It’s a really serious book.

How have these stories been received here and in Mexico and other Latin-American countries? Is there a difference in terms of the reaction or response to the stories?

In Mexico, this is a domestic issue and people are painfully aware of the reality behind the book. Here in the States, the readers relate more to the relationships among the different characters in terms of family and power. But In Mexico, this is almost a personal issue for many families. The reception has been really positive.

The book that deals with that topic in Mexico usually is about the narcos or the fight between drug cartels and the army, or the drug cartels and the police and the corruption among law enforcements, and it’s mostly about working class members of this group.

But how these events affect people in their everyday lives is something that (at least this is what I’ve been told) they haven’t seen in other books. So this is like a different perspective, and it’s something that is what I actually wanted to do. I didn’t want to concentrate on the violence itself but rather on the consequences of that violence in everyday life, the emotional consequences.

As a Latino writer, do you feel a responsibility and pressure to write about your community in a certain way?

The way I work in fiction is pretty similar to the way I work in journalism. I feel that the characters come to me and are like my sources. They tell me the story and my job is just to report on that story.

I think my job is to write as objectively as possible and as thoroughly as possible. What I’m aiming for when I write fiction is that the reader feel something after reading these stories, the characters elicit some sort of emotion from the reader.

What kind of emotion? I don’t really care. I don’t mind if you end up hating the character or really disliking them or actually loving them or feeling related to them as long as you feel something after reading the stories, I think I did my job.

You started out as a journalist and now you’re writing fiction. Do you find that the training and experience you received as a journalist has helped you in writing fiction? If so, how?

In this case, the sources are living in my head as opposed to outside where I can call and request an interview or read to gather more information. But it definitely has helped me tremendously, my background in journalism.

You know that in journalism when a deadline comes, whatever you have, it’s what you’ve got. And if you worked long and hard on your precious story, and on deadline, and you need to edit it to half of what it is now, you have to. You cannot cling to your work for too long.

And even the way you observe the world as a reporter, you’re analyzing everything and observing and paying attention to details because you need all that information to write a compelling account.

Can you talk a little bit about your next project?

I’m working on a novel and, actually, the protagonist is a reporter who worked for a newspaper in Mexico City. The story takes place in the late 90s and this reporter is trying to find out two truths: one, whether there’s a new radical, potential terrorist group in the north of the country and two, whether his late wife, who was also a photographer for the same newspaper and who just passed away, was having an affair with another reporter.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

To add a little bit to my answer to your first question, I wrote these stories [while] in the MFA [program] at UT Austin in 2010 and 2012 and I was already working here as a journalist when this wave of violence reached its peak in Mexico. I couldn’t write about it as a journalist because I was here. I was working on something else and it haunted me what was going on in Mexico that I couldn’t even be there to write about it as a reporter. The only way I think that I found to do so was by writing fiction.

After nearly 13 years as a reporter for daily newspapers, including The Dallas Morning News, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel and The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, Stella M. Chávez now reports for KERA, the NPR affiliate in Dallas, Texas. She covers education and contributes to major news issues such as the Ebola spread in Dallas, the migration of unaccompanied minors to Texas, and the recent shooting deaths of five Dallas police officers. In 2014, Stella wrote and produced the eight-part series Generation One on the impact of immigration on schools in North Texas. Her essay, “Growing up with Silvia,” about her mentally ill sister, is published in the literary journal Ten Spurs.

Stella has won several state and national awards, including the 2007 Livingston Award for Young Journalists in National Reporting for her award-winning entry “Yolanda’s Crossing,” a seven-part series she co-authored that reconstructs the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican sexual-abuse victim from a small Oaxacan village to Dallas. You can find her personal essays on caregiving in her blog, “My Parents’ Keeper.”

Ending Anxiety

Man and Tree



by Erin Lillo

Not knowing what I wanted to read, I recently grazed my bookshelves. This indecision—wanting to read, not knowing what to read; needing to write, not knowing what to write—is often a part of my writing process, especially when I approach the end of a project. Although the end may not be the right nominative for this moment as I’m likely to return to the same poems, scenes, stories, chapters again and again with a kind of restless tinkering that makes me wonder if I missed my calling as a watch maker or nervous mechanic. Early in my writing life, this ending anxiety unnerved me, but as I approach the final draft of my poetry thesis, I find myself resigned. The manuscript is done enough to fulfill degree requirements, but the manuscript isn’t complete. Anxiety marches on.

My grazing led me to Stephen Dunn’s essay collection, Walking Light, and in this spirit, I read Dunn’s essays in no particular order, beginning with “The Good and Not So Good.” I’m fascinated by these kinds of essays. The good poem versus the bad poem—is it like the Supreme Court’s definition of obscene: you know it when you see it? Is it quantifiable, like that bit of dialogue from Dead Poet’s Society, where the imminent Dr. Pritchard’s essay teaches prep school boys how to chart a poem’s greatness on a graph?

My instinct is to say not definable, not quantifiable and to embrace the playfulness in Dunn’s essay. Yet in my more cynical moments I wonder if this tendency derives from my ambivalence toward my almost (but not really) finished aforementioned work.

Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite lines from “The Good and Not So Good:”

The good poem is implicitly philosophical. The not so good poem, conversely,
may exquisitely describe a tree or loneliness, but if the description does not
suggest an attitude toward nature, or human nature, we are left with a kind of
dentist office art—devoted to decoration and the status quo.

The connection between sanitary art and the status quo reminds me of product jingles; think of all those poets and musicians colluding to sell us heartburn medication and upscale tequila. I’d much rather challenge the insanity of our contemporary moment, to witness the reality of voice and power. Dunn implies the good poem must reveal a complicated attitude toward its subject matter—not bitterness, but not indifference either. This attitude must also reveal the place where the poet’s voice and wounds rest edge-to-edge; otherwise, the poem tidies up reality to the point of sanitation or empty prettiness, which is a lie.

Here’s another excerpt and observation:

Not only must poets turn away from tired or dead language, they must be wary of
their best ideas and all the language that was available to them before the poem
began. That is, all the language that hasn’t been found by the language in the
poem. And then even that new language should be doubted and resisted.
Resistance leads to discovery. No, no, no, no, and then yes. The good poem offers
us a compelling, vibrant replacement for what, in our complacency, we allowed
ourselves to believe we knew and felt.

I discovered Fahrenheit 451 when I was a freshman in high school and ever since I’ve been drawn to literature that exposes how so many of our thoughts, emotions, and actions derive from untested belief. We can believe we’re happy, living lives we chose for ourselves, until someone asks, “Are you happy?” Test the belief, like Bradbury’s Guy Montag, and you never know what devastation you might find. With Dunn’s definition, however, this devastation becomes a source of creativity—resistance leading to discovery, a series of no’s followed by yes. A compelling, vibrant truth replaces a complacent lie when a poem is a good poem. Therefore, beware the pre-packaged and beribboned ending—too tidy, too complacent. And one of my most persistent writing habits.

Here’s one final example from Dunn:

The morality of the poet is to keep his/her tools sharp, always to be ready for the
convergence of deep concern with subject matter. In this sense, craft and care for
the integrity of language are the only things that separate the poet from the
obvious moralist.

The not so good moral poem often works against some abuse or injustice and in
its zeal gives content more attention than composition. This is the gift that
falls apart, the one years later you can’t seem to find when the giver comes to

I read this, thinking “Of course, language first.” On the one hand, the precision of language, its rhythms and sounds; on the other, language and its slippery, emotive fogginess—a poet’s toolbox must be versatile, indeed.

For me, a new and somewhat begrudged tool has to be patience. Part of writing the good poem is knowing when and how to return to the work with language best suited to converge deep disquiet with subject matter. It’s a psychic energy as much as anything else, I suspect, but I’m not sure how to recognize the symptoms of “obvious moralist” in my work.

Does developing this sensibility come through the submission-rejection-revision cycle of publication (also closely linked to patience)? When the poem (or story or essay) finds an editorial home, perhaps that’s a signal of completeness. Rejection is a signal of incompleteness, of the necessity for more work and more time. But if this is the case, why do I suspect a great deal of obvious moralizing receives acceptance notices?

Maybe the integrity of the poem is something you hear rather than see (this reminds me of a line from To Kill a Mockingbird, something about how recognizing truth in a witness’s testimony is more about listening than anything else). Could it be that the only ears tuned to hear the poem for what it really is belong to the writer? But then what’s the point of sending the piece into the world, if the music is for myself alone? Dunn’s essay left me with more questions than answers.

Regardless, this reminder about a poet’s integrity living in the individual words and the choices those words represent, all these unanswered questions, nourish me. I return to my tinkering, less anxious, more curious about what the next word might bring. For the moment, I forget about finishing the project. When there’s so much potential for discovery, why worry about the end?

In addition to writing, teaching, studying, and parenting, Erin Lillo reads too much and listens to music too loudly. She also has an ongoing competition with her husband to see who can work the most lines from The Big Lebowski into everyday conversation. Currently, she’s losing. Her short fiction has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review.

Intention and Resistance in Writing

Kinetic - 1113x524


by J.L. Cooper

A friend recently asked me if I consider myself a psychologist who writes, or a writer who thinks like a psychologist. I told him to knock it off, that it’s much more confusing, not either/or, just a matter of finding my way. But the small moment generated a large curiosity about the fate of intention in writing, whether it’s critical or even useful to stay loyal to the original idea for a story, the urge to tell it, knowing it’s going to be caressed and transformed, even shredded by internal forces, some of them hidden.

It begs the question: what opposes the freedom to let a story or a poem run away with itself?

The usual fear-based suspects appear: doubts over whether the writing is any good, fear of irrelevance, fear of exposing more than we’ve thought through, negative experiences in the past. In writing, we resist being pulled away from the path we know, even though we’re well aware of the need to surrender to exploration. Otherwise, we won’t be very engaged, and will forget the magic of writing means you can try anything that comes to mind, pay off some debt owed to an impulse, bargain with death, speculate, find a torn piece of cloth in a treasure chest that was looted, and make the cloth the greater treasure.

In writing, as in daily life, we venture in and out of quasi-dissociated states constantly, in mini-daydreams, private thoughts, and reveries. Why would our characters not be allowed to do the same, to roam the twilight greys of the mind?

I believe a first draft should be a beautiful unapologetic mess: a mess of intentions and discoveries. This is exactly where it gets interesting. The forces that reside in a character can also be represented in surprising places, like a setting, an object that keeps appearing, or a fantasy told by a lesser character.

Subjectivity is so intensely personal, so reticent to being reduced, so amazing and maddening, resistant to linear thought, it’s no wonder that much of our personal realities resides in sensations, not words. There’s a daunting sense of presence in the urge to write. This, I argue, is the bread that sustains literary characters and their interactions, and links the lines of a poem, much like other tensions we cannot name, but are in us nonetheless.

My hope is to write from this region.

I recently read, Writers [on Writing]: Collected Essays from the New York Times in which Joyce Carol Oates comments: “To write is to invade another’s space, if only to memorialize it.” And, “Art by its nature is a transgressive act, and artists must accept being punished for it. The more original and unsettling their art, the more devastating the punishment.”

The courage theme is always present. There’s more.

Too much resistance to spontaneity can flatten a story, diluting its flavor. I can say as a psychologist that everyone has a unique way of feeling stuck in his or her own subjectivity. One problem I have is thinking too hard about what I want a story to be. It reduces me to metaphors about cooking, more spice here, less salt there, and I’ve accepted I’m a lousy cook.

Poet Mark Doty, in The Art of Description: Word into World, discusses timelessness, linking it to lyric qualities. “In this lyric time, we cease to be aware of forward movement; lyric is concerned neither with the impingement of the past nor with anticipation of events to come.” I think he’s inviting us to write beyond the known intention, to free the mind from all the willful clamoring.

It is not the way I’m used to thinking about lyricism.

He goes on: “Such a state of mind is ‘lyric’ not because it is musical (though the representation of these states of mind usually is) but because we are seized by a moment that suddenly seems edgeless, unbounded.”

No matter how much I want to write about a past moment, the parallels to the present moment make appearances. The old conundrums come to visit. Everyone has tensions that have been internalized. In writing, we are supported by the internalized influence of friends, past triumphs, people who love and encourage us. But we are not completely free from the influence of the bullies in our lives, the cynics and abusers. The art of writing, in my opinion, is to express the tensions, not to be constrained to resolve them.

My own response is to make room for mental associations and images to visit freely in my writing, like I’ve given them a VIP pass to enter the page. It gets a little wild, as these can come from a narrative voice, a character, or projection into an object I’m describing. I sometimes delegate an inanimate object to be the container for something a character cannot see or know. This was my solution to the overflowing grief of my protagonist in “Path of the Ground Birds,” where the glow of a refrigerator light took over some of the narration when the character was too numb to speak.

The momentary loss of the external narrative is the most astonishing gift, perhaps in therapy as well as writing. It’s the moment when a client says something completely unexpected after talking about, say, persistent headaches, he says something like, “I never told my brother I loved him,” while looking at an vase in a bookshelf. It’s true we’ve lost one thread, but picked up another that’s far more important. This is what I strive to do in writing, to make room for what emerges.

Other masters I admire, such as Alice Munroe, Donna Tartt, Adam Johnson, Charles Baxter, to name just a few, seem to delve easily into the intimate worlds of characters and describe their attachments from within.

I may be in contradiction to writers advising that to be successful, a story needs constant twists of plot, a satisfying arc, an earthquake of a beginning, a clarifying ending, etc. I’m more inclined to settle in, appreciating a mix of tones. It’s why I never tire reading passages of Henry James and Virginia Woolf. Maybe it comes to an acceptance of one’s mix, not a problem to be solved, since intentions are mixed as well.

For example, I was raised by a father who recited Rudyard Kipling and William Butler Yeats, and ballads by the dozens. He’d be transported by rhymes of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. When I think of his influence, I’m inclined to write a sentence like this: “There was dread in his voice when he said to his friends that he went for a loaf of bread.” There I am, summoning the rhythms from childhood listening.

My mother was reserved, careful, and kept her worries to herself. She rarely spoke in the first person. My parents departed long ago, but I can summon her influence too. I think of her way of saying things, and add my own spin. Now I’ll write it like this: “When he left, a loaf of bread was on his mind, sliced this time, though it was not his custom.” This way keeps my curiosity going.

I don’t think resistance as a concept is simply a barrier to creativity, since it’s just as linked to identity as the way a person walks: haltingly, or leaning slightly forward. It’s folly to think that the absence of resistance opens the door to genius. We can try to use the tension rather than be neutralized by it.

To write is to live in wonder.

James Cooper2(1)J.L Cooper is a writer, clinical psychologist in Sacramento, California, and winner of the Tupelo Quarterly prose open prize, TQ9, judged by Pulitzer winner Adam Johnson. (Read his winning piece, “Path of the Ground Birds,” here.) Additional awards include: First Place in Short Short Fiction in New Millennium Writings, 2013, and Second Place in Essay in Literal Latte, 2014. His short stories and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in The Manhattan Review, Hippocampus, Oberon Poetry Magazine, Structo, Paper Swans Press (UK), Gold Man Review, KY Story, Folia Literary Magazine, The Sun (Reader’s Write), and in other journals and anthologies. A full-length collection of poetry is forthcoming from WordTech. For more information, go to: jlcooper.net


The Mistake Tea Can Sometimes Make

FaceBook Post

by Steven Stam

From a toddler watching a flock of birds attempt to resuscitate a fallen brethren to a father mowing around dandelion islands of lawn weeds out of paternal love, the chapbook The Mistake Tea Can Sometimes Make by Brittany D. Clark from ELJ Publications confronts the clash between the odd and mundane of familial life. In this terse collection, Clark blends the poetic subtlety of flash fiction and the novella form.

Arranged around a series of short vignettes, many of which have been or could be published as singular stories, the narrative follows the life of Julia Carlton, a once-promising child prodigy who steamrolls through life, falls in love during college, and then drops out to marry Eric Gardner. This union lands the couple in Julia’s dead-end home town, Douglass, New Jersey. Douglass rests at the terminal end of a long New Jersey road. There is one way in to and one way out of this town founded by man who was at the end of his rope and before stumbling upon flocks of birds that later fascinate Julia’s young son Benjamin.

Benjamin becomes the success story here, the metaphorical phoenix to rise from Julia’s failures. He is a child that gleans French from language CD’s, detests the faux sophistication of sushi, and finds himself at MIT at age sixteen. Benjamin sits at the center of Julia’s life and the novella’s action, the success story in an otherwise desolate and boring rural municipality. Early on in her marriage, Julia takes to reading tea leaves only to run from the act, afraid of the futureless stasis they reveal. From then on, she fears her life’s inertia, she wants more, and this forces her to focus on Benjamin, a child worthy of her once promising life’s work. She wants to give him everything, and looks toward the future, eliding over the past. Success eludes her, for she fails to stop and read the tea leaves for what they are.

Beyond the familial discourse, the town of Douglass comes to life, first through Julia and the Gardner family’s stories, and then through the town newspaper. A parade of newspaper articles dot the narrative with updates that advance time and space, while cementing the town itself as a character. Libraries, dances, science fairs—each bland event passes time, marking a plateau of small town ennui. The articles alert us to the town’s oddities, the movements of hunters and birds, and in the process letting Clark’s creation live and breathe.

I read this chapbook in a single sitting before turning to the front cover to read it once more with a fond fascination for these, my favorite lines:

“As she lay there, aware of her failures, her exposed body seemed all at once to lurch towards something.”

“He let the rest hang there in the stale air, absorbing all the years of waste and confusion until there was nothing left but a breeze.”

“He would cut the yard around patches of the flowering plant, creating islands Julia would soon run to with her gardening sheers, cutting the few blades to match the freshly cut grassy waters around them.”

“They fluttered as Julia said, ‘like a heart murmur.’ She came up with this metaphor when one of the semi-trucks pushed straight into one of the birds.”

“It wasn’t because their families didn’t have the money; Julia liked these kinds of projects, and Eric liked making Julia happy.”

Steven Stam is a teacher, writer, and runner from Jacksonville, Florida, where he lives with his wife Adriana and two small children. Steven tends to focus on his home of Florida and the oddities therein. In doing so, he writes primarily flash fiction, believing the model fits modern society’s desire for instant gratification. His work can be found in Fiction Southeast, Kudzu House Quarterly, and the Rappahannock Review, among others.


Copy of Pears Twitter Post

by L. Shapley Bassen

Tyro authors learning how to cook up a story would be well-served by sous-chef Iain Pears, whose novel Arcadia, together with Chef Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, would make a cordon bleu semester course in any MFA writing program.

Last Christmastime, I missed my chance to see J.J. Abrams’s new Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 3-D and didn’t see the point of going to a 2-D showing. “The medium is the message” has never been more zeitgeist-true than now.

Turns out, in 2013, J.J. Abrams published a co-written hardback tome titled just S. It came packaged (perfect for that Christmas) in a cardboard book slip and worked very hard at being multi-dimensional as a novel (Ship of Theseus) with notes in the margins that made up an ongoing conversation/love story between a student and scholar studying the text. Plus, there was the editor of the book who appeared in an introduction and footnotes.

image003Also three years ago, British author Iain Pears was invited to give a seminar talk at Oxford, which he called “Egos in Arcadia: Telling tales in a digital age.” The clever pun of the title of his then work-in-progress book/iPad app alluded to the 17th century Poussin paintings of a tomb in a pastoral idyll, and echoed the classical phrase, Et in Arcadia ego, whose translation (“Even in Arcadia, there am I”) is a reminder of 4th dimensional, temporal perspective: in the midst of even the best of Life, Death is present.

Pears’s work-in-progress was published in England in Autumn 2015 and in New York in the New Year as Arcadia, as a 21st century, double 3-D version/vision. It took the Abrams concoction up a notch, BAM! Gluten-free and delicious utopia/dystopia, Time, and Story are major ingredients in this Arcadia. No need to rue the roux: mixtures of metaphor and everything else stirred together in Arcadia make it a truly movable feast. Also no need for me to repeat the rave reviews that the novel received last autumn; they do a fine job of guiding you through the book’s Möbius strip structure (see Escher’s famous portrait of Relativity). The hearty takeaway/takeout I’d like to share is that tyro authors learning how to cook up a story would be well-served by sous-chef Pears, whose new novel Arcadia, together with Chef Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays would make a cordon bleu semester course in any MFA writing program. Bon appétit!

The Ingredients: Arcadia is Faber & Faber’s first novel to have been written primarily with digital readers in mind. The British publishers believe it to be the first book of its kind in existence. “While the hardback is 180,000 words, the app comes to 250,000, offering additional stories and expanding those told in the hardback.” Iain Pears summed up: “The three plot lines in the book are a realist spy fiction set in the 1960s; a sci-fi one set centuries later in a nightmarish overpopulated world; and a fantasy one in a rural paradise, Anterwold … Woven in with this are landscapes derived from Claude Lorrain, a curious girl (named Rosie) rather like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, scenes from As You Like It (starring Rosie/Rosalind), and asides on and references to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The fantasy bit is without gods or magic. Tolkien almost did that, but he always slips in a bit of magic, and C.S. Lewis depends on magic. But I didn’t want any talking lions. The point about Anterwold is that it’s an attempt to create an ideal, stable society that could actually exist.”

Arcadia‘s solo author, Pears, was inspired by a science article that said that many of the problems of physics would be solved if time dropped out of equations and everything happened simultaneously (alright, alright, alright, more zeitgeist! Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar). One reviewer exhorted readers to “treat this novel, and its app, as a meme-park where a whole menagerie of tropes, themes, myths and motifs from centuries of fantasy and romance can frolic.” As Rosie remarks about Anterwold, ‘You steal ideas from everyone.’ Shakespeare, Sidney, Carroll, Bradbury, Huxley, Orwell, Tolkien-and-Lewis, Le Carré, Fleming—to label Arcadia as ‘derivative’ would be both to miss and to make Pears’ point. In a world (or worlds) menaced by terminal risks, Pears builds a story-ark: a granary or seedbank of genres.” That’s my underlining to emphasize the novel’s primer/cookbook possibilities as well.

About Time & Taste: When you read the novel in hardback, the stop-start intercutting of chapters becomes an experience of time travel in/of itself. 19th century Dickens and 20th century Asimov are more consistently linear, but 21st century Pears intentionally leaps from locales/characters to others so that your first experience of every chapter is getting your bearings again, literally finding yourself at the same time as you do the characters/story lines. The hardback reading results in a real suspension of routine experience of linear time reality. The digital rendering of the whisked-together stories allows a reader to follow the addition of one ingredient at a time, but that freedom implies that 2-D is an illusion. At the same time contrasts with one at a time to great cumulative effect: (1) recognition of the questionable reality of our primate-evolved, cause/effect linear assumptions about Time; (2) recognition that Arcadia moves free of time just as subatomic particles do and we can in memory and speculation. This is real fun and food for thought.

And now, to the Fry[e]ing pan: Iain Pears plays a game of friendly Three-card Monte not only with space-time, but also with storytelling formats. One of the most influential literary critics of the 20th century, Northrop Frye, would frolic through Pears’s pages/screen. Frye’s four Anatomy modes are the destinies manifest in Arcadia

Just follow the seasons:

image005Spring: Mistaken identities and disguises revealed at story’s end come right out of Comedy mode, as does the Angela-mother/Emily-daughter generational handoff. Comedy is the vernal promise of reconciliation of the old generation with the new, and it usually ends with a celebration/wedding/party.

Summer: The Asimov-worthy sci-fi plot (consider the time travel novel The End of Eternity and short story “Spell My Name with an S”) pits a dystopian evil villain Oldmanter (name out of Dickens) against a dynamic duo of time machine maker mother and her daughter, an environmental/cultural conservator reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451. When superhuman good defeats superhuman evil, you’re reading/writing Romance.

Autumn: Tragedy is the story of homicidal disorder caused by flawed superiority with order restored at great but ennobling cost. In Arcadia, time travel enfolds the tragedy of atomic apocalypse within its overriding Romance plot.

Winter: When dystopia prevails or utter confusion of definitions of identity/reality takes over (also momentarily in Star Trek Next Generation’s Moriarty holodeck episode, “Ship in a Bottle”), you’re in Irony.

But since Pears serves up the wish fulfillment half of Frye’s wheel (Comedy/Romance) rather than the realistic quadrants (Tragedy/Irony), freedom relieves entrapment in most, but not all, cases.

MFA Alert/Servings: Frye’s catalogs in The Anatomy of Criticism mean that readers, students, and writers of stories need not reinvent the wheel, but just keep the one above snowballing into the future just as Pears does in Arcadia. There, nothing is ever lost but stays afloat in his “story-ark” when a time-traveling scholar-author meets a facet of himself in a future society where Storytellers are its most valued citizens. Consider the creative power of recognizing pattern: you need not get lost in history, nor repeat it. Instead, it can be a guide to your own story.

And in case you thought I forgot: here is a different delicious recipe for fried pears: http://www.justapinch.com/recipes/dessert/fruit-dessert/fried-pears.html.


L.S. Bassen, a native New Yorker, now lives in northern RI. 2014 saw the publication of a novel and short story collection, and April 2016, her second novel, MARWA. A Fiction Editor at Prick of the Spindle: A Journal of Literary Arts she also writes book reviews for THE RUMPUS and others and is a prizewinning, produced, published playwright. Find her more complete bio at: http://www.samuelfrench.com/author/1158/lois-shapley-bassen