2013 Winners — IndieFab Awards

HANA SASAKI wins Editor’s Choice Fiction Prize!

Kelly Luce on Lois Lowry

literarymothers:

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My career as a shoplifter began with a novel. Mom allowed me two books per trip to the Crown Books in the mall, and that month, the Babysitter’s Club series had put out a double serving, which I had to have.

The book I covetedwas small and black. Its cover featured an unremarkable gray silhouette and a title I recognized from a list of books deemed by my school board “inappropriate for 6th-8th grade summer reading.”

This was The Giver, by Lois Lowry.

I slipped the book into my cavernous parka pocket. I reached into my pocket after crossing the store’s threshold, pinching those yet-unread pages between my fingers. I’d been sure the book would disappear once we left its rightful home.

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Fables for Train Rides

route9litmag:

by Shastri Akella

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"Sky Wall" by Jen May

The train slows down and draws to a halt with a shot of smoke. Aaina looks out the window. They’re not at a station but in a forest. A silhouette zigzags between the trees, through the green light of the leaves. The silhouette…

VIDA Stuff

maryumiller:

I wrote this thing the other day (http://www.vol1brooklyn.com/2014/05/21/my-problem-with-vida-a-report-from-the-field/). I’m not very popular right now because of it but it’s how I feel and it’s okay that most people ignored it because ignoring it is easier than “picking a side.” People are…

thompsonted:

littlebrown:

Ask a Debut Novelist - Question 1
In which thompsonted, author of The Land of Steady Habits, answers your questions about writing, publishing, and making good work.
slurpeemoney asks: On a scale of one to ten, how “good” was your submission draft in your own opinion? Did you feel it was exactly the story you were trying to tell, or was it just “good enough” to send out? I feel like I could spend the rest of my life revising my book, and it would never reach an 8. *sigh*
Ah, a question that is near and dear to my heart. Thank you, slurpeemoney, for asking this.
Before I get to me, I think there are a couple of things going on in your question that are helpful to sort out. The first is the question of how “good” my novel was before it went out, on a scale of 1 to 10, which seems to me a different thing from the second part of the question, which was if I felt it was exactly the story I was trying to tell.
For me, I’ve said before that I knew when my novel went out on submission that it wasn’t quite done, but I think that’s maybe a little misleading. In my case it was less an issue of it being good on a scale of 1 to 10 (good to who exactly?) than of feeling as though the book hadn’t yet expressed what deep down, under all of my uncertainties and anxieties and doubts, I knew it could.
The reason for this could probably be traced back to the earliest seeds of the project, way back in 2003, when the country was careening headlong into war, and I was looking for my first job. I spent my days then listening to call-in shows on NPR that affirmed my outrage while idly scrolling through entry-level want ads, feeling as though every fate they presented was a narrowed version of what a life could be. All of the jobs traded in stability (something I’ve since come to appreciate and need but that then seemed to me a product of easy comfort and resignation), promising regular money and health insurance and a retirement plan in exchange for your time. What the companies actually did—and what they asked you to do—was, in so many of these ads, beside the point. And still none of them were calling me back. So I suppose it’s no wonder that I started writing about a character who had lived through all that such a life promised, and who both rejected its ideals and was somewhat of a buffoon while he was doing it. It seemed to me then that this was the deadened path of American adulthood, and what I felt, with great indignation, was expected of me. The project, in a way, was conceived in the midst of this, and I suppose was a way of lashing out at a time when I was feeling powerless.
It took many years for that to grow into a full novel, and I spent much of that time polishing the sentences until they gleamed. I was proud of the writing and, if I’m honest, desperate to prove something about my talent. There is, particularly in graduate writing programs (where I had written much of this draft), a shared assumption that if you focus on the craft the meaning will come. Make good sentences and they will carry the freight of your soul. Or something like that. And while I mostly agree with that approach, this was the first time I really saw its limits. The book went out, and while I had made 250 pages of good sentences, in my gut I felt an ickiness that I couldn’t name. So when I was given the chance to make changes in the editorial process (along with a pointed letter from my editor), I took the manuscript back. And though it took me nearly a year to locate it, the problem I was feeling ultimately stemmed from a lack of generosity, a failure of empathy. It took me a while to realize how much of the underpinnings had come from a place of anger, a stinky and shriveled and adolescent place within me, how much of the writing that I thought was sharp and truthful also bordered on cynicism, which is not intelligence though it can be easy to confuse the two. I ended up throwing away pretty much all of those polished sentences in that revision, and expanding the book from a single character’s point of view into three, all in order to find my way to a novel that was closer to the one I wanted to write.
All of this is to say, slurpeemoney, that underneath it all, I think deep down we know when we’re done. There is something driving your writing, something that you might not understand, that has to be expressed for the project to be realized. If it hasn’t yet been found, or hasn’t yet been made clear, you’ll feel it and you’ll know you’re not there. To me, the question of whether something is “good” should always be secondary to this.
Because it seems to me the question of whether or not it’s good, and rating it on a 1–10 scale, is impossible to parse, and really comes down to a question of confidence, of how you feel about it. I can say that I’ve never felt more alone during the writing of my book than when I threw that draft away. It had been accepted for publication so what was my problem? Was I being a perfectionist? A self-sabotager? Was I just scared? Nobody seemed to understand and I had a hard time explaining it, and soon my confidence evaporated. No matter how many times I reached out, or confided in friends, or threw tantrums that my wife watched with waning patience, nobody was able to re-instill it for me. They would just stare at me blankly, or with pity, or concern. They would suggest meditation or exercise or buy me another round, and it took me a long time to realize they were waiting for me to stand by what I had made.
So, since advice is always largely for the advice-giver, and since you didn’t ask, I hope you’ll forgive me while I say this (mostly to myself): Throw away the scale. There is no scale, there is only your story. Listen to the story you are trying to tell, that unconscious combination of imagination and memory and feeling, and trust it. Concentrate on expressing that as clearly as you can, concentrate on finding the language for it, but above all don’t second-guess it. It’s your true north. Because here’s the great thing about novels and writing and creating anything: nobody else can possibly write the book you’re writing. It is yours, singular, and the more clearly it is expressed the more alive its singularity will be. If you want to be ruthless, be ruthless about clarity, be ruthless about trusting yourself, be ruthless about finding generosity for your characters, but most of all be ruthless about ignoring the inner demon that keeps telling you you’ll never be as good as Eudora Welty or Zadie Smith or David Mitchell or James Baldwin or whoever, that your novel will never be better than an 8. That inner demon is full of fear, and fear, if anything, is what reduces a novel and sterilizes its language. Fear, in writing, is a self-fulfilling prophesy. So banish it, banish the whole scale, and trust your own dark bouquet of inspiration. Thank god you’re not those other writers. We already have their books, but we don’t have yours, and I am of the mind that the world is almost always made better by more books.
I promise to follow my own advice if you will.
Very best,Ted
Have a question for Ted Thompson, Debut Novelist? Drop it in our Ask Box!

Ask me another!

thompsonted:

littlebrown:

Ask a Debut Novelist - Question 1

In which thompsonted, author of The Land of Steady Habits, answers your questions about writing, publishing, and making good work.

slurpeemoney asks: On a scale of one to ten, how “good” was your submission draft in your own opinion? Did you feel it was exactly the story you were trying to tell, or was it just “good enough” to send out? I feel like I could spend the rest of my life revising my book, and it would never reach an 8. *sigh*

Ah, a question that is near and dear to my heart. Thank you, slurpeemoney, for asking this.

Before I get to me, I think there are a couple of things going on in your question that are helpful to sort out. The first is the question of how “good” my novel was before it went out, on a scale of 1 to 10, which seems to me a different thing from the second part of the question, which was if I felt it was exactly the story I was trying to tell.

For me, I’ve said before that I knew when my novel went out on submission that it wasn’t quite done, but I think that’s maybe a little misleading. In my case it was less an issue of it being good on a scale of 1 to 10 (good to who exactly?) than of feeling as though the book hadn’t yet expressed what deep down, under all of my uncertainties and anxieties and doubts, I knew it could.

The reason for this could probably be traced back to the earliest seeds of the project, way back in 2003, when the country was careening headlong into war, and I was looking for my first job. I spent my days then listening to call-in shows on NPR that affirmed my outrage while idly scrolling through entry-level want ads, feeling as though every fate they presented was a narrowed version of what a life could be. All of the jobs traded in stability (something I’ve since come to appreciate and need but that then seemed to me a product of easy comfort and resignation), promising regular money and health insurance and a retirement plan in exchange for your time. What the companies actually did—and what they asked you to do—was, in so many of these ads, beside the point. And still none of them were calling me back. So I suppose it’s no wonder that I started writing about a character who had lived through all that such a life promised, and who both rejected its ideals and was somewhat of a buffoon while he was doing it. It seemed to me then that this was the deadened path of American adulthood, and what I felt, with great indignation, was expected of me. The project, in a way, was conceived in the midst of this, and I suppose was a way of lashing out at a time when I was feeling powerless.

It took many years for that to grow into a full novel, and I spent much of that time polishing the sentences until they gleamed. I was proud of the writing and, if I’m honest, desperate to prove something about my talent. There is, particularly in graduate writing programs (where I had written much of this draft), a shared assumption that if you focus on the craft the meaning will come. Make good sentences and they will carry the freight of your soul. Or something like that. And while I mostly agree with that approach, this was the first time I really saw its limits. The book went out, and while I had made 250 pages of good sentences, in my gut I felt an ickiness that I couldn’t name. So when I was given the chance to make changes in the editorial process (along with a pointed letter from my editor), I took the manuscript back. And though it took me nearly a year to locate it, the problem I was feeling ultimately stemmed from a lack of generosity, a failure of empathy. It took me a while to realize how much of the underpinnings had come from a place of anger, a stinky and shriveled and adolescent place within me, how much of the writing that I thought was sharp and truthful also bordered on cynicism, which is not intelligence though it can be easy to confuse the two. I ended up throwing away pretty much all of those polished sentences in that revision, and expanding the book from a single character’s point of view into three, all in order to find my way to a novel that was closer to the one I wanted to write.

All of this is to say, slurpeemoney, that underneath it all, I think deep down we know when we’re done. There is something driving your writing, something that you might not understand, that has to be expressed for the project to be realized. If it hasn’t yet been found, or hasn’t yet been made clear, you’ll feel it and you’ll know you’re not there. To me, the question of whether something is “good” should always be secondary to this.

Because it seems to me the question of whether or not it’s good, and rating it on a 1–10 scale, is impossible to parse, and really comes down to a question of confidence, of how you feel about it. I can say that I’ve never felt more alone during the writing of my book than when I threw that draft away. It had been accepted for publication so what was my problem? Was I being a perfectionist? A self-sabotager? Was I just scared? Nobody seemed to understand and I had a hard time explaining it, and soon my confidence evaporated. No matter how many times I reached out, or confided in friends, or threw tantrums that my wife watched with waning patience, nobody was able to re-instill it for me. They would just stare at me blankly, or with pity, or concern. They would suggest meditation or exercise or buy me another round, and it took me a long time to realize they were waiting for me to stand by what I had made.

So, since advice is always largely for the advice-giver, and since you didn’t ask, I hope you’ll forgive me while I say this (mostly to myself): Throw away the scale. There is no scale, there is only your story. Listen to the story you are trying to tell, that unconscious combination of imagination and memory and feeling, and trust it. Concentrate on expressing that as clearly as you can, concentrate on finding the language for it, but above all don’t second-guess it. It’s your true north. Because here’s the great thing about novels and writing and creating anything: nobody else can possibly write the book you’re writing. It is yours, singular, and the more clearly it is expressed the more alive its singularity will be. If you want to be ruthless, be ruthless about clarity, be ruthless about trusting yourself, be ruthless about finding generosity for your characters, but most of all be ruthless about ignoring the inner demon that keeps telling you you’ll never be as good as Eudora Welty or Zadie Smith or David Mitchell or James Baldwin or whoever, that your novel will never be better than an 8. That inner demon is full of fear, and fear, if anything, is what reduces a novel and sterilizes its language. Fear, in writing, is a self-fulfilling prophesy. So banish it, banish the whole scale, and trust your own dark bouquet of inspiration. Thank god you’re not those other writers. We already have their books, but we don’t have yours, and I am of the mind that the world is almost always made better by more books.

I promise to follow my own advice if you will.

Very best,
Ted

Have a question for Ted Thompson, Debut Novelist? Drop it in our Ask Box!

Ask me another!

Ashley Farmer on Joan Didion

Didion’s idea seems radical in its simplicity: not to write what you know but write because you don’t. Not to bring an understanding to the page, but to arrive at it there.”

literarymothers:

image

Lucky Others: On Didion and Giving In

The Santa Ana winds are here again. Dead fronds fall from palm trees in the courtyard. It’s not yet May in Southern California but it’s already ninety-six degrees and I’m thinking of Joan Didion. I think of Joan Didion whenever the weather shifts like this, or when California (as it often does) feels strange to me. I picture her in Hollywood, off Franklin Avenue, in the large house with peeling paint she writes about in “The White Album.” I’m thirty-three miles south, but the paint is peeling here, too, and this state is still as lurid as it was when she was here.

Though I’ve mostly lived other places, like Didion I was born in California. I like to believe that because we both come from this place, I share a molecule with her, some same chemical from dirt or water. But if we share anything at all, it’s in these moments when it’s too hot outside and I close the bedroom door to keep the cold air in and I sit down to a screen without a thought in my brain. It’s in my reason for bothering to write at all. It’s in the line that explains her own motivations: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”  It’s in “what I want and what I fear” most of all.

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Kelly Luce on Lois Lowry

literarymothers:

image

My career as a shoplifter began with a novel. Mom allowed me two books per trip to the Crown Books in the mall, and that month, the Babysitter’s Club series had put out a double serving, which I had to have.

The book I covetedwas small and black. Its cover featured an unremarkable gray silhouette and a title I recognized from a list of books deemed by my school board “inappropriate for 6th-8th grade summer reading.”

This was The Giver, by Lois Lowry.

I slipped the book into my cavernous parka pocket. I reached into my pocket after crossing the store’s threshold, pinching those yet-unread pages between my fingers. I’d been sure the book would disappear once we left its rightful home.

Read More

"Spring in Zurveyta" by Kyle Coma-Thompson, recommended by the Bat City Review

The wonderful Kyle Coma-Thompson and Bat City Review featured in this week’s Electric Lit!

recommendedreading:


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Issue No. 103

EDITOR’S NOTE


The night after I read Kyle Coma-Thompson’s “Spring in Zurveyta” for the first time, it haunted my sleep. The story, about a young reporter finally granted an interview with the country’s reclusive president, left me with a lingering and beautiful anxiety. My dreams were populated by its prickly images: a casual pistol, a windowpane like a jail cell, headstones turned building material.

The characterization of President Cherkeso (“It was difficult not to blink when he fought to gain advantage in conversation, since his hands and his legs were working so actively to expel his thoughts from his body”) alongside the calm, reportorial style of the prose, create a tension that resonates long after one has reached the ending. Coma-Thompson’s style seeps through mind-cracks into the subconscious. This renders what could be a flat tale, forthcoming with its information, totally spellbinding.

The hyper-real scenes between Anna P., the reporter, and President Cherkeso and his guards and minions, are wonderfully balanced by moments in which time and space are drawn out. When Anna, on the phone with her husband, mentions how nervous she is to interview the new, ominously secretive and hostile president, the conversation is practical: they discuss interview strategies and a five-minute technique for stress-relief. Just as they are about to hang up, Anna says, “I’m safe. Don’t worry.” But the words don’t reach him as smoothly as the previous ones. They echo from a windowpane “back to her face, through the receiver to a cell tower, up to an orbiting satellite, and then down to her husband on the other end of the line.” Anna, whatever she would like to think, is terrifyingly far from anyone who would keep her safe.

Here is a story told in realistic, vivid prose, yet one whose setting is unfamiliar and whose concerns are imbued with a gravitas that we do not come across often while sifting through the submissions. It radiates seriousness and is charged with necessity. There is a sense of authority to the writing that propels the story forward, and the buildup of suspense as Anna, meets the ruthless president Cherkeso is handled masterfully. Several months after the story’s publication in Bat City Review, we received an email from the editor of Dock Street Press. He wanted to see more of Kyle’s work. All of this led to the publication of The Lucky Body, a book of short stories. How wonderful—dare I say dreamlike—that such things still happen!


Kelly Luce
Editor, Bat City Review (2014 - 2015) and author of Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail


With thanks to Alen Hamza, Editor-in-Chief, Bat City Review (2013 - 2014)


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Spring in Zurveyta

by Kyle Coma-Thompson

Recommended by Bat City Review

Get Kindle Get ePub


Mr. Cherkeso had agreed: he would sit for the interview. It would be conducted at his compound in Zurveyta at exactly three forty-five in the afternoon. The journalist, Ms. Petrovich, would submit a list of questions. From this list ten questions would be selected and his representatives would submit a copy of his answers one hour before the interview. She would be allowed to formulate supplementary questions to his answers during this time. Arrival time would be at noon, granting a thorough search of her car and body; after the interview, they would have dinner with the Minister of the Interior and his wife.

Anna Petrovich, Anna P. as her friends called her (her editor at Novaya Gazeta, Mischa Hosculman, called her Petrovich—the negation of familiarity belying his affection for her) had reported on the wars in Khruekistan and predicted the consolidation of power by Akhmed Cherkeso’s son after his assassination two years ago. His son had been the head of security forces. He wasn’t yet thirty years old when his father had died. This is how it had happened: at a public independence day rally at Iznek Stadium, he’d sat in the twenty-fifth row of the concrete bleachers overlooking the youth parade. Several hundred pounds of explosives had been rigged around the columns upholding the bleachers. At noon they were detonated. One man watching through binoculars as the president waved to the parade had seen his hand fly right off the wrist. “Like a sparrow at the sound of gunshot,” he’d later described. One hundred and sixty-three people killed. Probably twice that many detained. It could have been read as a show of incompetence on the son’s part, that his security scan of the stadium days prior to the event hadn’t turned up a cache of explosives taped to the pylons beneath the bleachers and painted the color of concrete. But the time it would take to formulate such a criticism was quickly filled with a flurry of retributive action. All military-aged males in the village of Kirpukt, the home town of Sulamir Besmir, the most prominent of the rebel leaders, were detained, brought to Iznek, and subjected to a month of “intensive cross-examination.” Tactics of cross-examination had included beatings, sodomization, torture by blowtorch and electrified wires secured to the genitals, followed by execution by pistol, hunting knife, and nail gun. In the words of one observer who had attended the state funeral for Cherkeso the elder, the son had “wept fists” at the service. He’d delivered the eulogy with an announcement of authority, removing a pistol from the shoulder holster beneath his suit, holding it up for the crowd to see, before setting it, with a show of ominous grace, on the podium. This was what the country should expect. Here was a man who protected his interests from a position of deep emotion; and, being a man of the people, his interests were aligned with everyone’s.

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Every Literary Person I Remember Having Had a Problem With or Who I Remember Having Had a Problem With Me

fast-machine:

Lee Klein (Eyeshot editor) – sent him a submission for Eyeshot in 2003 to which he replied “whenever you write something like this, immediately delete it.” Remember crying while reading that email. A few months after that sent him a picture for Eyeshot Literary Escort thingy (