Archive for May, 2012

Writing Off Script


If you’re reading this blog, chances are you like great writers. And I’m guessing you probably like cinema, too. If so, there’s good news! Writing Off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema is an ebook that combines these two things perfectly. Edited by Cynthia Hawkins, this book includes some top-notch contributions from these folks: Robin Antalek (The Summer We Fell Apart), Matthew Baldwin (of The Nervous Breakdown), Sean Beaudoin (You Killed Wesley Payne), Ernessa T. Carter (32 Candles), Richard Cox (Thomas World), Elizabeth Eslami (Bone Worship), actor/screenwriter/author D. R. Haney (Banned for Life), film composer and The Dewey Decimal System author Nathan Larson, independent documentary filmmaker Vernon Lott (Bad Writing), Nathaniel Missildine (nathanielmissildine.com), Greg Olear (Fathermucker), Neal Pollack (Stretch), Claude Clayton Smith (The Stratford Devil), and interviews with David Small (Stitches), Patrick DeWitt (The Sisters Brothers), Teddy Wayne (Kapitoil), and publisher Simon Smithson.

Pretty great, right? And this will make it even better: The proceeds from Writing Off Script go to JET-14, Joplin High School’s student-run and television network in Joplin, Missouri. This is, of course, the town that suffered incredible devastation at the hands of a tornado one year ago today.

Jet-14 is helping the children of Joplin High School to put that terrible incident behind them, and buying a copy of Writing Off Script is a great way for you to contribute—especially today, on the one-year anniversary. They can still use a helping hand, and you can use a great book of film writing.

The book is available on Amazon. Its trailer is below:

 

interview /// Oak Ridge by Adam Moorad

Oak Ridge is the third chapbook from Turtleneck Press, a tiny indie publisher that I was admittedly unfamiliar with until they released this title by Adam Moorad, but now they are on my radar, and I will read more from them soon. But in the meantime, we get the pleasure of asking Adam Moorad a few questions about his seedy little Oak Ridge, a vignette structured story of brutal trailer living and the mess that some of us make of ourselves, a chapbook that delightfully disgusted me.

MB: I say that Oak Ridge disgusted me, but what I really mean is that the narrative itself is so painful to bear at times, with your characters sleeping in trash, ailing and without support, sort of torturing themselves by how they live. Where do these characters come from? And do they want to live this way, are they content in this life?

AM: These characters are primitives. They don’t know their lives are disgusting.  The trash, the illness, these things are acceptable in their eyes for no explicable reason. They are satisfied with being unsatisfied. Perhaps this is the story’s most disgusting element. How could anyone willing submit to this life?  It’s horrible and ugly and painful and these characters find it attractive and comforting. We can’t understand it. They’re content and it horrifies us.

MB: Another reason that Oak Ridge moved me so much was the way in which you constantly infuse serene and often beautiful scenes of nature with the vicious narrative:

The child wanders through the woods at night, setting booby traps. A mall of trees stretches upward, branches bending like the ribs of a carcass. The child crawls into a bed of leaves. Makes a muted moan. Wets itself for warmth. Palate cleft. Hands like Michigan.

How much crafting and editing did it take to so constantly and consisting mesh nature with this suffering and elements of revulsion?

AM: I wanted to experience how these people might view their world. This world happens to be a revulsive one, but one where they find beauty and comfort.  A sick child finds itself in the hollow of a ribcage and it’s happy to suffer in the serenity it provides. Nothing more.  These images were realized over several months.  Oak Ridge was many things before it was anything though it was always about this family.

MB: There is also a seemingly conscious effort to make each sentence direct, definitive:

He is drunk with his hands on a lure. The pole springs forward and a line flies into the stream. The bloodhound watches him waiting. The butterscotch current takes the bobber away, film spiraling around it like acrylic paint.

Is this typical of your style, or is this an approach honed specifically for Oak Ridge?

AM: I feel like writing is a constant process of becoming less and less uptight.  You get better at it as you get older. The desire grows to better evoke some kind of a reaction in someone else, physical or otherwise. Style is a byproduct. When you deal with this sort of subject matter, the language should work like a blunt object. Yeah – it’s fucked up stuff. Feel it. Bleed with these people. It will feel good.

MB: As we mentioned in the opening to this interview, Turtleneck Press is a publisher we just recently discovered. How did your manuscript end up in their hands, and what was the editorial and production process like for Oak Ridge?

AM: I like new projects. If I see someone trying to do something that I like and think is important I want to be a part of it.  Presses come and go. Some construct pretty websites but never publish anything.  By the time I came across Turtleneck Press, they had already released a few chapbooks in what seemed like no time at all.  This drive immediately made me want to work with them. Fortunately the manuscript developed a structure that I felt lent itself to the chapbook form so submitted it. The editorial process was nothing more than Brian Warfield emailing me to clarify and rectify my typos (of which there were plenty) in the politest way possible while he quietly when about promoting this book. For that I am grateful.

MB: Oak Ridge also makes me want to read more of your work. Are there any plans to extend this chapbook into a full-length manuscript? Or do you have other book projects you are already in the midst of?

AM:  Oak Ridge is one story from a collection I’ve been working on for a year or so. They’re unrelated tales all told in the same strange vein. Some are already published. Some aren’t. Some are still evolving and some might not even exist yet. I’d like to give this collection to the world someday. It’ll happen if it happens.

No joke, when I turned the last page of Oak Ridge, I immediately went back to the beginning and started again. This is how much I enjoyed Adam Moorad’s chapbook, and how quickly I wanted to take his language back in. Do the same, order up, and see what it is that invigorates me in such a fierce way. Buy a copy of Oak Ridge here, & read more from / about Adam Moorad here.

Ninth Letter and Man-Made Lands

I’m a huge fan of Ninth Letter. They always publish really engaging, fun work. And as a graphic designer, I’m always inspired and delighted by the look of the pages in their print issues. Now I’m doubly inspired and delighted because they are releasing their first ever special-edition chapbook, Man-Made Lands.

This book, edited by Scott Geiger (whose amazing story, “Inventory,” appeared in Monkeybicycle8), is a collection of stories and architectural proposals that examine how the ideas and creations of young architects might influence fiction and the literary landscape of the future.

Man-Made Lands includes stories from Joe Alterio, Seth Fried, Luther Magnussen, Micaela Morrissette, Ben Stroud, and Will Wiles, as well as proposals from Bjarke Ingels Group, Family with Office of Playlab, Steven Holl, and Keita Takahashi. The book will be available for purchase (packaged with Ninth’s Letter’s Spring/Summer 2012 issue) through the Ninth Letter website, and in bookstores.

Also, if you’re around New York City on May 23rd, Columbia University’s Studio-X will be hosting a launch party for the book, including some of the contributors in conversation with Scott Geiger and an installation by Joe Alterio. Details are on the flyer below. Just like the book, the party will surely be a very good time.

 

interview /// The World Will Deny It For You by Janaka Stucky

I’d never read anything from Ahsahta Press before, but fate sent me a copy of Janaka Stucky’s The World Will Deny It For You, winner of the first Ahsahta Press Chapbook Award judged by Cathy Wagner, and now I know to lookout for their future titles. I’ve also now learned that Janaka Stucky is, beyond being the badass conductor of poetic mayhem behind Black Ocean, a damn fine poet himself, creating in The World Will Deny It For You a tightly wound collection of poems that use minimalistic style to create wide-open moments of great weight. And Stucky too, like all wonderful writers I meet, is willing to be interrogated about this new book, and kindly indulged us here.

MB: Talk to us a little about the final lead-up to your Ahsahta Press contest submission – how long was this manuscript in the drafting stages and what final editorial work did you do before submitting?

JS:  Well, I’m a little abashed to say that the manuscript as a whole was assembled in a matter of days. I don’t usually submit to contests with reading fees, and in fact this was the first one I did submit to in about 8 years. I found out about the contest at the last minute and although I didn’t know Cathy Wagner personally, I knew her work—and thought she might like mine. So the manuscript was assembled somewhat frantically over a 72-hour period while I was visiting with the poet, Adrianne Mathiowetz, in Minneapolis. She really helped give an objective eye toward decisions on inclusion, and helped me organize the work. Even an editor needs an editor, and I don’t know if I would have pulled this manuscript off without her help.

MB: Once The World Will Deny It For You was announced as the winner, was there still the usual editorial process with the press editors? How different is the published version from the original manuscript you submitted?

JS:  I’d say the versions are very similar. Janet Holmes, who is the lifeblood of Ahsahta, assembled some editorial suggestions—a sort of aggregate of ideas from herself, Cathy Wagner, and other editorial staff members. I pushed back on a few but also saw the wisdom in them. Ultimately, the difference is: a few line edits, one poem cut, and one poem moved to a different spot in the book.

MB: One of the key components of The World Will Deny It For You seems to be the building of contrast between light and dark, for example:

from ‘You Are Invisible. Go Visible.’:

Inside the mouth of the flower remains / The second eyelid / True darkness / Alien light / Resurrecting us

or the poem that follows it:

from ‘The Heart Will Be Destroyed to Give Place to the Light Which It Might Have Contained’:

Nothing cannot pass / Through me the mask / I wear is a pyramid of fire / Fierce geometry of light / A cloud and its shadow / The hesitation of a lightning bolt

Where does the sharp contrast between these two elements come from in your writing process, and what does it mean in your poetry (assuming that it carries some sort of philosophical weight)?

JS:  Well, I should begin by saying that I wasn’t even really aware of that theme until you mentioned it—but now it’s so obvious to me! So I can’t claim a conscious philosophical weight, but I know where it comes from now that I’m aware of it… First, I think it comes from the psychological place this manuscript was written in. It’s sort of a sequel to my 2009 chapbook, Your Name Is the Only Freedom, which was a very dark book that was written in a very dark period of my life. This new book is about recovering from that—not an annihilation of darkness, but a creation of light within that darkness, and the cohabitation of the two. Also, interestingly, I think this contrast comes from my writing process itself—which involves a kind of somatic ritual to induce the trance state in which these poems occur. I write at night, with all the lights off in the house except for two votive candles providing just enough light to see what I’m writing. There are other elements to the ritual, but perhaps this one particularly informs the contrast you mentioned.

MB: It seems that all poets are chasing someone or something in their poetry. In The World Will Deny It For You, you open with:

from ‘Everyone Thinks I’m Ancient But I’m Only Seven’:

My maps are useless and invisible; now and then a tentacle / reaches up from the darkness and points to the places you are not. I / remember everything about you but when I awake there is only your hair / in my fists and the journey ahead. When my small boat finally arrives, the / angel in your place will say that I am too late—you are long gone.

Who or what is your poetry chasing in The World Will Deny It For You?

JS:  Most of these poems are a direct address to “you,” so I might say that these poems are chasing the Other. For the most part that’s true, but more than chasing the Other they’re about learning to love the Other despite constant imminent loss. The truth is, we will lose everyone we love—there are no exceptions. There is a kind of perfection to that absolute loss that is very painful to grasp, but once it’s embraced it’s entirely liberating. That’s what this book is documenting; the pursuit of that perfect state of acceptance.

MB: As always with editors / publishers who are also writers, I wonder about the effect that publishing has on their work. How does your role at Black Ocean affect your writing? Does the style of another poet ever infect you? Do the editorial skills you’ve acquired immediately translate to better editing of your own work?

JS:  Sadly, the brilliance of the writers I publish doesn’t seem to infect me. It does inspire me though, by showing me what’s possible. I like to publish books I wish I had written, in one way or another. I definitely think being a poet makes me a better editor, and so I suppose the same is true vice versa. It gives me perspective and empathy, and those are always good qualities to have.

MB: And now that The World Will Deny It For You is out in the world, what are you working on, what is the next project in your queue?

JS:  I have several projects in queue. I’m collaborating with the artist who did the cover of one of our new books, Butcher’s Tree, on a comic that’s semi-autobiographical about my seven years working as an undertaker. I’ve also got a full-length book of poems that’s getting close to completion… I’m taking my exploration of writing from trance states further while I attempt a long poem called The Saint Children. I have other wish list projects, but I’m trying to wait until these are complete before I begin them. In the meantime, I just came off a reading tour for The World Will Deny It For You, but I plan on more appearances around the country before the end of the year.

I much prefer the concrete world over philosophy – but Janaka Stucky manages to mesh philosophical moments with tangible landscapes in The World Will Deny It For You, creating an engrossing and profound poetry collection that has the weight of philosophy yet is entirely (and lustfully) readable. Pick up a copy of The World Will Deny It For You here, & read more from / about Janaka Stucky here.

The Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions 2012

This year’s Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Stories list is up. This year’s selecting editor, Dan Chaon, had a lot of great material to work with, and he did a tremendous job of selecting some really amazing works from some of the best online lit sites out there.

We are very happy to wish a special congratulations to Monkeybicycle contributors Sarah Rose Etter and John Minichillo, whose stories, Stolen Fat Baby and Sleep, Mother, Sleep, respectively, were selected from our archives.

See the full list here, and congratulations to everyone on there.

 

review /// Fast Machine by Elizabeth Ellen

Fast Machine

By Elizabeth Ellen
Hobart Short Flight/Long Drive Books; 380 pages; $11.95

Reviewed by Brittany Harmon

 
 
Elizabeth Ellen, author of Before You She Was a Pit Bull and Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix, captivated me from the very start of Fast Machine, a hard-hitting collection about heartbreak, obsession, and the density of human emotion written with a raw power that even Iggy Pop would admire. Combining her best pieces that have previously appeared in literary magazines such as Hobart, elimae, and Monkeybicycle along with fresh material, Fast Machine contains over ninety stories that range in length from very short to very long. It’s perfect for every kind of postmodern attention span.

Though there is no consistent narrator, the strong female voice that runs throughout the book kept me reading, crying, and laughing all at once. Whether she is clawing at the earth with her bare hands in “The Last American Woman” or being metaphorically detached at the hip from an old boyfriend in “Conjoined,” Ellen can be seen picking at her past—brooding over ex-lovers, poor decisions, and moments of weakness—the way one picks at dead skin. Certain lines like, “I had a bad habit of making my life about the people who were no longer in it” and “Your narcissism no longer feels romantic” humanize this collection in an ironically comforting way, letting the reader know that at least one other person understands the fragile and incredibly painful nature of love and loss. Still other stories like “Winter Haven, Florida, 1984” and “Middle School Sex” travel back to the narrators’ youth, revisiting issues of parental abandonment and confused sexuality. While some may find the bluntness with which Ellen describes her subjects alarming and graphic, it is this rare honesty that makes Fast Machine so enjoyable to read. These stories include just the right amount of sex, anger, movie references, and despair to breathe reality into the often misconstrued perceptions of monogamy, bisexuality, and parenthood.

In this compilation are some excellent pieces of flash fiction like “Ground Rules” and “Sixteen Miles Outside Phoenix.” These short pieces stand out because they contain the same intense, gristly spirit as even the longer and more-involved stories. The explicit and consistent pouring of blood and tears throughout the pages is simultaneously heartrending and consoling, as struggles are faced and overcome not in a hokey Hollywood fashion, but in an agonizing, barely-made-it-through kind of way. One can taste both the bitterness and sadness that comes along with tough breakups and the effects of emotional abuse in “All My Friends Think You’re A Piece of Shit” and “I Will Destroy You.” It is very easy to let stories about relationships fall into clichés and ranting prose, but Ellen handles these situations with a maturity that comes with distance and awareness. She gets to the root of her characters, observing and analyzing their actions and traits with a psychologist’s acuity, exposing motivations that for most people never rise to the plane of consciousness.

Ellen speaks to the core of human interaction and makes us question why we act in certain ways, challenging us to accept the inevitable hurt that accompanies all relationships—parent-child, husband-wife, sister-brother, etc. The fact that she is able to tackle these issues is impressive, but the skill with which she executes these experiences is even more remarkable. She doesn’t tell us she’s angry; she takes an axe to a tree, then an axe to her arm. She doesn’t wallow in sadness; she sits in a basement frantically doing word searches, convincing herself that if she does them all her boyfriend will come back.

There’s also a distinct American rock-and-roll spirit that’s invoked in this collection with images of drinking whiskey in the back of a pick-up truck, flannel clothing, and bison, supported with references to Little House on the Prairie, Johnny Appleseed, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Her ability to transform everyday happenings into pieces of art shows great expertise. By the end of Fast Machine, I had fallen in love with Ellen – her style, her voice, her picture on the back cover. Anyone who can write about period sex and the breakdown of the family unit with equal proficiency and tenor is a well-accomplished author by my standards. Fast Machine is a must-read for all of those who have crawled through emotional turmoil, been involved in a fucked-up love affair, or cared about someone else so much that they’ve lost themselves in the process. In a world filled with fairy-tales, Nicholas Sparks’ bestsellers, and Taylor Swift’s pop songs, Ellen’s uninhibited writing is refreshing because it’s real. Her words don’t sound forced or overly sentimental; her work has been carefully crafted. Ellen isn’t afraid to hurt her characters or to show how desperate and lonely we all are.