fiction

Great Interview with Author Jonathan Corcoran

corcoran_jonathanThe town I grew up in was a little pinpoint of civilization surrounded on all sides by mountains and miles of forests… I know my stories wouldn’t be as successful without the looming mountains or the swiftly flowing rivers.

Hear, hear! This sentiment is one of many that drew me to the multi-talented and quite charming author (and Brooklynite) Jonathan Corcoran, whose debut collection of linked stories, The Rope Swing, explores the unique setting of economically-isolated Appalachia and the complex people who inhabit its “looming” mountainsides and riverbanks.

Are you surprised, precious reader, at my natural affinity for the natural world? There’s nothing unnatural about it. I’m a woodland denizen, by Zeus’ sandal straps! A so-called “sasquatch,” although I prefer sans-quatch; it sounds more literary. My given name is Chester, but I tell the voters to call me Chet.

Msr. Corcoran asserts, during the course of an energetic interview at The Rumpus, that “This book, as a project, was certainly a meditation on the notion of cusps and cliffs.” Cliffs! I swoon! You had me at “looming mountainsides,” dear sir! Corcoran goes on to say:

In the stories that focus on queer life and love specifically, I wanted to show readers how these tiniest of decisions, or moments of indecision, have the potential to impact a body for a lifetime, and how these very personal decisions are often forced upon people under the heavy weight of an often-hostile external world.

A weighty topic, to be sure, and one that this author discusses at great length and with such attractive perspicacity, thanks to his interviewess, the talented poet and essayist, Mlle. Melissa Adamo. Read her poetry here and follow her tweetings at @mel_adamo.

Hats off to The Rumpus for finding these two lovely creatures. I hope to see much, much more from them in the future.

Purchase The Rope Swing from Amazon immediately, humans, if you value your reputations.

Thoughts from F. Scott Fitzgerald

f-scott-fitzWhen the initial sales of his mediocre book The Great Gatsby failed to meet expectations, Fitzgerald expressed his disappointment in a letter to his editor, Max Perkins. In the letter, he decried the trend at the time of honoring the so-called “American peasant.” Wrote Fitzgerald:

Some day they’ll eat grass, by God! This thing, both the effort and the result have hardened me and I think now that I’m much better than any of the young Americans without exception.

Do you notice the barely-concealed contempt for grassy cuisine? He went on, however, to declare that:

There’s no point in being an artist if you can’t do your best.

I can’t disagree there, although, on the whole, I dare say I give better advice to young artists. For example, I was the first to utter the now-ubiquitous commonplace, never wipe your hindquarters with bark. That was me.

For that little gem and innumerable others, follow me on the Tweeter at @City_Sasquatch

(Notes on F. Scott from the laudable biography by Andrew Turnbull)

Today’s Recommended Fiction

Keith Gessen, novelist and editor of Brooklyn journal n+1, published a fascinating essay called “Money” in Chad Harbach’s outstanding anthology MFA Vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction. Gessen tells the story of the time he taught a creative writing class while simultaneously going through the final editing process on a feature article destined for a magazine. Juggling teaching responsibilities with the demands of the publishing industry took a toll on him.

I sympathize with Mssr. Gessen. Or rather, I sympathize with my sympathy for him. If Yale would only return my emails, I would have a tenured position on the English faculty and, therefore, I would also have something cutting to say about the burden of grading papers and creating lesson plans on top of the vocation of writing. Ah well, good things come to those who… forget it, I’ll get to the point.

I shall now note, for your benefit, my erudite reader, a few works of fiction that Gessen included in the syllabus for his workshop, works that should cause the dedicated writers among us to perk up their ears. Those stories include:

  • George Saunders’ “Sea Oak”
  • Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be?
  • Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
  • Curtis White’s “Combat”
  • Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections
  • Chris Kraus’s “Trick”
  • Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus

A promising reading list, to be sure. Have at it! And let me know which is your favorite at @City_Sasquatch.

 

Guest List for Parties I Will Host When I’m Famous

A photo by Quentin Dr. unsplash.com/photos/gvm_Kmm3-9o

  • Lorin Stein and his entire family (including pets)
  • Teju Cole
  • Taro Gomi, author of Everybody Poops
  • Jack Nicholson
  • My running mate for President of the United States, a seagull
  • Bill Clinton
  • John McPhee
  • My cousin Earl
  • Lena Dunham, of Girls
  • Michael Cunningham
  • Ann Beattie 
  • Kanye West
  • This penguin, who wears a backpack full of fish
  • Marty, the Alaskan ranger from the program Mountain Men
  • The ghost of Truman Capote
  • Melvin, the man who stands on the corner outside the 24-hour deli

…and you! You can RSVP to be placed on the guest list @City_Sasquatch or at chetsasquatch@humanoid.net

What I’m Reading

In a detailed how-to piece on submitting to literary magazines, Ryo Yamaguchi says, “I write to trend, and I write against it.” In other words, pay attention to what other writers are doing, but don’t let that trap you. I recommend perusing the rest of the article, which can be found on The Michigan Quarterly Review’s delightful blog. Thanks also to The Review Review for tipping me off.

joy williams godIn an earlier post on this distinguished internet thingie, I referred to an interview by editor Lincoln Michel with the esteemed and strange author Joy Williams. And what do I find today, but an excerpt of her new collection, Ninety-Nine Stories of God, courtesy of the irrepressible resource, Lithub.

…Which also published this thought-provoking overview of books that stimulate – some more mildly than others – the human emotion known as empathy. I’ve encountered that emotion before. It being (as I mentioned) a human trait, what little experience I did get with empathy fredric jameson antimoniesgave me gas. I don’t recommend it.

(The latter article points to Fredric Jameson’s scholarly tome, The Antimonies of Realism, which Lithub makes out to be a perfect object to read ostentatiously on the curb outside Lorin Stein’s apartment. They paraphrase Jameson’s opinion on the contemporary time period known as “modernity” thusly: Jameson believes that modernity creates an “irreconcilable divorce between intelligibility and experience, between meaning and existence.” Quite so! My thoughts exactly. But then again, I never assumed that meaning and existence were dating? Forgive me, but isn’t it in bad form to presume knowledge of a couple’s relationship without any verifiable evidence thereof? Harumph. Perhaps I am unforgivably antiquated in my notions about etiquette.)

Iowa, Frank Conroy, and the Secret to Writing Fiction

Like all good mythological beasts, I have a ghostwriter. Although that is his official title, I noticed some time ago that he lacks very many ghostly qualities. In fact, he smells faintly of cheeseburgers, despite the fact that apparitions, as far as I can tell, maintain strictly herbivorous diets.

At any rate, my ghostwriter (in the flesh or otherwise) recommends an essay anthology called MFA vs. NYC, edited by N+1 founder Chad Harbach. The book investigates the premise that today’s literary world has become distinctly bilateral, one hemisphere being the academic and the other being the urban landscape of the Big Apple.

In an essay titled “The Pyramid Scheme,” former MFA’er and Frank Conroy student Eric Bennett provides a healthy criticism of the oldest and most venerable of creative writing programs, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Of Conroy, Bennett claims that he hated “the ‘cute stuff'” and advocated a metaphorical view of the short story that could be described thusly:

[Conroy] wanted literary craft to be a pyramid. He drew a pyramid on the blackboard and divided it with horizontal lines. The long stratum at the base was grammar and syntax, which he called ‘Meaning, Sense, Clarity.’ The next layer, shorter and higher, comprised the senses that prose evoked: what you tasted, touched, heard, smelled, and saw. Then came character, then metaphor… I can’t remember the pyramid exactly, and maybe Conroy changed it every time. What I remember for sure is that everything above metaphor Conroy referred to as ‘the fancy stuff.’ At the top was symbolism, the fanciest of all. You worked from the broad and basic to the rarified and abstract.

Fascinating. I think I understand. Let me see if I can reproduce this famous author’s proposed diagram. Shouldn’t be too difficult. I am a visual learner, after all. Is this what he meant?

conroys pyramid

My ghostwriter is nodding. It seems I’ve grasped Conroy’s secrets quite quickly.

If you or your colleagues hail from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and would like to recruit me for an open-ended teaching contract, you may email me at chetsasquatch@humanoid.net or twit me @City_Sasquatch.

Poetry and Pine Reading at CounterEvolution

It’s no secret that pine wood is one of my favorite woods. It smells nice, it looks nice, and, dare I say, it tastes passable. I am thoroughly pine-biased, I admit. Luckily for me, this smoothly sanded wood seemed to be the at the center of the aesthetic at Flatiron performance space CounterEvolution on the night of a recent fiction and poetry reading.

It was an aromatic summer night when writer Andree Green, singer/songwriter Phoebe Lichty, and the wonderfully-talented novelist Renee Watson took charge of the microphone at CounterEvolution. Once the evening was over, only a truly wooden listener could remain unmoved by the pathos and power of these charming and accomplished artists. A spirited open mic session rounded out the lineup and allowed for a brief reading from poetess-about-town Grisel Yolanda Acosta, who some will remember from other readings of note at Newark’s Brick City Speaks series.

Poetry and Pine, you’ve won my heart. And you’re BYOB, to boot! Visit the reading’s Facebook page to learn more about the artists who graced its stage in July.

 

Hate or Love Twitter, It Found Me Joy Williams

joy williams barn oklahoma

In “When An Internet Skeptic Takes to Twitter,” Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies, decries the flittersphere in no uncertain terms. Denigrating the “toddler-talk sound of the word” Twitter, Birkerts goes on to call the popular site an “unceasing purposeless chatter-stream” and a “mad bazaar of self-promotion…”

I agree. How hard it is to keep one’s head on straight in these heady days of our budding information age! Alas!

Shortly afterward, on Twitter, I came across a link to a Vice News interview with acclaimed short story writer and veritable luddite Joy Williams, known by many as an early darling of both Gordon Lish and George Plimpton during the early days of her career in the 1970’s. According to interviewer (and member of the Big Apple literati himself) Lincoln Michel, Williams commenced to schedule their talk by sending him a postcard from Oklahoma with a picture of a barn on it and her phone number on the back. She then mailed him a hard copy of her answers to his questions.

I recommend perusing the interview in its entirety. Among other things, Williams declares:

I used to rather like the word “empathy.” Now I feel it’s not nearly strong enough. Nor is sympathy hard enough. We need a radical shift in consciousness, a more generous conception of the whole, which is far more inclusive than we prefer to believe.

And just one of her rules for writing effective short stories:

8) A certain coldness is required in execution. It is not a form that gives itself to consolation but if consolation is offered it should come from an unexpected quarter.

Try to find a ruby with that kind of shine inside the Twitter mine, why don’t you?

Interview of the Week: Becky Tuch of The Review Review

man at desk by pedro ribeiro simoes

This article of the week comes from my ghostwriter. How thoughtful of him to interview the founder of one of my favorite literary resources on the global interweb net, The Review Review, that most effective tool for researching literary magazines.

The innovative and delightful editress Mlle. Becky Tuch opens up about motherhood, her short story collection (and novel!), and the ongoing evolution of The Review Review in an interview for The Rumpus. Don’t miss it. Be a dear and leave a comment at the bottom, or tweet your reactions to @City_Sasquatch. I will be sure to pass them on to the author.

Find a list of my ghostwriter’s other publications on the About page at the top of your screen, and be sure to keep abreast of his weekly Song of the Day column for The Rumpus. I promise I’ll get around to it, as soon as I open this fan mail.