Category Archives: literary news

RIP Franz Wright 1953–2015

franz-wright

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/05/15/franz-wright-waltham-pulitzer-prize-winning-poet-dies/kkYxHZXge3tsxS87EmDx4O/story.html

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http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/franz-wright

An Interview with Karen Stefano

Karen Stefano 1Karen Stefano is Fiction Editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, and book reviews. She’s published her stories in The South Carolina Review, Tampa Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Epiphany, and elsewhere. Karen was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. Her collection, The Secret Games of Words, is available in Kindle and paperback formats on Amazon.com

Interview by Robert Hambling Davis 

Secret games of word

RHD: Karen, when I read The Secret Games of Words, I was immediately impressed by two of your many strengths as a fiction writer. I’ll address them separately. The first one, which I call formatting a story, I mentioned in my short review. Did the personality-inventory format of “Undone” come to you with the idea for the story? Or did you write a draft of the story first and then decide on the best format to present the narrative, for the most emotional impact?

KS:  I’ll spare you the details, but in 2007 I began seeing a therapist who would not take a new patient until said patient completed the MMPI. So I got busy with the test and found that the questions delighted me (Would I like to work as a librarian? Hell yes I would!! Do evil spirits possess me? I sure as hell hope not!! Do I hear voices? Yes, but fortunately only when I’m writing!!).  I thought every single question provided an excellent prompt for story-telling. It took me awhile to figure out how to put it all together, to make “Undone” work in terms of “the occasion for telling,” but actually taking the test is how this story came about. Reading the questions also harkened me back to my days as an undergrad at Berkeley, where I was a Psych major, so I suppose the MMPI and other diagnostic tools have always held a place in my heart.  

Generally speaking, format and structure are always difficult for me. I wish I could say I have an organized method for creating short fiction, but I don’t. The shape of my stories seemingly come about on their own, but only after many, many rounds of edits.

Karen Stefano reading at the Tin House Writer’s Workshop

RHD: Of the twenty-three stories in your collection, several are flash fiction. The collection is a mix of short and long, and I enjoyed the changeup. As a fellow fiction writer and editor, I’ve heard other fiction writers express their inability to write flash fiction, saying, “I can’t write short.” You don’t seem to have that problem. Do you read a lot of flash fiction? Do you conceive of a flash fiction piece the same way that you conceive of a longer story? Along these lines, I especially liked “Visitor,” which is a page and a half long, a complete story about a shoplifter who sells counterfeit Ray-Bans on the side of the road, to make enough money to pay her rent. By the end of the story, she’s no longer worrying about her rent as she feels compassion for an abused young girl.

Karen StefanoKS:  I had never written a word of flash before 2013. That year I joined a writing group consisting of myself and the uber-talented Meg Tuite, Len Kuntz, and Robert Vaughan, each of whom are masters of the form. Every week for an entire year we took turns providing the prompt, then we were expected to circulate a draft of a story not exceeding 500 words within the next week, then we had another week in which to critique each other’s work. The experience was immensely productive and satisfying.  “Look!” I could say to myself, “I finished something! I wrote a whole story in just a week!” You have no idea how great this feels when you are working on a novel, when you are a person for whom writing takes a long, long time. “Visitor” stemmed from one of those weekly prompts of 2013. Flash also teaches a writer that every word matters. It’s an incredibly disciplined form and I would encourage anyone who says, “I can’t write short” to give it another try. I am a strong believer that writing flash makes one a better writer overall.

Karen Stefano 4

RHD: You have over twenty years of litigation experience, with a JD/MBA (specializing in law and business administration). How much does your day job inspire you to write fiction?

KS: Yes, and I want to note for the record that I started practicing law when I was just five years old, okay? But to answer your question: So far, very little. I did criminal defense for eight years and to say I met a lot of interesting people would be the understatement of the year. I was thrown into so many situations that touched me deeply. I’ve tried to write about them, but the experiences have just not translated onto the page for me yet. I also worked at a large civil litigation firm that was comically dysfunctional. I hope to make use of that pain on the page some day, but that hasn’t happened yet either. But with all of that being said, smidgeons of my life as a lawyer sometimes come through in my work. The prosecutor in “Undone,” for example, is based on a real life prick I used to encounter all too often in the courtroom.

RHD: Who are some of your favorite short story writers?

KS: Oh, there are too many to list, but I’ll try. Lorrie Moore, Deborah Eisenberg, Flannery O’Connor, Benjamin Percy, Steve Almond, Miranda July. There are also many emerging writers whose work I love. Donna Trump, for example, who we featured recently in Connotation Press, writes beautifully. I hope that in the very near future she gets the wide audience she so richly deserves. Robert P. Kaye (another Connotation Press alum!) is another of my favorites. His work is brilliant and with the right exposure I see him as the next Karen Russell (and no, I’m not overstating it).

Karen Stefano 5RHD: Aside from the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, you’ve been to the Tin House Workshop twice and to the Breadloaf Conference. What’s your feeling about writing workshops and conferences in general? Do you feel you’ve had stories published that perhaps wouldn’t have been published if you hadn’t workshopped them?

KS: Honestly? In my view, the most beneficial thing about workshops is the people you meet, the relationships that are formed. Take you and me, for example. We met at Squaw, in a workshop, which by definition can be a setting where one can feel pretty vulnerable. You and I connected because we enjoyed one another’s work and we stayed in touch and exchanged work for awhile thereafter. I’ve had similar experiences in other workshops and the results are amazing. I mean, I’ve formed some real friendships, friendships that have gotten me through some pretty rough times in the past year or so. That is a remarkable gift. We need each other. Writing itself is difficult. And the writing life is even more difficult. We need to cheer each other on, to help one another through the days of self doubt. 

And yes, getting edits and critiques from people I’ve connected with has definitely helped shape stories that would otherwise have been “DOA.” But that doesn’t always happen in the workshop itself. The reality is that not every writer in the workshop is going to have useful and productive suggestions for your work. You have to pick and choose what and who you listen to.

rhdavis-1 –Robert Hambling Davis is a fiction editor of The Fox Chase Review. He has been published in The Sun, Antietam Review, Memoir (and), Philadelphia Stories, Santa Monica Review, and elsewhere. He’s been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and received three Delaware Division of the Arts grants, two for fiction and one for creative nonfiction. He was a fiction semifinalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Contest in 2002 and 2012, and a creative nonfiction winner in 2013. Robert helps direct the Delaware Literary Connection, a nonprofit serving writers in Delaware and surrounding areas. He is a member of the Delaware Artist Roster, and has given writing workshops and readings in the Mid-Atlantic.

The Secret Games of Words by Karen Stefano

Secret games of wordPaperback: 126 pages

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (February 24, 2015)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 150254413X

ISBN-13: 978-1502544131

Review by Robert Hambling Davis

I met Karen Stefano at the 2008 Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, where we were in the same critique group with nine other fiction writers. For her critique, Karen chose a story she calls “Undone” in her debut collection, The Secret Games of Words, which was published by 1 Glimpse Press in March 2015. “Undone” might have had another title when I first read it, but I remember being impressed with the format of the story, in which the attorney narrator, who works in the L.A. Public Defender’s Office, has to answer a personality inventory as part of her mental health evaluation, after a courtroom hearing which could result in her being committed to a California psychiatric hospital for a year. She must answer true or false to each of the nineteen questions on the inventory, which she does. She then justifies each answer for the reader, and these justifications are the meat of this tragicomedy about a woman who is coming undone in her love life and her professional life, and whose terminally ill father wants her to kill him.

The title story of The Secret Games of Words is written in the form of an email from the narrator, missusjack1, to her husband, JackLabRat, after he’s dumped her for his lab assistant. On a downward spiral, the narrator has been fired from her job as the mayor’s communications director, for making a typo in a press release, omitting the “f” in “Shifts,” so that the printed headline reads: “City Council Shits on Mayor’s New Policy.” She blames the typo on her stress over her dying father (a recurrent theme in Stefano’s stories), and as she drinks vodka to dull her pain, she entertains the following thought, which begins her “Period of Decline”:

“I realized then how consonants change lives. A shift turns to shit, friends turn to fiends, Native Americans with their proud heritage become naïve Americans, an epidemic. My mind flew in an endless loop, listing all the better mistakes I could have made.”

Later, when her husband comes home for the last time (he’s already shacking up with his assistant), the narrator tries to talk to him about the secret games of words, calling them “little pranksters wreaking havoc in our lives.” Then, attempting to make a joke over her misfortune, she tells him: “You got laid. I got laid off. One’s good, the other’s bad. Get it?” In the course of the story she loses her job, her husband, and her father, but the way Stefano has missusjack1 tell the story makes it comical, and this is a trait of most of the stories in this first yet accomplished collection: the main characters are haunted by bad luck, often forced into high-catastrophe-living mode, on the brink of madness, yet at the same time they have the ability to laugh at themselves. They don’t laugh at themselves, though. They’re in too much pain. Yet the way they tell their stories tells the reader that they are still able to see life as a comedy.

You can find the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Games-Words-Stories/dp/150254413X/ref=la_B00U4YT9MW_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431957697&sr=1-1

rhdavis-1-Robert Hambling Davis is a fiction editor of The Fox Chase Review. He has been published in The Sun, Antietam Review, Memoir (and), Philadelphia Stories, Santa Monica Review, and elsewhere. He’s been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and received three Delaware Division of the Arts grants, two for fiction and one for creative nonfiction. He was a fiction semifinalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Contest in 2002 and 2012, and a creative nonfiction winner in 2013. Robert helps direct the Delaware Literary Connection, a nonprofit serving writers in Delaware and surrounding areas. He is a member of the Delaware Artist Roster, and has given writing workshops and readings in the Mid-Atlantic.

Poets Esposito and McClung in Fox Chase May 23rd

Lynette Esposito

Lynette Esposito

Lauren McClung

Laren McClung

Join us in the 2nd floor gallery of Ryerss Museum and Library at 1 p.m. for the poetry of Lynette Esposito and Laren McClung. The featured poets will be followed by an open mic. Ryerss is located atop the hill at Burholme Park, 7370 Central Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa. 19111. For more information visit: https://foxchasereview.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/esposito-and-mcclung-in-fox-chase-may-23rd/

Hypocrites, Fellowships and Government Grants

type stock photoThere are many fellowships and grants available to those in the arts and literary world. Most are funded by foundations or non-profits established by the wealthy who left some money behind for this specific purpose. They would be the 1%. There are also grants available from county, city, state and the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and various governmental arts council. Many of the foundations and non-profits, not all, are now awarding funding to artists and writers via a panel of people who recommend them for the awards. The people who serve on the panels are anonymous, the nominations completed in secret. Those awarded proudly, as they should, list the awards on their resumes and announce them to friends and family. I don’t have a problem with any of this. I say congratulations to all those who benefit from these programs. It is nice to see those who struggle in the arts get some relief.

pig stock photo

There are many in the arts and literary community who make a practice, seek attention in railing against government, attacking the 1 %, and appear as noble crusaders for righteous causes. Yet, when the time comes, they take the money from the fellowships and foundations, they take the money from the government, and some serve in appointed positions as part of the government. These folks are not the majority who benefit from these programs, but they are there. They justify taking the cash by saying if they want to give it to me, I am going to take it. This hypocrisy, the appearance of standing for a cause, then sticking your snoot in the trough of those you attack is nauseating.

To the vast majority of those who benefit from these programs I say congratulations in the hope that your art benefits from the relief provided by grants and fellowships. To the minority of hypocrites, I simply say shame on you.  .

2nd-saturday-poets-1-21-12-guarnieri-reutter-readiing-017-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa.  He can be found here: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

 

After the Gazebo by Jen Knox

after_the_gazeboPaperback: 185 pages

Publisher: Rain Mountain Press; First edition (May 31, 2015)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1495106128

ISBN-13: 978-1495106125

Review by g emil reutter

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There are many sides to life, Jen Knox, an observer, brings to our attention the stories of people we may not normally see. There is the lady on the bus who speaks to everyone on her way to visit her recovering daughter, not sure if the clean and drug free daughter will be there or the other daughter. Her nervousness results in speaking to people on the bus. She gets to know the regulars, speaks to new folks if they like it or not. She brings gifts to those she gets to know on the regular route of this bus. The character knows people who takes buses don’t have cars. The tension builds in the story, as in all stories in this collection, with an unpredictable conclusion. She writes of the perfect couple with the perfect small wedding with just a hint that something isn’t right. There is the wandering daughter who has left home many times only to return but never when she says she will arrive. Her mother makes excuses, her ill father knows why.

Knox is a master at character development in these very short stories, she brings us into their lives, we get to know them and then just as quickly she throws us out as we look for more. There is an electricity that flows through this collection, not a sedentary moment.

After the Gazebo is a collection of stories of people you may be familiar with in your own lives. Many of whom you don’t pay attention even though they live right in front of you, neighbors, may be in your family, or those you see every day on the way to work.  Knox writes of them, sometimes gentle, sometimes brutal, always in a forthright manner. After the Gazebo is a must read.

You can check out the book here:  http://www.amazon.com/After-Gazebo-Jen-Knox/dp/1495106128/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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g emil reutter '15-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. He can be found at https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

Poetry in the News

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Unthinkable: What’s the use of poetry?

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/unthinkable-what-s-the-use-of-poetry-1.2195306

William Faulkner Makes Us Wonder: What’s So Great About Poetry, Anyhow?

http://www.npr.org/2015/04/30/402852491/william-faulkner-makes-us-wonder-whats-so-great-about-poetry-anyhow

When Poetry Went Viral In Medieval India

http://swarajyamag.com/columns/when-poetry-went-viral-in-medieval-india/

This is the way poetry ends

http://www.columbiatribune.com/arts_life/ovation/this-is-the-way-poetry-ends/article_46272116-72d3-5c74-8116-bb049be1b61e.html

Gass: Put poetry back in the classroom

http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/article/20150503/

OPINION/150508982/1007/OPINION 

Why some people dislike poetry

http://michiganradio.org/post/why-some-people-dislike-poetry

Thirteen Thoughts on Poetry in the Digital Age

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mandy-kahn/thirteen-thoughts-on-poet_b_7102384.html