Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Holy crap. Yes.
That is the distinction between creative nonfiction and journalism. In a newspaper article, for instance, the writer is invisible. The reader gets the facts, the necessary information, but -- we hope -- it's not filtered through any particular lens, tinted by any particular emotion. The event itself is the story. In creative nonfiction, though, the event is simply a backdrop -- the scenery, if you will. The real story is the way that the narrator perceives, presents, and reacts to the story. What is filtered out, what is highlighted. Which words are used, which images. For instance, the narrator who describes grandma's skin as "rice paper" and the narrator who describes it as "soft" are two very different people; neither is more correct than the other, but the perspective, and therefore the story, changes.
This is where the title of Gornick's book comes in. She calls the event the "situation" and the narrator's response -- the emotional arc -- "the story." One of my undergraduate professors, fiction writer Allyson Goldin Loomis, explained it another way: "There's what it's about, and there's what it's ABOUT." About = situation, ABOUT = story.
Take, for instance, Joan Didion in "The White Album." It's an essay about the tumult of the 1960s. Many people have written about the tumult of the 1960s. Many, many, many people. But this essay does not tell the story of many, many people.
On August 9, 1969, I was sitting in the shallow end of my sister-in-law's swimming pool in Beverly Hills when she received a telephone call from a friend who had just heard about the murders at Sharon Tate Polanski's house on Cielo Drive. The phone rang many times during the next hour. These early reports were garbled and contradictory. One caller would say hoods, the next would say chains. There were twenty dead, no twelve, ten, eighteen. Black masses were imagined, and bad trips blamed. I remember all of the day's misinformation very clearly, and I also remember this, and wish I did not: I remember that no one was surprised.
This excerpt is about the Manson murders, but it isn't ABOUT them. At the forefront is a woman whose lack of surprise is itself the surprise. Her reaction to this lack of surprise, the wishing to forget it, becomes more interesting than the murders themselves. It becomes the focal point of the passage. It's exactly as Gornick says: the narrator is what's being seen, not the event. The fact that a reader is more interested in someone's reaction than in a brutal multiple murder is amazing. The fact that nonfiction writers have at our disposal the tools to do that is amazing. And, of course, Joan Didion is amazing...but that goes without saying.
When I read essays that have been submitted to Stoneboat, I often see work that contains a lot of situation but very little story. The situations are often quite interesting, but the writer has failed to recognize that a situation is not a story. There has to be more than an interesting plot, because in creative nonfiction, the plot is really the least important aspect. Take Annie Dillard's "Living Like Weasels." Annie Dillard just sits on a log and watches some weasels. It would make a terrible movie. But even though nothing happens from a plot perspective, a lot happens in the narrator's head. Readers watch her watch weasels, and it's fascinating.
So nonfiction writers, before you send your work off to Stoneboat, make sure you've got a story. As your nonfiction editor, I want to see you see the situation. React to it. Contemplate it. Interrogate it. Explore possibilities. Reach conclusions. Show why you should be the one to tell this story. But whatever you do, do not just write the plot. I will not be happy, and you will not be published.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Here at Stoneboat, we're trying something new this year: a Black Friday sale.
Before you groan and roll your eyes and wonder what the world is coming to when literary journals jump on the commercialism bandwagon, hear us out. At Stoneboat, our goal is pretty simple. We want to put good writing into the hands of the people who love it. That's it, and it's in that spirit that we've decided to have a sale. It isn't about raking in oodles of cash; it's about trying to reach a broader audience and getting broader exposure for our contributors.
"Lovely," you say, "but what's the sale?"
We're glad you asked. For one day only, we are offering a special deal, three issues for a mere $25: the current issue (which includes a special graphic literature section), the spring issue (which will include an interview with Art of Fielding author Chad Harbach), and the Fall 2014 issue (which is so far on the horizon that we have no idea what its claim to fame will be).
If I'm doing my math correctly, which I might not be, this is a savings of 18% off the cover price, so take advantage of it. Buy now!!! Seriously, though, it is a good deal, and you'll get a year and a half's worth of good writing delivered straight to your mailbox. What's not to love about that?
We'll open the sale late Thursday night, and it'll be available until late Friday night. Just visit the Stoneboat store during that time frame -- it'll be clear which button to press in order to get the deal. In the meantime, if you've got questions such as, "I already have the Fall issue but would love to buy three additional issues for $25. How can we make this work?", email us: stoneboat.journal @ gmail.com.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Paradigm Coffee & Music, located at 1202 North 8th Street, will again be hosting this event. It will be a perfect afternoon to enjoy a hot beverage and listen to contributors and ghost readers share work from our newest issue.
The reading will begin at 2:00pm, and there will be an open mic to follow. Feel free to bring a piece that you've written or a short piece from your favorite author.
The current issue will be available for purchase at the event. T-shirts and past issues will also be available.
Hope to see you there.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Like many of the writers we publish in Stoneboat, I’m still at the beginning of my career. My work has appeared in a handful of literary journals, but that’s it. I’d like to publish a collection some day, write a book…but that’s all down the road. The first step is to get my work out there.
It’s a step that isn’t possible without all the little journals that are willing to take a chance on an unknown writer like me: Oyez Review, Steam Ticket, Fugue, Cadillac Cicatrix, Sonora Review, Dos Passos Review. Let me repeat that. Without literary journals, and all the editors that get paid exactly $0.00 to put them together, there would be no place for writers like me (and you) to begin a career.
Every once in a while writers skip this step and go straight to the big leagues, but for most of us, it isn't like that. Most of us have to work our way up – and that’s why, as a writer, I feel like it’s my responsibility to support literary journals by subscribing, by purchasing a couple of issues when I’m at a festival or conference, by encouraging my friends to do the same.
It’s amazing to me how many writers don’t realize that the journals are necessary to our success -- and even how many writers do know but still don’t subscribe. We expect the journals to support and nurture us, but many of us don’t return the favor by supporting and nurturing them.
That’s just not right. If you aren't doing your part, stop for a minute and think about why that is. If you really can’t afford it, then fine. If you're struggling to pay the rent and buy the groceries, you’re excused. (Although there are non-monetary ways to show your support, too; for example, you could like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and tell all your rich friends to buy a copy.) However, if you had Starbucks today or bought the book that’s on your nightstand rather than checking it out from the library, then you can afford to support a literary journal.
A subscription to Stoneboat is only $20/year – but if that’s too steep, you can click the “donate” button in the right sidebar of this blog and contribute as little as $1. Or you could go to our website and spend $12 on a T-shirt. There are options.
If you have ever been published in a literary journal or ever hope to to be, do your part. Keep us around so that we can get your work into readers’ hands. Sad but true fact: literary journals go under all the time. Another sad but true fact: Stoneboat's bank account will be hovering uncomfortably close to the $0 mark after we print the fall issue. So far, we've always been able to scrape enough cash together to keep our boat afloat, but it's becoming increasingly difficult.
If you appreciate what we do, show the love, in whatever form you're able. We promise to reciprocate by producing the best damn journal we can.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
|We will do THIS for YOU!|
Monday, October 14, 2013
I had the opportunity several years back to attend a workshop given by poet Philip Dacey. The subject of that particular workshop was writer's block, and it was based on what Dacey believed to be the premise for these frightening bouts of idleness: Writer's blocks are invented unconsciously by those who wish to avoid, for any number of reasons, the task of writing, while yet enjoying the romance of a writerly aura, the cachet of suffering artists; writers, however, write.
Without going through the fine details of the workshop, let me share with you nine of Dacey's nineteen things to do when you "can't write," based on notes from the workshop.
- Translate from a language you don't know. I've tried this a few times with poetry and had some success. It definitely worked a different part of my brain and helped me to see things from a different perspective.
- Tell a lie about your body and use that lie as the first line for a poem (or maybe it will prove to be a one-line poem). An example I wrote: My hands want to tear my pathetic little head from my torso and toss it to hell.
- Barbarous Bucklings: Make surprising adjective/noun combinations until a certain combination leads into the process of writing a poem. My examples: caustic tendrils, decaying birth, beautiful sickness.
- A variation on the process that Dacey calls "The Genitive Shuffle." Combine two not obviously related nouns with the possessive preposition "of." My musings: a morsel of pain. a bag of moonlight. a forest of noise.
- Invent metaphors or similes and see where they lead you. This one is always challenging for me: The waves pecked at the shore like farm fowl at feeding time.
- Almost tell the truth. Fictionalize a particular personal experience, changing a single, significant element of the story: The barista that took my order this morning asked me how long I've been modeling.
- Adopt a persona. Explore writing from a different point of view quite removed from your own. Have a mental sex change for a moment. Become your hero. Become your enemy. Channel the mind of a child you know. This can be a fun exercise.
- Play the game of secrets. These could be real, or they could be the secrets of a persona you adopted: I placed my crying baby in the microwave just to see if she'd fit; I only turned it on for a second. I'm in love with another man, and my wife would be furious if she knew.
- Play the game of as if: "if" and "as if" and "what if" are some of the most important words for poets because they open the door to the imagination. Here are a few of my attempts: If you were a car, then I'd be your mechanic. If poetry were food, then I'd need bigger pants. If you were sunshine, then I'd have a great tan.