by Kim Triedman My gym misses me. I haven’t exactly been pulling my weight lately. Or blasting my abs or busting my butt, either. In fact I can honestly say that from the moment I started writing my second novel this past September, I have gone through the gym …
By Robin Black This post first appeared October 11, 2011 What can renovating and reclaiming your home after years of neglecting it teach you about revising fiction? A lot more than I imagined, it turns out. My husband and I have lived in our house for sixteen …
I stumbled across this post this morning and wish I had found it sooner, but here it is. The sale date is tomorrow. Read on:
By Robin Black Any interest in having your prose or poetry manuscript reviewed by the likes of Philip Levine, Elizabeth McCracken, Ron Carlson, Tony Hoagland, or perhaps some other equally amazing author?? There’s an app for that. . .or anyway, there’s a website. And you’ll be …
At the Festival of Faith and Writing, held every other year at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, I heard James McBride discuss his novel The Good Lord Bird. He had wanted to write a novel about the abolitionist John Brown, but wanted to do it in a way not done before. He more than accomplishes this goal with his first person narrator Henry “Onion” Shackelford, a ten year old slave boy in the Kansas Territory in 1856, who is kidnapped by John Brown following an argument between Brown and Onion’s owner, Dutch Henry Sherman. Unfortunately for Onion, who is a male, but like most colored boys in those days, he wore a potato sack for his clothing and with his light skin and curly hair, Brown mistakes Onion for a girl.
Onion narrates this novel and begins his tale by stating “I was born a colored man and don’t you forget it. But I lived as a colored woman for seventeen years.” (McBride 7). Onion is a confident narrator, and this confidence makes the novel, as he relays his efforts at trying to pass as female and his adventures with John Brown. He’s an adult, looking back on his life, and his sure voice carries the cadence, humor, and words of someone who’s experienced much and takes pride in relaying his story.
Onion is an exceptional storyteller with the strong cadence of his voice and his choice of words. “Now, in all the years I knowed him, Old John Brown never got excitable, even in matters of death–his or the next man’s–unless the subject of the Lord came up. And seeing Dutch Henry fling that Bible to the floor and swearing the Lord’s name in vain, that done a number on him…Next when he spoke, he were talking like an Irishman no more. He spoke in his real voice. High. Thin. Taut as gauge wire” (16).
Onion takes great offense to being mistaken for a girl by Brown: “Now, I don’t know about Pa, but between all that mumbling about kings and heathens and Zions and so forth, with him [Brown] waving that Sharps rifle around, I somehow got stuck on the “daughter” section of the speech…Everybody in Dutch’s, even the Indians, knowed I was boy. I weren’t even partial to girls at that age, being that I was raised in a tavern where most of the women smoked cigars, drunk gut sauce, and stunk to high heaven like the men” (18).
Onion describes Brown’s actions during a fight in Pikesville, a slave town. The fight is taking place outside, in an alley: “Well, I don’t know if it was that lit cannon belching smoke over his shoulder that done it, or them rebels losing heart when they seen the Old Man hisself in person standing in the clear, untouched with their bullets zinging past his face, but they turned and took the tall timber…And with that cannon fuse lit and burning home to its maker, the Old Man stood right next to it and watched the fuse burn to nothing and fizzle out. It didn’t hit the hammer. The thing was dead” (197)
Onion’s voice paints a picture that is hard to miss–Brown standing in an alley, oblivious to the danger he is in. Onion’s voice paints vivid scenes–some funny, most not–throughout the novel. Onion grows from a ten year old boy to a young man, present at Brown’s final stand at Harper’s Ferry. Throughout, Onion’s voice is strong and uniquely his because of word choice, and the cadence of his speech.
The Good Lord Bird won The National Book Award for Fiction.
McBride, James. The Good Lord Bird. New York: Riverhead Books. 2013. Print.
Part voyeur, part inspiration, every Monday you get a glimpse into the lives of authors and other thinkers who share a picture of their bedside table, a view into what matters to them right now, the things that inspire them, that occupy their minds.
Good writing advice from Jeffrey Schrecongost at the South 85 blog:
Greed. Guilt. God.
The big ones, yes? The ways in which the three interrelate are what I seek to explore in my fiction. People who need more than they need. The pain of remorse. The nature of a faith that comforts some and confuses and disappoints others.
Read the rest of Jeffrey’s post at South 85.
Follow Jeffrey on twitter
Karin Gillespie is a friend and a writer with a strong sense of humor. She’s also full of great writing advice. Below are excerpts of where she’s been on the web lately, with links to the full articles:
From A Master‘s in Chick Lit:
I’m a genre writer. Gary Shteyngart hasn’t blurbed any of my novels, and Marion Ettlinger has never photographed me for a book jacket. I’m more at ease with the sequins and shirtless men at the Romantic Times conference than I am with the serious eyewear at poetry readings. When critics describe my work, which is basically chick lit, they don’t say it’s emotionally astute, sweeping or a tour de force. They call it “a fast-paced screamer.”
Read the rest here.
From How I Got Published in The New York Times on My First Try (and What Happened Next)
One of my favorite movies is Julie and Julia. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the true story of a young woman named Julie Powell who cooks Julia Child’s recipes and blogs about her experiences. Powell is eventually featured in the New York Times and after the paper comes out, she’s deluged with calls from agents and editors. And later, of course, Amy Adams plays her in a Nora Ephron movie. What more could a writer ask for?
Read the rest at Writer Unboxed.
South85 Journal is the official literary journal of the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program.
“I won’t change anything the first year,” I said to both retiring Editor-in-Chief Sarah Gray and Contributing Editor Rick Mulkey when I took over as Editor-in-Chief of South85 Journal this past December.
That was before I led my first staff meeting at the Converse Low-Residency MFA program, where I was inspired by the enthusiasm of the staff. Not only did all of the previous staff members (except Sarah Gray, of course) decide to stay, but quite a few new people joined us: David Colodney, Kristi Hébert, Rebecca Landau, Connie Thompson, and Jacob Allard.
I left the meeting with my mind racing with ideas about what to do with everyone who was interested in serving our journal. Improvements I knew we needed to make – like a weekly blog, a social media presence, a review section for the journal, and a brand – became possible immediately rather than in the months – or even years – to come. We now have a Blog Editor, a Review Editor, an Artistic Director, and a Social Media Director.
With these new positions, we have created a logo, redesigned our site, started posting to our blog weekly, begun conversations on Facebook and Twitter, and planned reviews for our upcoming issues. In addition, we have kept up with our regular task of reviewing work submitted to us for our 2014 issue.
So, if you haven’t visited our website lately (or ever), please stop by. If you like what you see, here are three ways you can support us… and none of them involving donating or spending any money: `
One of the most important things you can do for any literary journal to read it. As much as writers say they write for the love of writing, writers also want to be read. And without readers, there would be no reason for literary journals to exist. So, check out our past issues. If you like what you see, sign up for our e-mail newsletter, and we’ll let you know when the next issue is available. Also, visit our weekly blog for a little literary inspiration. You can subscribe to it using your favorite RSS reader, or sign up to receive posts in your inbox.
If you are a reader, a writer, or an artist, we want to see your work! If you love to read and want to tell others about good books, join our staff as a reviewer. If you’re a writer or an artist, you can contribute your work to our journal. Our reading period ends April 30, so don’t delay if you have something good to show us! We are looking for poetry, creative non-fiction essays, short stories, and visual art. Also, we have a weekly blog where you can share your thoughts on all things literary with other likeminded people. Visit our submissions guidelines page for information on all of these categories.
We are not a static, stuffy journal of the past! We want our readers and contributors to be a part of the conversation. Plug in by following us on Twitter and liking us on Facebook. We are planning some fun contests using these two outlets starting this summer, so you don’t want to miss them.
Thanks in advance for your support! We look forward to seeing you online, and please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any ideas about how we can improve our journal.
Debby DeRosa holds a BA in English from the University of South Carolina-Columbia and an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College. In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of South85 Journal, she is the Marketing Manager of Five Star Plumbing Heating Cooling in Greer, SC, and she freelances as a copywriter and content developer.
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a love story, a modern-day fairy tale (in my mind), and a battle between old arch-rivals, who think nothing of using others in their never-ending battle to better one another.
Many things work in this book, and work well, but what really pulls this book together is the plot. Two long-time rivals, Hector Bowen, aka Prospero the Enchanger, and Alexander , the man in the grey suit, who tells the young boy he picks up from the orphanage: “Names are not of nearly as much import as people like to suppose…If you find you are in need of a name at any point, you may choose one for yourself. For now it will not be necessary” (27).
The two magicians make a gentleman’s wager–Hector’s daughter Celia is to be pitted against Alexander’s protege–a student he has yet to choose. At some point in time, the two will compete against each other and the outcome determines which magician is the better instructor. It is the biggest wager yet, with the highest stakes–“only one of them can be left standing” (back cover). After years of training, Celia and Alexander’s protege–Marco–are ready to begin.
The Night Circus–Le Cirque des Reves–is the centerpiece of this wager, and it is through The Night Circus the plot unfolds. The Night Circus appears without any warning–no fliers or parade through town announce it’s presence. One day there’s an empty field, the next, black and white striped canvas tents are there. The circus is only open at night. As the acts and activities of the circus progress, so does the wager, but the details of how it is fought unfold gradually, as Celia and Marco begin to decipher the competition and it’s final outcome. The depth of the competition and its ramifications also sink in slowly, showing the selfishness and narcissist traits of Alexander and Hector. The reader is left wondering with the characters how the competition will end, for Celia and Marco have fallen in love, and the ramifications of their love will affect everyone involved in the circus–performer or visitor.
Morgenstern, Erin. The Night Circus. New York: Anchor Books. 2012. Print.
Erin Morgenstern’s website
Flax-golden tales–one photograph, one 10 sentence short story. posted on Fridays.
Follow her on Twitter.
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club
by Rhonda Browning White
There’s a children’s game in which a sentence is passed via whisper from one child to another through the room until the last child repeats the sentence aloud. Of course, the sentence has changed. Point of view in a story works much like that whispered sentence: a story changes depending on who repeats it. Each of us—and each of our characters—has her own frame of reference, her own set of parameters, her own way of seeing the world in which we live. Thus, each of has a unique point of view.
Perhaps there is no better examination of a character’s point of view (POV) than to let that character tell the story as he sees it, as he lived it, through first-person viewpoint. Amy Tan tells the story of eight Chinese-American women (four mothers and four daughters) living in America, through each woman’s POV in The Joy Luck Club, and while this may seem a distracted and sprawling way to relate the story, instead readers are given deep and varied perspectives of what it means to be an American through the eyes of these women. Readers gain intimate insight into the workings of the mind of each woman, and we are intellectually involved in each narrator’s thoughts and actions, puzzling through her life as she lives it, ultimately piecing together the whole story from eight viewpoints.
A crucial element for telling a story through multiple first-person points of view is voice. Tan succeeds by layering the cadence of each character’s voice with the dialect and language of her time and birthplace. For example, when daughter Waverly Jong relates her mother’s anger at her for staying out too late and causing her to worry, she tells us, “Standing there waiting for my punishment, I heard my mother speak in a dry voice. ‘We not concerning this girl. This girl not have concerning for us’ (100).” Here we see that Waverly is Americanized enough to speak and think in grammatically correct American English, but her mother still carries the rhythms and dialect of her Chinese culture.
Through first-person point of view, we experience the difference in thought and opinion of these two cultures—American and Chinese—and how the two sometimes clash, but other times mesh with such beauty as to provide striking clarity that would otherwise remain clouded without the perspective of multiple points of view. Character Ying-Ying St. Clair, a mother who suffered a mental break following a late-pregnancy miscarriage, expresses her numbness to the pain in first-person voice in a way that would be impossible were the story told by an omniscient narrator: “I did not lose myself all at once. I rubbed out my face over the years washing away my pain, the same way carvings on stone are worn down by water” (67). Even though Ying-Ying is reporting her past, the experience is immediately convincing, because we feel her numbness to grief and pain through first-person point of view.
Through her use of first-person POV, Tan’s characters have the freedom to explore their thoughts, sometimes digressing, sometimes reflecting, but always coming back to the present moment, so that as readers, we experience the closeness of single consciousness with the character. We understand the character. We achieve new perspective. We are enlightened. There is no greater gift a writer can offer a reader.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. NY: Putnam, 1991. Print.