Chasing Our Elusive Voice

January 18, 2019 § 1 Comment

SusanRowePhotoIn Brevity’s January 2019 issue, Susan Bruns Rowe explores the difficulties of defining and refining our written voice:

Once, in a writing workshop, the instructor asked us to give our definitions of voice. Tone, style, and point of view were some of the answers offered. “Yes, it’s all of those things,” she said. “Is it innate or acquired?” Both, the class agreed. Again the instructor nodded, suggesting that if we write with our innate voice we can refine it and make it distinctly ours. I didn’t find this particularly helpful. What is one’s innate voice? And if that voice is b-o-r-i-n-g (as I suspected mine was) how does one make it less so?

Read the full essay here, and perhaps the entire January issue as well.

An Indian in Yoga Class

January 17, 2019 § Leave a comment

heir-300x202In Brevity‘s January 2019 issue, Rajpreet Heir takes us along as she visits a yoga class, because, “As an Indian from Indiana who has never been to India, I want to get in touch with my roots, and doing yoga seems like a fun way to do that. ”

Here’s a brief sample:

Kyle opens the door and walks down the center of the room. He announces, “Yoga—it’s a way of life” then throws clouds of turmeric into the air. People around me raise their hands to it in devotion, swaying side to side on their sitz bones, while other yogis start snorting it off the hardwood floor. #bliss

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

“Rameshwaria, move your hands closer to the backs of your heels.” “My name is actually Rajpreet,” I reply. “It’s Rameshwaria since I knew a Rameshwaria once.” “But my name is Rajpreet.” “No.”


Brittany explains this is the hardest pose and it really does feel like it. I don’t feel relaxed, in fact, I feel more stressed than when I arrived. A white woman is teaching me about yoga, an ancient Indian practice, and she thinks she’s an expert on Indian culture too, but I don’t know exactly which ways I can be mad because I don’t know enough about India or yoga myself, partly because I feel a pressure to assimilate. But darn it if Brittany’s playlist isn’t fun.


(The cultural appropriation in me bows to the Indian in you.)

Read the rest of Heir’s wonderful essay here, and enjoy all our newest issue.


Dustin Parsons is Very Apologetic

January 16, 2019 § 3 Comments

517902079For instance:

Apology to the Fish

If I’d known how poorly I keep fish, I’d never have allowed such a large tank.

Apology to the Dog

You have a dog bed in nearly every room, and I’m not sure what you think we are trying to tell you. I will try to walk you more often, but you’ll only be searching for my wife—giver of treats and scratches.

Apology to the Monarch Caterpillar

You couldn’t have known our porch was so rife with danger for a chrysalis. We planted the milkweed too close to the direct morning sun.

Apology to the Ghosts

When I walked through that cold spot in the living room, I thought you were speaking to me…

Read the rest of Dustin’s wonderful flash essay in our brand new January 2019 issue of Brevity.  And then please stay a while and read all of our fine new work.

The Diptych as Short-Form Memoir

January 15, 2019 § 1 Comment

nicole-breit-photo-200x300In Brevity‘s January issue, Nicole Breit explores the power of the diptych in structuring essays, and offers two writing prompts to get you started:

There’s something surprisingly potent about the number two when it comes to story. Perhaps it’s that we don’t expect it, so accustomed are we to three: beginning, middle, end. As Philip Graham observes, two in a story invites us to explore “not so much beginnings and endings as points of entry and points of departure.”

As we observe the diptych in art, our minds grasp for the link, search to discover a connection. Compare, contrast.

Read her brilliant craft essay here, and, afterwards, please wander a while and enjoy our entire January 2019 issue.

Brevity’s First 2019 Issue Falls From the Sky Like Snow

January 14, 2019 § 1 Comment

sqwortOur January 2019 Issue contains brilliant, powerful, surprising flash nonfiction from John Skoyles, Richard Hoffman, Abby Mims, Dustin Parsons, Susan Jackson Rodgers, Rajpreet Heir, Sam Kiss, Amy Stonestrom, Rebecca McClanahan, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Bryn Chancellor, Niya Marie, Jennifer Wortman, Lisa Fay Coutley, and Harrison Candelaria Fletcher. You’ll never look at yoga, string, or constellations the same again.

In our Craft Section, Nicole Breit reveals the power of the literary diptych (with writing prompts), Susan Bruns Rowe considers the elusiveness of voice, and Michael Downs shows how “a single sentence or detail or image – even a particular word – can act as a ‘vein of jade’ that makes the whole work glisten.”

And stunning artwork by Dev Murphy.

Come have a look:

Anatomy of a Book Deal

January 11, 2019 § 52 Comments

sandramillerBy Sandra A. Miller

It’s the thing you most need to write, so for years that’s what you do, between teaching jobs and magazine gigs, between kids’ soccer games and the holiday dinners where you sit with the restlessness of the story wanting to be told, most inconveniently when your family expects your presence, but all you can do is wonder if the homemade gravy was worth the hours away from words.

You write and rewrite through the seasons, until autumn circles around again, and you find yourself making a familiar wish on your lovely white cream birthday cake: to finish your memoir and find an editor who takes it.

At last, one autumn day it’s done, and you send out queries, and when the email arrives like a Christmas miracle, your family dances you around the kitchen in the fading winter light. There’s a phone call and a contract and a trip to NYC where you sit across from your spunky agent in a Union Square diner on a custom-made spring day, and between bites of a salad, you whisper your thanks to the literary goddesses.

You go back to Boston and rewrite again, this time with—that magic word—representation. Then the agent sends it out, and you cross your fingers and look for signs—pennies, trinkets, stones, and fortunes—that the publishing world will soon shout yes.

Random House says, “It’s wonderfully written, earnest, humorous, and endearing. The problem is the author’s small platform.”

And Viking says, “I’m sorry not to be able to take it forward at this stage. She’s a compelling writer and something about the voice is quite good.”

And with every “almost, but…no” comes a pain as real as a punch to the gut, one that radiates to the heart, the head, the limbs. But then you recover and dive back in and tweak again and wish again and send again, until your birthday comes around again and your favorite cake tastes less like Chantilly cream and more like longing. You are starting to feel like you are made of longing.

Your writer friends throw lifelines, doing for you what you have done for them, reading and editing, praising, cheering. And you toast to their book deals with a bittersweet joy, wondering if your turn will come. At night in bed you count the years like mistakes. In the morning you scan LinkedIn for a job—any job—that’s not baring your soul into a void.

But then Cynthia says, “It’s no. It’s no. It’s no. Until it’s yes.”

And Erica says, “It took me 27 fucking years!”

And your husband says, “I believe in you,” which makes you cry because you are struggling to believe in yourself.

You are afraid to doubt. You are afraid to hope. And you’re afraid not to hope because the universe can hear the tick of your uncertainty. You plant a crystal in the dirt outside of the Flatiron building, but when nothing grows, you call Lisa in despair. “Trust that your book is strong enough to make the journey,” she says. But it’s your birthday again and the journey has worn you down, and you don’t really want the cake that your husband carries to you, as if cradling your pain.

Another Christmas. Another New Year’s. Spring flashes past, then it’s summer again, you rewrite again, and Graywolf says you have a great eye and a strong, resonant story, but it’s not a bulls-eye for our list.

And that’s when you quit.

You quit the agent. You quit the pain. You quit pretending that you can wait anymore for one of the cool kids to want you. So you shut your eyes and sail your words off to a place across the country where you feel like they might be heard.

An hour later the editor calls and wants more. Two hours later, she wants a phone call. And the next day, you talk to her, the editor you’ve been waiting for. But she’s only read half, so you have to wait. Five days later the email comes. “No, but almost…” She wants it shorter. She wants less thru lines.

You whet your knife and cut 100 pages, take it right down to a sharply focused story about a girl so full of longing that she spends her life on a search for treasure.

You send it back, this tiny gem that you’ve been shaping and polishing for years. You wait. Then one sunny December day you have a phone call. When you hang up, tears are streaking your face, and your heart is just a big, beautiful ache of gratitude.

Sandra A. Miller’s memoir Trove will be published by Brown Paper Press in the fall of 2019.







On Radical Love and How to Be Alone

January 9, 2019 § 10 Comments

aloneby Zach Shultz

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, something within me exploded. One minute I was cooking dinner, and the next I was hunched over the couch and dialing my psychiatrist to explain through unintelligible sobs, “I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.”

Despite countless therapy sessions to help cope with the pain of estrangement from my parents—whose unrelenting homophobia over the years has strained our relationship beyond repair—whenever the holidays approach a familiar feeling of unshakeable loneliness creeps up. There is no shortage of seasonal triggers: Christmas music on loop in every store; the aroma of freshly cut pine wafting in the wind from trees languishing on sidewalks like forgotten kids at daycare; the persistent questions from well-intentioned coworkers, such as “What are your plans?” followed by disingenuous invitations to tag along in their Hallmark family moment.

I had reason to hope things might be different this year. After three years of dating a semi-closeted man, he invited me to his family’s gathering for the first time. We would finally be together as a couple, openly, and I’d never spend the holidays alone again—or so I thought. On Thanksgiving Day, however, my ex called to let me know it was too much for him; he “needed space” and told me to “do my own thing.” Breathless from the gut punch of news, I chased down a Klonopin with a glass of wine, waited for the wave of numbness to wash over me, and sent a resolute text in reply. “Goodbye.”

zach shutlzWeeks later, still reeling in the post-breakup melancholia, I told myself: Enough. Instead of rushing home to mope after work, I schlepped down to Brooklyn for a monthly reading series in a charming bookstore underneath the Manhattan Bridge. I had come to hear Garrard Conley share an excerpt from his conversion therapy memoir but stayed for the surprise delight of Lane Moore reading “Happy Holidays to Everyone But You, You Lonely Weirdo,” from her collection of essays How To Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t

In a creative nonfiction course I once took, the teacher told us that the goal of good writing should be to make the reader “tingle with recognition.” If that’s the case, How To Be Alone is like watching the most stimulating ASMR video on YouTube. When Moore writes, “It takes, in no uncertain terms, bravery to admit to yourself, but especially out loud to other people, that your family is not safe, did not do enough, and are not people you want in your life,” a powerful sensation trickled from the back of my hippocampus down my spine.

Moore possesses an uncanny ability to shift seamlessly from bits of self-effacing humor— “Even when I was ten, I was easily forty in trauma years”—to heart wrenching prose that exposes the painful depths of desire, the desire to belong, to be held, to be loved. “I’ve spent so many of my relationships being terrified the person I love will hurt me,” she writes of meeting someone new, “worrying if I love more, or feel more, and what that means if it’s true.” This worry of wanting “too much” is traced throughout her life, from the betrayal of a best friend in high school to a series of failed romances in adulthood.

Like Moore, if I’ve gleaned any lesson from my traumas, past and present, it’s that the people you love most in your life will inevitably disappoint you. That seems like a shitty takeaway, a fact of life we shouldn’t be forced to accept. And yet, Moore lands on something more unexpected and transcendental in the end of How To Be Alone: radical love for yourself and others. “So be the idiot who cares too much,” she urges. “Because someone will remember you forever. In the way that I remember everyone who has ever been kind to me.”

After the reading, with a newly purchased copy of her book in hand, I went up and said, “I wasn’t expecting to hear any of the things you just read out loud tonight, but I’m so glad I did. That’s me!” She was open and generous, chatting with me for a few minutes about how difficult it is for those who don’t come from a broken home to understand what it’s like. She signed my book in messy, elongated lettering, the kind you might find on a note passed to your friend in middle school. “I’m so glad you don’t talk to your dumb family,” she wrote.

“That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me!” I beamed, and we both laughed in that knowing, self-deprecating way that only true orphan souls would understand. And for the first time in a very long time I felt happy, if even for a brief moment, and a little less alone.

Zach Shultz is a law school administrator in New York City and freelance writer and blogger. He has previously contributed to the Huffington Post, INTO Magazine, and the Gay and Lesbian Review, and has essays forthcoming in The Rumpus and Entropy Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @zach_shultz.

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