On the Graphic Memoir: Picturing the Hybrid Form

September 27, 2018 § Leave a comment

1 title block for brevityWhile she was writing her last memoir, Rebecca Fish Ewan discovered that sketching helped her characterize scenes she was drafting in richly worded detail. Surprisingly, the sketches made their way into the narrative itself. In this craft essay, she explains how drawing can inform the writing process and bring more nuance and texture into the narrative and maybe even become part of the finished work.

An excerpt from Ewan’s illustrated essay:

When you make marks on a blank page, you create meaning, either through words or pictures. By hybridizing these two mechanisms for creating meaning, you can explore alternative ways to communicate thoughts and stories.

Read the full essay in Brevity’s new issue.

Brevity’s 59th Issue Predicts the Best Days for Breeding

September 17, 2018 § 1 Comment

mybodhisattvaBrevity’s September 2018 issue contains crisp flash essays exploring blood on the pool deck, aces of spades, cremation, crow murder, diner Bodhisattvas, and the best days for breeding, from these amazing writers: Steven Schwartz, Peggy Duffy, Rachael Peckham, Alysia Sawchyn, Xujun Eberlein, Julie Marie Wade, Shuly Xóchitl Cawood, John A. McDermott, Austyn Gaffney, Jan Priddy, Suzanne Farrell Smith, Gabe Montesanti, Renée Branum, Sondra Kline, and Fleming Meeks.

In our Craft Section, Elizabeth Robinson offers a pattern sampler, because non-linear essays “realign our attentions … (and) drench us in unknowing,” while Beth Kephart explores the interplay of language and visual arts (and marriage), and Rebecca Fish Ewan offers an illustrated crash course on graphic memoir.

With haunting photos from Therese Brown.

All right here, ready and waiting.

A Review of Natalie Singer’s California Calling

March 8, 2018 § 2 Comments

416snBBQdtL._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_By Rebecca Fish Ewan

When I volunteered to write a review of Natalie Singer’s debut book, California Calling: A Self-Interrogation, I had one fear. What if I feel like the sad local girl California dumped in favor of this smarter, prettier, Canadian import? I wanted to be bigger than this. Sure, I did, but I still marked my territory by noting, in the email to her publisher, I’m fifth generation Californian.

Then the advance review copy arrived.

I’m supposed to be shopping for gifts, but instead I’m holding this gorgeous book in my hands, devouring the micro essays that stitch together a story of a young woman falling in love with my home state.

Wow, she’s brilliant, I think as I turn another page.

So, let’s consider the plot line: She pulls a book off a library shelf. She dreams of California. She has parents. Divorce. She moves to the Bay Area. Goes to college. Has boyfriends. Sometimes they go on hikes or sail. She’s a nanny for a while. Writes for newspapers. There are lizards. The radio plays.

This is the story, but it’s also not the story. California Calling is the longing to belong. It’s the struggle to feel real in a place famous for its fictions. It’s the sting of otherness. Jewishness. Loneliness. How to make people feel welcome. Or not.

I read memoirs to feel connection, to see how other writers navigate between their changing identities. I want to simultaneously occupy the author’s recalled world while inhabiting the geography of my own memories. California Calling gives me all this and much more.

I love the book’s craft, how its hybrid form brought me the story in bits. Reading each tiny chapter, I sensed how Singer stalked stories. I felt brought along to serve as witness. Some chapters are factual nuggets about Yosemite rock falls, desert pup fish or the phallic Coit Tower. (It’s a fire nozzle! I hear my firefighter spouse holler from another room.) Point of view shifts throughout. I peek over Singer’s shoulder at Her-Then. Or she turns to face me, and I become You. Other times, the You becomes an ex-boyfriend. Or she sits with me on a cozy couch handing me aphorisms like See’s Candies: “Silence is a disappearance…Interrogation is a taking possession of one’s being…your loneliness finds corroboration in nature…one of the most valuable responses to trauma is testimony.” Space contracts and expands, from discomforting intimacy (really, Natalie, this boat privy is too small for both of us while you masturbate) to a remote aerial perspective above pine forests as we look for the spot where a girl once crossed over into California. As an infrequent quilter, I admire the deftness with which Singer threads together the pieces, some just a single sentence—“I wanted to be reconstituted”—to create a cohesive picture of a woman becoming Californian.

The book is packed with delicious language, and I lost count of how many times I read simply to savor a sentence’s flavorful landscape. Long ago, I went camping in Arizona with another teacher and two carloads of teenagers. Not a mom yet but more maternal than the guy, I suggested we feed the kids after a full day of hiking around Wupatki ruins. “Who needs food?” he said, sniffing the wind that blew across the red rock terrain. “You can eat the air.” I ate the air on every page of California Calling, delightfully familiar California coastal-fog-saturated salt air. My iodine levels rose reading this book.

I love California Calling for all its references, from Rocky Horror Picture Show to Bella in Twilight to Mary Austin’s Land of Little Rain. They felt like safe invitations into a woman’s busy mind, a woman who built a life from her ability to connect rather than disassemble—a mind occupied with assimilation, immigration, and belonging.

I rarely read books twice. There are just too many books on earth and I’m a slow reader. With California Calling, I want to do the thing my daughter does with television shows she loves. She binge-watches every season and the moment she comes to the end, she starts from the beginning again. Like chain smoking stories, I need to finish up my gift list, maybe shower and change my clothes. Then I’ll light the beginning of this book with the hot ember of its ending. As Singer writes: “If our childhood truths were really fictions, to begin again all we must do to grow up is make more space for myth.” So, what’s this book about? Beginning again.
___

Rebecca Fish Ewan, founder of Plankton Press (where small is big enough), creates Tiny Joys & GRAPH(feeties) zines. She has degrees in math, landscape architecture, and creative writing and is a writer/poet/cartoonist. She teaches in The Design School at Arizona State University and lives with her family in Tempe. Her work has appeared in Bikequity, Brevity, Femme Fotale, Hip Mama, Mutha, Punctuate, Survivor Zine, and Under the Gum Tree. She has two creative nonfiction books: A Land Between, an ecocultural history of the Owens Valley, and By the Forces of Gravity, a forthcoming memoir of cartoons and verse (Books by Hippocampus, June 2018).

Brevity Podcast Episode #7 Kristen Arnett and Hippocamp

November 16, 2017 § 4 Comments

I told you we should have stayed home and listened to the Brevity Podcast

When you’re wandering the aisles of the local megastore, already tired of Christmas carols you’ve been hearing since Halloween…it’s time to pop in those earbuds and enjoy the latest Brevity Podcast.

Stream the show right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.

Episode #7 features an interview with Kristen Arnett, author of Felt In The Jaw, on debut authorship, the value of literary social media, and how she got her beloved agent. We also continue our mini-series on conferences with on-the-spot chats from speakers and participants at the Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference.

Show notes and links to people, places and things we’ve discussed are below. Next episode, we’ll be talking all things submissions with JoBeth McDaniels, Geeta Kothari, Erika Dreifus, Irene Landsman and a few more Hippocampers.

Show Notes: Episode #7 People and Books

Find out more about Kristen Arnett at her website and on Twitter. Read her essays, The Problem With Writing About Florida at Lithub, and Hand-Operated Shearing Instruments at the Rumpus.

Find out more about recording your own work

Submit your One-Minute Memoir to Brevity

Roxane Gay

Kenyon Review Writers Workshop

PEN/Bellwether Prize

Lisa Ko’s The Leavers

Tin House

Guernica

Randon Billings Noble’s The Heart Is a Torn Muscle at Brevity, and her chapbook Devotional

Moving Forewords

Lancaster Story Slam

Terry Heyman’s The Kushner Family Passover Haggadah in McSweeney’s and A Letter to the Woman In Whose Body I’ve Lived For 38 Years, From Her Period at The Higgs Weldon

Rebecca Fish Ewan’s By the Forces of Gravity

Hippocampus magazine, with links to Hippocampus Books and the Hippocamp conference. You can also follow the conference hashtag on Twitter, and many of the sessions will be live-tweeted.

Memoirists Anonymous: Turning Trauma Into Narrative was led by Laurie Jean Cannady

I Remember: Unlocking Memories to Lay the Foundation of Your Memoir was led by Jamie Brickhouse

Manual typewriter thanks to theshaggyfreak and Fanfare thanks to cafeface via freesound.org

Additional music, Later Fruits, thanks to Axletree via freemusicarchive.org

________________________________

Allison K Williams is the host of the Brevity Podcast. Join her monthly writing adventure mailing list at TinyLetter.

Writers Conferences: Doodling HippoCamp 2017

September 16, 2017 § 8 Comments

By Rebecca Fish Ewan

1 hippocamp17 donna

1. HippoCamp, the brainchild of Donna Talarico-Beerman, in its third year, three-plus days of focus on creative nonfiction. p.s. Donna has way more amazing hair than shown here. I tend to put a little of myself in all my portraits and my hair sucks.

2 hippocamp17 Beverly

2. So funny. Waiting to forget the movie plot, so I can enjoy reading Riding in Cars with Boys by Beverly Donofrio, serial memoirist.

3 hippocamp17 Dina and Melanie

3. Dina Honour’s voice still resonates in my head. Keep an eye out for the army of women she’s amassing. They will save humanity.

4 hippocamp17 Joanne Lara Alexis

4. All of the readers that followed Dina brought their own brand of awesomeness, reading from their debut books. Google them: Melanie Brooks, Joanne Lazar Glenn, Lara Lillibridge, Alexis Paige and Lisa Smith.

5 hippocamp17 Lisa and panel

5. Their panel after the readings set a tone of generosity, humor and serious investigation of craft that echoed throughout the conference.

6. hippocamp17 Gabriela

6. Gabriela Pereira presented a VITAL analytic for finding your groove as a writer. p.s. You don’t have to write 2,000 words a day just because Stephen King says so.

7 hippocamp17 Lara

7. I love hybrid work, so duh, I’m going to this session. Lara Lillibridge cracked my head open even more.

8 hippocamp17 Penny and Alexis

8.  Penny Guisinger & Alexis Paige. Flash CNF. Take off. Compress. Embody. Reflect. Land.

9 hippocamp17 Allison

9.  #AllisonWilliamsishilarious&platformsmakemewanttobarf

10 hippocamp17 Athena

10. Athena Dixon’s advice: “Be Brave. Explore new avenues of yourself. Don’t exclude people. Put yourself in the shoes of marginalized writers/people. Be a voice for people who are marginalized. Don’t make people tokens.” Bingo! (Yes Bingo! we made our own bingo squares).

11 hippocamp17 John

11.  If I only remember 11 out of 20 words, should I go see a neurologist? No, because memory is a construct that we reconstruct all the time, so next week I’ll believe I remembered all 20 words. Huge relief.

12 hippocamp17 Donna and Tobias

12.  I love when famous people don’t act famous. I love that Tobias Wolff admitted he can spend many hours alone in a chair “taking semicolons out and putting them back in again.”

13 hippocamp17 Elane

13.  I wish I had doodled everyone on the Flash Panel I was on, but first (Lisa Cottrell) I was too nervous, because I had to present next. Then I had to doodle Elane Johnson and her BALLS. Then I worried, if I sketch (Kate Meadows and Lisa Romeo), the audience will think I’m rude and not paying attention.

14 hippocamp17 Sam

14.  Then I saw this amazing nose (Sam Schindler) in profile and had to draw it.

15 hippocamp17 essays and articles panel

15.  Okay, by now my head is about to explode from all the thinking and learning it’s been doing. Shh, shh, listen. Dina said this. Okay. Platform. Pitch. Twitter. Acceptance 10%. Rejection 90%. Bottom line: write, submit, repeat. Find your voice. Find its place. Both exist.

16 hippocamp17 Agents and Editors panel

16. This is advice gleaned from the list of mistakes writers make when querying/sending a proposal: Have a strong concept, a strong voice, a complete and polished manuscript, consider publishing costs, use spellcheck, listen to the agent/editor, match the execution to your pitch. p.s. Platform.

17 hippocamp17 Dinty

18.  When Dinty feels inadequate as a writer, he worries that his nostrils are too big. I couldn’t see his nostrils from where I sat, but just want to point this out, so you know even Dinty W. Moore frets about silly things as a writer. He gave tons of sage advice that I hope he publishes somewhere soon, but I have enough words left here to pass this on: “Don’t hold anything back. Life is too short.”

18 hippocamp17 Donna and Kevin

19.  Donna and Kevin. Seriously. Totally adorable. But underneath their exterior of major kind cuteness lies dedication and commitment. Donna has done the heavy-lifting for HippoCamp 15-17, helped out by a team of volunteers, including local rock star Kevin Beerman. Bravo Donna!

P.S. HippoCamp returns to Lancaster in late summer 2018. Details Here.

___

Rebecca Fish Ewan is the founder of Plankton Press (where small is big enough) and creates Tiny Joys & GRAPH(feeties) zines. She is a poet/cartoonist/professor/mom/writer and teaches in The Design School at Arizona State University. Her publications include work in Brevity, Femme Fotale, Survivor Zine and Hip Mama. She has two creative nonfiction books: A Land Between (JHUP, 2000) and By the Forces of Gravity, a memoir of cartoons and verse about a Berkeley childhood friendship cut short by tragedy, forthcoming from Books by Hippocampus. @rfishewan

The Sagas of NonfictioNow 2017

June 6, 2017 § 3 Comments

by Rebecca Fish Ewan

nfn2017 rfishewan 0When I found out I’d be going to NonfictioNow 2017 in Reykjavik, I read The Sagas of Icelanders. How better to get to know a country than through its most treasured books? The Sagas feel like the ground from which all Icelandic literature grows. I loved seeing the pre-Christian landscape when magic still dwelled in the landscape itself. I loved how warriors would pause in battle to riff out a few lines of poetry. I loved the sentences unfettered by flowery words (like flowery). Yet, as when I read Kerouac’s On the Road, both times, I wondered why the women rarely spoke or did anything interesting.

I read the Sagas to introduce me to Iceland, but they also primed me for the conference. Not for having quiet Sagaian women. Quite the contrary, the conference had strong representation from women writers, thank goodness since women’s voices need to be heard. The Sagas tease at the edges of truth, or more precisely, reveal reality as a complex mix of magic, poetry, struggle, body and imagination. I found these same qualities, minus any head-splitting with battleaxes,  investigated in the panel sessions and readings at the conference.

nfn2017 rfishewan 1I feel more than ever that nonfiction is becoming alive. Facts used to feel like stone, like the things in life that never breathe, but the deeper I dig into what it means to tell the truth, the more I see that stories sing with facts. The conference also made it clear that the people writing nonfiction today are explorers travelling the far reaches of what can be done on the page.

This is my third NonfictioNow conference, so I can sense an evolution and notice a continued blurring of boundaries and breaking down of walls. The panels and readings explored hybridity of form and genre, considered the body in and as story, revealed a diversity of voices and ways to tell true stories. They considered the physics of time.

I’m glad the NonfictioNow team brought the conference to Iceland. This is the first time it’s been held in a country whose mother tongue isn’t English. While all the panels and readings were in English, I had a chance to hear Icelandic writers read translations of their work. My favorite line of the conference came from Gerður Kristný—“I lick away extinguished stars” —during her reading from her true crime poetry, a story of murder narrated by the Devil. Sadly, the book is not available in English. And even if it were, it might not be sold in the United States (America first and all that). I don’t have much hope of ever mastering the Icelandic language enough to read Kristný or any of the other fine Icelandic authors, but I hope more translations are published in English. And that these books find their way to the States, perhaps hidden inside containers of Skyr.

nfn2017 rfishewan 2At the same reading, held in a small chapel-like room designed by Alvar Aalto, American writer Ariel Gore read from her upcoming book, We Were Witches, a magically real memoir-based novel. The passage she read offered a new direction for the genre that my daughter used to call nonfiction fiction. True-feeling stories that create a world where Adrienne Rich can be a bird chirping out advice from a tree. I want to live in that world of poet birds, a place where I’m certain magic still dwells in the landscape itself.

I attended or participated in sessions that addressed memoir, tackling issues of the dual perspective (pay attention to pace and question linearity), dark matter (draw cartoons), the segmented narrative (say yes to it), movement (leave home), and debt (die). The panel on time in memoir, chaired by Barrie Jean Borich, revealed what physicists have been saying for decades: time is like taffy, all churned up and delicious. Paul Lisicky spoke of queering time, the way the structure of his memoir demanded to be incremental, nonlinear, as his life had been lived.

DSC00133The last panel session of the conference fittingly focused on movement. All the panelist in this session have lived uprooted lives and discussed the effect their movement across the globe has had on their writing. Carmella de los Angeles Guiol began her talk with a quote from an essay on plants, on the benefits of having a perennial root system. Movement can generate writing though sometimes, as she noted, “I need to know where my socks are.” Glen Retief saw a benefit to memoir in having a “scrambled GPS.” He noted how it grants “the gift of perspective,” as well as stimulates linguistic and formal innovations. “The fragmentation of moving around a lot” can bring fragmentation to the memoir form.

A lasting takeaway for me was advice I heard during the Q and A for the session on Writing While Working Class, chaired by Sailor Holladay. To help other writers, especially those who struggle most to get their work published, Denise Benavides suggested you “don’t be a fucking gatekeeper.”
___

Rebecca Fish Ewan is a poet/cartoonist who makes and publishes Tiny Joys & GRAPH(feeties) zines through her own imprint, Plankton Press. Her work has also been published in Brevity, Landscape Architecture and Hip Mama, Survivor Zine and in her nonfiction book, A Land Between. She teaches at Arizona State University. Find her on Twitter/Instagram: @rfishewan. Rebecca also provided the illustrations for this blog post.

Eating Nonfiction in Flagstaff

November 2, 2015 § 1 Comment

An illustrated NonfictioNow round-up from Rebecca Fish Ewan:

2unnamed
“Stories are food!” Brian Doyle shouted right before we all broke for lunch. Stories are food. He said this throughout his keynote address with the urgency of a preacher in a revivalist tent. In fact, his message was not unlike a religious one.

“Nonfiction is everywhere!”

“Every part of your life is an essay!”

Can I get an Amen?

As he spoke, I thought back to the last NonfictioNow conference I attended and why. I had just gobbled up Reality Hunger by David Shields and had developed a huge crush on his brain, so I submitted to be a panelist at the conference just to hear him deliver the keynote. Not very spiritual of me. That was Melbourne, 2012.
Now the leaves shimmer golden in the brilliant light of Flagstaff, Arizona, and I can sense change in the air, specifically with regard to form. As I move from session to session, my own panel included, a clear thread begins to emerge, though it goes by varying names—visual memoir, blended genres, side-stepped boundaries, hybrid essays. Stories are food and while truth is still on the menu, the variety of dishes now expands beyond traditional bounds of language.

1unnamedAmen to that.
Never one to feel at the center of anything, I love witnessing the erosion of borders—between poetry and prose, between word and image, sound and story itself. Story-telling is embracing a synesthetic sense of the world, something Shields hinted at three years ago, but that now feels deep in the DNA of nonfiction. Panels include: Music and Writing, Making (Radio) Waves, Performing the Essay, Of Visual Essayistics, Mix It Up, Adventures in Poetic Biography, CNF and the Hybrid Form, the Poessaytics of Form, and my own Mixed Media Memoir. “One art form can explain another,” said Harrison Candelaria Fletcher while using Cornell’s shadow boxes to illustrate his thoughts and experience with the hybrid essay. “Writing is a script that can only be heard in the ear,” Will Jennings said as he discussed his interests in the link between music and memory. “Food is a mode of storytelling,” said Samantha van Zweden of using the lyric essay to write on memory, food and mental illness.

4unnamedA formalist might panic. If edges vanish, won’t everything blend into chaotic mush? How will we shelve our books at Barnes and Nobles?

Brenda Miller offered calming options in talking about her experiments with poetic forms applied to the essay. “I have always believed that rules and constraint can be liberating,” she explained as she presented her prose villanelle about two cats and pantoum on ectopic pregnancy and her college roommate Francisco. Another structured approach to genre bending comes through pairing. “The most interesting thing is the technique of juxtaposition,” said Michael Martone in the session on creative facting with Dave Madden, Tim Denevi and Maggie Nelson. Martone later illustrated the richness of juxtaposition in the keynote on keys he performed in duet fashion with Ander Monson. Juxtaposition is one way that a writer can apply what Madden called the “nonfictive imagination.” Nelson talked of “modes of assembly” as a way to reach into this species of imagination to find the story.

3unnamedBut what about truth? Is all this fuzziness a kind of magician’s slight of hand to enable the writer to lie? These questions circle back to Doyle’s story sermon where he implored us to use our gifts to “catch and share” the stories that are out in the world. “Witness is the greatest single thing you can do with your work,” he said. A witness is not a fabricator, but any witness perceives with his or her particular lens and recounts the story with his or her unique voice. I return as well to Kafka’s 63rd reflection on sin, suffering, hope, and the true way, where he reminds us that “our art is a way of being dazzled by truth.”

I was curious how the event affected a newcomer to the conference. My co-panelists, Amy Silverman and Deborah Sussman, both seasoned nonfictionalists, had never attended a NonfictioNow conference. “I was struck by how much experimenting is going on,” said Silverman, “I love seeing that visual art and poetry are making more appearances, even though my own work blends memoir with journalism. It was a nice time to get out of the writing cave and hear what others are working on.”

The collective wisdom and experience shared over these past three days has been astounding. The organizers, an army led by Robin Hemley, David Carlin and Nicole Walker, amassed a humbling assembly of authors. After reading through the speaker bios, I felt both honored and intimidated to be among such a group of writers. Nicole Walker senses the gladness of this entourage of talent that permeates the air in Flagstaff. “I thought I was doing this to bring people together for collaboration and conversation,” said Walker, “I didn’t know how much joy people would get from the conference and that makes me very happy.”

Amen to that.

___

Rebecca Fish Ewan teaches landscape architecture at Arizona State University, where she earned her MFA in creative writing. Author of A Land Between, her work has also appeared in Brevity, LA magazine, and Hip Mama. She just finished her hybrid memoir (free verse + cartoon) on a childhood friendship cut short by murder and is launching a mixed form zine, GRAPH(feeties): true stories of walking. More on her work and submission info at:  www.rebeccafishewan.com

 

 

Review of Ariel Gore’s The End of Eve

March 20, 2015 § 1 Comment

By Rebecca Fish Ewan

End_of_Eve_247_400_80When I heard Ariel Gore had published a new memoir, I bought it instantly. Then I set the thin book beside my bed and avoided it for months. The cover flap read, “Ariel doesn’t want to take care of her crazy dying mother, but she knows she will.” I couldn’t bring myself to read what I knew would be an honest, funny, authentic account of how she did it. Brilliantly, of course.

I read memoirs, because I like to see how other people negotiate the hard realities of life, including death. They help me believe that perhaps I can manage my way through similar circumstances, if and when they arise. I knew Ariel Gore wouldn’t disappoint, and I wanted to read her book, but I wasn’t ready to consider how I might behave if I were in her place, because I knew I’d fuck it up.

Reading about caring for a mother who had never been particularly caring felt too close to what I’d spent years avoiding. So the book sat, until I had read through my bedside stack. Then one night with my husband out of town and the kids asleep, I lay in my bed unable to turn my mind off. So I picked up The End of Eve and began to read. Trained as a poet, I read slowly and finished the book in a few days (a normal reader could have finished it in hours).

What I love about Ariel Gore’s The End of Eve is that it always sets a bull’s-eye on Leon Battista Alberti’s concinnitas, the idea of beauty he describes as a “reasoned harmony of all the parts within a body, so that nothing may be added or taken away, or altered, but for the worse.” Gore has such well-honed storytelling skills that she pares away the unnecessary until all that remains is a spare, exposed and beautiful story. Nothing need be added, nor taken away or altered.

Also, her writing has a musicality to it with recognizable beats of single sentence or one-word paragraphs that bring readers to attention, like a quick snap of her fingers: “The sound of morning rain.” Snap, I’m awake. “Santa Fe. I lived here now.” Snap. “Fluorescent light and the smell of disinfectant.” Snap. “The hiss of the oxygen tank.” Snap. “I tore cilantro, cut limes.” Snap. These beats grab me and keep me close, so I can taste, feel and see the story as it unfolds, all the way to the last line: “And now I was free.”

While reading The End of Eve, I was transported beyond the quiet sphere of light from my bedside lamp. I went to Portland, met Eve, and became annoyed by the rain and Eve’s selfishness. I sat in the quiet as Ariel wrote Behave in a way you’re going to be proud of on her wrist with a Sharpie while nursing her son, Maxito. I packed up and drove to New Mexico with her partner, Sol, and sweet Maxito, who became as the story developed a Yoda for me, always popping in with deep child wisdom. Like when tagging along as Ariel ships Eve’s remains to California and he declares, “That’s not Nonna…It’s just the ashes left over.” And I felt the scraping puncture of each tattoo Ariel added to her body. After her stars have healed, she wants more and plans a tattoo date with a woman known only as the chef. Gore writes, “What was a tattoo anyway, but a visual reminder of pain and memory. The memoir inked into our skin.”

Even though the content of The End of Eve scared me away at first, what drew me in, besides the phenomenal writing, was the humor. Gore delivers this story so I can both laugh at the absurd (a girlfriend sneaking about with a mime) and feel my heart quake at her sad isolation like when her mother tosses all Ariel’s belongings out of the house, changes the locks and then gets an attorney to investigate Ariel’s so-called abuse/neglect of Maxito for having nowhere sufficient to live).

In truth, after reading the book, I didn’t have any better idea how to reconcile my own mother/daughter relationship, or lack thereof, but I knew it could be done and done with love, humor, and wisdom. And that gives me hope. What more does one need?

___

Rebecca Fish Ewan, author of A Land Between, has an MFA in creative writing from Arizona State University where she teaches landscape history and design. She lives in Tempe with her family and is finishing the drawings for her narrative verse cartoon memoir of a childhood friendship cut short by murder. For more of her writing and sketches, see www.rebeccafishewan.com.

Making Love in Public: Part Two of Poets & Writers ((LIVE)) San Francisco

January 14, 2015 § 1 Comment

Part two of the Rebecca Fish Ewan’s blog report (and nifty sketches) from the recent Poets & Writers ((LIVE)) event in San Francisco:

Let’s just jump back in…

Perfect Pitch Panel

Perfect Pitch Panel

The Perfect Pitch panel offered insight on query letter writing in a refreshing way. I’ve read hordes of tips on the topic, but watching a public critique was vastly more revealing, because the panelists reacted to the words as the authors read the letters (on stage, brave souls!).

The panelists, Jordan Bass (editor), Ethan Nosowsky (editor), Danielle Svetcov (agent) and Megan Fishmann (publicist), also illuminated the fact that query letter readers are human. They love to be told stories. “We read queries like we read everything,” said Svetcov. Rather than write in tight and stilted language, the letter needs to:

  • “Compress beautifully what your book is about” (Svetcov)
  • Reveal your voice
  • Reveal that you take writing seriously (include brief writing/publication history and blurbs from established authors attesting to your awesomeness)
  • Use comps that are current
  • Be read out loud to another human being before it’s sent

The Shields and Powell smack down came next, which I thoroughly enjoyed, along with a clip from the film adaptation of their book I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel. For me though, their quarrel was more cerebroerotic than homoerotic as Shields had hoped. Guess it depends on personal preference, but I always enjoy watching two brains going at it. I care much less about the sexes of the brains’ owners.

Both men did agree on the necessity of an initial wound from which art can emerge. “I can’t imagine art without the wound,” said Shields, emphasizing the necessity for rupture by quoting Kafka: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” When asked by the audience whether friendship can stay real when it becomes art, Shields commented “There is something incredibly artful about a well-maintained friendship.” To which Powell replied “We’re stuck together for life…it’s better to be friends.” The audience all agreed their friendship stands a better chance of surviving if Shields makes good on his invitation to have the Powell family over for dinner.

The final panel, Why We Write, on its own filled me with enough inspiration to compensate for the conference registration fee. Authors Wendy Lesser, Yiyun Li, Alejandro Murguia, D. A. Powell and Michelle Tea shared details of their writing process. Tea described her approach as what was soon called The Barfing Method. Akin to the shitty first draft, it’s relinquishing the work to the writer and keeping the mental editor at bay. Not until the first draft is complete can the editor come out of the cage in the writer’s mind.

“It’s a lot easier to eliminate the stupid than to get out that first draft,” agreed Lesser. D. A. Powell described creating poetry as a collaboration between “two separate impulses, the writer and the shaper. I am always doing both these things when I am writing.” Either way the writing is balanced with the revising. Lesser noted that “the best way to edit is to read aloud.” But when is it finished? “The last version should be like a dwarf star, one spoonful weighing a ton,” said Murguia. A smaller comparison that also resonated with me was how D.A. Powell spoke of writing blocks, which he called “silences.” “Hummingbirds burn up a lot of energy beating their little wings. They need another action, to figure things out.”

Roman Muradov Poets & Writers ((LIVE))

Roman Muradov, Poets & Writers ((LIVE))

While this session focused on the more solitary act of writing, each panelist integrated other authors’ work as part of their own writing practice—reading out loud, rewriting it in their own hand, memorizing poems and passages. It becomes an intimate sharing of words. “Reading to your lover is one of the sexiest things you can do,” said Murguia, who has a particularly seductive spoken voice. And we’re back to human connection. Michelle Tea extended the companionship scope, suggesting “Be a part of a literary community. You need to create a world that you want and then live in it.”

The event closed with The Inspiration Experiment, performances of creative work inspired from the poem “Too Young to Marry but Not Too Young to Die,” written and read by Joyce Carol Oates and then interpreted by Ben Arthur (singer-songwriter), Nick Twemlow (poet-filmmaker), Sarah Fiske (dancer-choreographer), and Roman Muradov (illustrator-cartoonist). As I watched and listened to Oates’ words woven into dance, film, song and drawings, the work became like a synesthetic haunting. As Fiske put it afterwards, “imagine what the landscape will sound like.”

When Kevin Larimer, Editor-in-Chief of Poets & Writers, closed the event with a quiet wish that he hoped we are all inspired, I felt so stuffed with the generosity of the writing community, my original selfish aspirations seemed very small. I’m grateful to the people I met and to the moderators and other staff who organized the event. This day in San Francisco was the fourth of a series of Poets & Writers ((LIVE)) shows. The next one will be in Chicago on June 20, 2015, and will track the writer’s journey from idea to publication. The San Francisco event was so well put together, I wish I could attend in Chicago. Maybe I should become a LIVE Head and follow the tour…maybe I’d meet a publisher…Oh, shut up, book whore.

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Rebecca Fish Ewan, author of A Land Between and graduate of the creative writing MFA program in poetry at Arizona State University where she teaches landscape history and design, is trying to learn to market her free verse cartoon memoir of her life’s deepest wound. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her family, and makes pilgrimages to the Pacific Ocean whenever life permits.

Making Love in Public: Part One of Poets & Writers ((LIVE)) San Francisco

January 13, 2015 § 5 Comments

A guest blog post (and nifty sketches) from Rebecca Fish Ewan reviewing the recent Poets & Writers ((LIVE)) event in San Francisco:

David Shields

David Shields

Why go to a writer’s conference? Isn’t writing an occupation of isolation? Of loneliness? David Shields often quotes David Foster Wallace’s wisdom on loneliness. He did so in Melbourne in 2012 (see Is Writing Better Than Sex?) and again this past weekend in San Francisco at Poets & Writers ((LIVE)), while his friend Caleb Powell joined him on stage looking agitated (This is their collaborative art form … arguing in public).

Wallace had said: “We’re existentially alone on the planet. I can’t know what you’re thinking and feeling and you can’t know what I’m thinking and feeling. And the very best works construct a bridge across that abyss of human loneliness.”

Right. The work constructs a bridge, not the actual writer, so why fly from Phoenix to listen to people talk about writing? Isn’t my job to sit alone, diddling my mind, until an orgasm of words spews onto the page? If so, than why go?

To network. To shmooze…oh, who am I kidding…I’m too introverted to even know how to spell schmooze. But I’ve created a book that tells a story that needs to be told…by me…in a hybrid genre: free verse cartoon memoir. It’s sure to sell like hot cakes, if it ever gets published. So, when I spied the announcement in an issue of Poets & Writers, I signed up to go sell my book. To be a book whore. With that in mind, I arrived at the Brava Theater Center early, registered, clipped on my name tag and bee-lined for the darkest corner of the lobby to hide until the event started. Awesome book whore strategy.

Then a stranger asked me to watch her bags while she went to the restroom. From that moment on, I spent the day learning how wrong my reason for being there was. This conference wasn’t about networking. It was about community.

The stranger came back and by the time we took our seats in the theater, my poems and cartoons had made her cry and she had adopted me like a pet. (Good thing, since Vijaya turned out to be way better at telling people what my book is about than I am.) The entire event from start to finish reinforced the expansive quality of human exchange and how crucial it is for being a writer. Or, more importantly, being in a writing community.

The poet Kay Ryan opened with the notion that writing allows her to enter “a larger mind than my own.” Despite admitting “I would never come to this” as an attendee, Ryan acknowledged that even if writers can’t or won’t come to a gathering like Poets & Writers ((LIVE)), they need to know it exists. She read poems that conjured a communal hum, like the resonance of a tuning fork, from the audience. She also made us laugh. With the lyric brevity of a great poet, she set a tone that situated the conference in that sweet spot between levity and seriousness.

Local Resources Panel

Local Resources Panel

The first panel focused on local resources, with Stacey Lewis (City Lights Books), Laura Moriarty (Small Press Distribution), Joyce Jenkins (Poetry Flash), Janis Cooke Newman (The Grotto), and Jason Bayani (Kearney Street Workshop). As a relocated Berkeleyan, I was reminded of the region’s rich resources for writers (and all artists). Growing up in the East Bay, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to go see poets like Ryan read, which is why I never bothered to do it back then. So, anyone in the Bay Area who wants to be a writer, what are you waiting for? As Moriarty noted, this region has “one of the most active literary communities on the planet.” While talking about the specific resources and services their organizations provide, each panelist embodied the conference’s intent. “Our mission is building community through literature,” said Jenkins. “Writing is isolating,” said Cooke Newman, but the panel made clear that in the Bay Area, the life of a writer need not be.

The Savvy Self-Publisher session seemed appealing, until I figured out I probably would never be one. I teach design, so layout doesn’t scare me, but listening to the panel talk about marketing made me hyperventilate. The panelists, Debra Englander (publisher), Ted Weinstein (agent) and Amy Packard Ferro (publicist), made clear that self-publishing is a misnomer. It involves a whole lot more than just uploading a PDF to Lulu. “You need to do your homework,” noted Englander. And you need “good self-awareness,” added Weinstein. You may also need to have multiple personalities, those suited for these occupations: writer, editor, publicist, book designer, event planner, and social media Diva.

Okay, my brain and bladder are full. Time for a pee break.

More tomorrow from Rebecca Fish Ewan.

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Rebecca Fish Ewan, author of A Land Between and graduate of the creative writing MFA program in poetry at Arizona State University where she teaches landscape history and design, is trying to learn to market her free verse cartoon memoir of her life’s deepest wound. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her family, and makes pilgrimages to the Pacific Ocean whenever life permits.

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