May 30, 2022 § 1 Comment
In our May issue, Degan Davis uses uses the words of Dante, Mark Doty, Rebecca Solnit, Bret Lott, Sue William Silverman, and other outstanding writers to explore “how to keep our eyes open in the darkness of our writing process.”
Dante’s often-quoted beginning of the Divine Comedy has the narrator arriving at a dark wood, unsure of which way to turn. To many writers and artists, Dante’s predicament is a familiar, disquieting, and essential starting place. Leonard Cohen wrote, “I write to reveal not what I know, but what I don’t know.” And of an artist’s profession in general he said, “You’re married to a mystery. It’s not a particularly generous mystery…” In other words, a writer has to enter into the dark, the unknown, to see if their path leads to art.
You can read the full discussion of how we “enter into the dark, the unknown” in our writing in Brevity’s Craft Section.
May 26, 2022 § Leave a comment
In Brevity’s newest issue, Lori Tucker-Sullivan talks about revision, feedback, and how much is too much when taking the advice of editors or other writers. What do we owe ourselves as writers, through revision? Is it right or wrong to release our control of our own words?
Here is an excerpt:
… crafting a one hundred-word piece for The New York Times’ Modern Love Tiny Love Stories. It was a demanding exercise to tell a story that took place twenty years earlier about a letter written by my husband now also gone many years. There was the letter’s content, my response, new grief, old pain, so much to delve into within such a minimal word count. Once finished, I became attached. This piece was therapy, release, discipline, and acceptance, perfectly wrapped in exactly one hundred words.
You can read Tucker-Sullivan’s full essay, and see how her Tiny Love Story changed across drafts, in Brevity‘s Craft Section.
May 25, 2022 § 2 Comments
In Brevity‘s recent May issue, Randon Billings Noble examines the “daringness” of the lyric essay, how it relies on intuition more than exposition, image more than narration, and question more than answer.
“But despite all this looseness,” she writes, “the lyric essay still has the responsibilities of any essay: to try to figure something out, to play with ideas, to show a shift in thinking (however subtle).”
Noble sees in the lyric essay a mammal of sorts, but
one that lays eggs; semiaquatic, living in both water and on land; and venomous, a trait that belongs mostly to reptiles and insects. It will run away if on land—its gait that of a furry alligator—or swim off in the undulating way of beavers. Either way it can threaten you with a poisoned spur before it ripples off.
Noble goes on to classify four common forms of the lyric essay—flash, segmented, braided, and hermit crab—and examines the inner workings of each.
You can read the full essay here in Brevity’s Craft Section.
May 24, 2022 § 2 Comments
Our newest issue, live this morning, features exceptional flash essays from Debra Gwartney, Jessica Handler, Cherri Randall, Anne Panning, Todd Davis, Aliki Barnstone, Amy Miller, Lori White, Wendy Wallace, Mariah Rigg, Tyler Whichard, and Bhante Sumano.
In our Craft Section, Lori Tucker-Sullivan discusses revising her one hundred-word Tiny Love Story for The New York Times, Degan Davis uses the words of Dante, Mark Doty, Rebecca Solnit and others to explore “how to keep our eyes open in the darkness of our writing process,” and Randon Billings Noble examines the “daringness” of the lyric essay, how it relies on intuition more than exposition, image more than narration, and question more than answer.
Plus exquisite photography by Laura Oliverio.
May 16, 2022 § 4 Comments
By Dinty W. Moore
The challenge Aaron Angello set for himself is daunting, maybe a little insane, borderline brilliant, and truly fascinating. For roughly four months, Angello woke at 5 am, brewed himself a cup of coffee, carried his cup to a small writing desk, and wrote – one per day, in order – a word from Shakespeare’s 114-word 29th Sonnet.
One word. The word “the,” for instance, or “of,” or “bootless,” or “possessed.”
He sat with the word a while, and then, “Once I felt I was filled with that word—as if the word filled my body, not just my mind—I began to write.”
The fact is, a single word can take you anywhere. The mind works that way. The word “Beweep,” for instance, a very Shakespearean word, leads Angello to imagine a Gallery of Forgotten Words, “pile after pile of bodkins and blunderbusses, jolly-nobs and junts, lacerts and lam’s grass.”
But The Fact of Memory is not a book about Shakespeare, or even just a book about words. It is a book about how the mind works. About memory. About rumination. Fabrication, And narrative structure.
The sonnet is deconstructed word by word, and then built back up again, to find stories Shakespeare himself had never imagined.
The simple word “of” appears only once in Shakespeare’s sonnet, and Angello’s brief chapter – the book, essentially, is flash nonfiction, with a robust lyric bent – imagines a vintage movie, a projected backdrop, two actors, a scratchy old 78 rpm record, skipping on the song lyric “-ve of you,” “-ve of you,” “-ve of you,” the way our minds skip over and over a remembered detail, an old song, looking for truth maybe, or just a story, or what may pass for a story, what may pass for a truth.
The way images break apart, reform themselves into narratives, remembered, felt deeply, but ultimately not real.
The 29th Sonnet does not use the word “memory” anywhere, but the word “remembered” appears once, as in “For they sweet love remembered such wealth brings / That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”
Angello remembers his own sweet love, youthful love, a rooftop in New York City, jealousies, guilt, and failure. No wealth, or kings. It is a different time, a different thinker’s thoughts.
He remembers detail after disconnected detail of this tragic past love, then writes, “But this isn’t a confession. I’m making all of this up.”
Which we sometimes do when we reconstruct memory. When we try to reconstruct our truths, word by stubborn word.
The fact of memory is not simple. The Fact of Memory is complex.
Dinty W. Moore is the editor of Brevity.
April 19, 2022 § 8 Comments
By Dinty W. Moore
Writing a book is hard enough, but for many what follows is a path to publication fraught with anxiety and concern, and for too many writers, a depressing sense of being powerless.
All that hard work, and then what? Agony and frustration?
It shouldn’t be that way, and it doesn’t have to be. Yes, the market is highly competitive, and various publishing industry practices contribute to those feelings of isolation and hopelessness, yet success is more within our grasp than some of us realize.
What is needed, is clear-headedness.
Having mentored writers all these many years, I am regularly asked variations on:
- How do I get an agent?
- Do I really need to get an agent?
- Why are agents so difficult to reach?
- Should I go with a small press?
- What about self-publishing?
All of these are good questions, and it is important to note that there are no one-size-fits-all answers to any of them.
What writers need to realize, I think, is that what happens with your book once it is written and edited is up to you, in your control. You have worked hard on your project, put in the hours, offered up the blood, sweat, and honesty, made family or work sacrifices, toiled to learn craft and polish every page, and when done, the question you SHOULD be asking yourself is:
What will make me feel that all this hard work was worth it?
The important word in that sentence is “me,” meaning, of course, you, the author. It is not up to the agents, not up to the publishing establishment, not up to some negative voice in your head, it is up to you.
If you are a writer who will not feel fulfilled without the validation of a major New York City publishing house, if you will not feel proud of yourself for the time and effort and sacrifice, then yes, you will need to suffer the slings and arrows of finding an agent, the initial rejection, reaching out to more agents, more rejection, finding an agent, and eventually the exciting but sometimes excruciating process of waiting to see if your agent can make a big sale. If that is what you need to feel validated, then that is what you need. But the decision is up to you.
If, however, publishing with a smaller publishing house, maybe a regional publisher, maybe a University Press, will make you feel as if all the work you put into your book was worth it, than that going this route is certainly success by my definition and should be by yours. Small presses have numerous advantages over their bigger rivals, especially the attention they give to individual books.
And there is no shame in self-publishing. If holding a book in your hand, written by you, carefully edited, professionally produced, showing it to your friends, selling at events, makes you proud, makes you feel as if all the hard work put in was time well spent, then that certainly is success as well.
Don’t let others dictate to you what “success” means in book publishing. Decide for yourself what makes it worth your while–and then celebrate your efforts.
Allison K Williams, a fantastic writing coach and author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro From Blank Page to Book, and I will be offering a virtual Publishing and Craft Intensive next month to discuss these ideas and much more. We hope that you can join us to refine your craft, connect with fellow writers, generate new work, and explore the various paths to publishing. Details and a daily schedule breakdown can be found here:
We would love to see you there to discuss our writing, our writerly community, and a writer’s many publishing options.
More resources on the various paths to publishing:
Dinty W. Moore is author of the memoirs Between Panic & Desire and To Hell With It, and the writing guides Crafting the Personal Essay and The Mindful Writer, among other books. He has published essays and stories in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere. He edits Brevity magazine.
March 22, 2022 § 3 Comments
If you are attending AWP this week, please drop by Flash (Nonfiction) to the Future: A Speculative Brevity Reading on Thursday morning at 10:35 am, in Room 124 of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Deesha Philyaw, Natalie Lima, Ander Monson and Ira Sukrungruang will discuss future possibilities for the flash nonfiction form and genre hybrids just now emerging, along with brief readings and audience discussion. Brevity’s founding editor Dinty W. Moore will moderate.
With the popularity of flash rocketing forward, it is a good time to explore what’s next for this incredibly rich genre, why it is so perfect for the classroom, how it helps us write about trauma and other difficult subjects, the overlap with poetry, and the growing body of memoirs in flash.
Following the panel/discussion, authors from The Best of Brevity anthology wll be signing copies of the book at the Rose Metal Press Table in the Bookfair, Table 550. The signing should start around noon (depending on how long it takes us to walk over.)
See you in Philly!
January 21, 2022 § 1 Comment
In our new issue’s Craft Essay section, Australian poet Lesh Karan discusses how she had “pretty much given up on prose,” until she met the lyric essay.
It was as if I found myself a new lover. I was on a cloud-nine high: I didn’t have to write a tightly knitted argument required of a critical essay. I could loosely stitch fragments—even seemingly unrelated ones. I could leave gaps. Lean on poetic devices such as lyricism and metaphor. Let juxtaposition do the talking. I did not need to know the answer, nor did I need to offer one. It was up to the reader to intuit meaning. Whew!
January 20, 2022 § 2 Comments
In the Craft Section of our newest issue, Emilio Williams offers his uniquely-constructed essay “Inside the Box: On Queering the Fragment,” using Barthes, Sontag, and writers such as Wilde, Stein, Proust, Kazim Ali, Maggie Nelson, and Carmen Maria Machado to explore the “mysterious craft [and] magical physics” of queer texts.
From Sappho’s fragments to the graffiti of male-staffed brothels in
Pompeii, the earliest queer texts have reached us in snippets. For centuries, the only
possible first-person narratives for gender dissidents were diaries and letters, always
expected to remain in the private sphere, destroyed posthumously, and often “prehumously.” Perhaps historical impediments may have inspired the virtue of fragments to a
more liberated generation of writers. Call it a lyric essay or not. But if we consider
fragmented text, those are intrinsic to the queer experience.
January 19, 2022 § 2 Comments
In our Craft Section this month, Sonja Livingston explores the link between trauma and fragmented memoirs, and that unlikeliest of literary pioneers, Agnes of God * :
I have fallen for a thirty-year-old memoir.
That fact that a memoir snagged me isn’t surprising. For all the genre’s pitfalls—the dogged self-reference, unmitigated earnestness and occasional fibbery—when a story is both well-told and true, its power is unparalleled. A good memoir can magnify silenced voices, shed light on overlooked places and connect us beyond the pervasive divisions of this world. That the book was published in 1994 also doesn’t trouble me. What is thirty years in the life of a book? No, the astonishing part is that I was nabbed by a celebrity memoir. Because I prefer how a book is written to what it’s about—and celebrity memoirs tend to be, by definition, more about subject than craft—swooning over one is no small thing.
Read the full essay here:
- Full disclosure: Meg Tilly, the actress, not her character Agnes, wrote the book. But that’s pretty amazing as well.