May 8, 2020 § 1 Comment
The wonderful writer and teacher Sue William Silverman employs the format of a doctor’s prescription to bring to life an essay that interweaves humor, heartbreak, and extramarital affairs. An excerpt from Silverman’s brilliant and surprising essay follows:
Do Not Use this Drug: While reading Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Wide Sargasso Sea, The Lover or any other material that might induce fear and loathing of love.
This Medicine Works Best: If you are currently brain-dead and thus susceptible to a profound change of heart. Be sure to avoid direct sunlight and hide shame in the darkness of night. Use sunscreen and protective clothing such as hair-shirt or widow’s full-length veil. A shroud is also appropriate.
Additional Possible Side Effects: If you develop a cough, your heart might be shedding emotional pus which is being absorbed by your lungs. Serious and sometimes FATAL bloody, messy problems could result from use of this drug. If you experience hallucinations SEEK HELP. It may mean you are experiencing LOVE for the first time. Ditto for severe nausea.
May 6, 2020 § Leave a comment
In Brevity’s new-this-week May 2020 issue, Julie Marie Wade explores a compelling moment of self-discovery she had while watching an acclaimed film, Yentl, at school in the early nineties. When she proceeds to thank her teacher for playing the film, it becomes clear she misinterpreted her instructor’s intentions altogether. Wade demonstrates how a rebuke—all the more hurtful from a respected authority figure—has stayed with her for decades. Here is an excerpt from the captivating essay:
I have never seen two women kiss like this before, and every time I think about their mouths coming together in the semi-light and the semi-dark, I feel that tug again. It means something that isn’t meant for words. Instead, I thank Ms. Curran for showing us the film.
May 4, 2020 § 2 Comments
The poet and essayist Brian Turner reflects on lasting moments of love on an island, shares memories of his late wife, the poet Ilyse Kusnetz, and converts the common housefly into a sensual and musical creature in Brevity’s May 2020 issue, published today.
Here is an excerpt from the essay:
I drank from a bottle of coconut rum. The rum added a sugary sizzle to our lips when we kissed. I can feel the tips of my fingers at the small of your back even now. Your hair brushing the side of my cheek. The fragrance of your hair after floating in the warm waters of the gulf, hour after hour, earlier in the day. The salt of the ocean on your skin.
There were days like this. Whole afternoons lived in suspension. Floating. Ruin stalled-out and gliding on its own silence, somewhere off in the distance.
May 4, 2020 § 2 Comments
Let us say first that we hope you are all well, wherever you may find yourselves in the midst of this pandemic. Our latest issue has been in the works for six months, and so is not themed to our current moment, but we hope the brief essays included here will offer you solace, insight, beauty, and encouragement during this profoundly difficult time. Many thanks to our featured authors Brian Turner, Sue William Silverman, Kristine Langley Mahler, Carly Anderson, Laurie Rachkus Uttich, Sara Ryan, Tyler Mills, Julie Marie Wade, Melissa Grunow, Katy Mullins, Will Howard, Lisa Lanser Rose, Michelle Myers, Kailyn McCord, and B. Bilby Garton, and for the beautiful photography, Christina Brobby.
Plus, new in our Craft Section, Nuala O’Connor takes stock of her career and what it means to be a published writer, Beth Kephart considers the fear that no one will care about the books we write, and Jody Keisner looks at small moments and beautiful things. If you have not yet explored our extensive collection of excellent craft content, you are in for a treat.
Stay safe and healthy, and enjoy our new issue.
April 9, 2020 § Leave a comment
By Dinty W. Moore
I’ve been a fan of Sue William Silverman’s work for more than twenty years, and was looking happily forward to her latest collection How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences, never expecting the book release would coincide with this frightening pandemic. But it did, and aside from the peculiar irony of the book’s title, Sue (like many authors right now) faces cancelled readings and book signings, and the general frustration of trying to let readers know about her latest book in a time when we have so much else on our minds.
So, I asked her some questions. It was easy to do that while still socially-distancing, and aside from being a greatly-talented writer, Sue is a powerful teacher and master of the craft.
So, here we are:
DINTY: Your book How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences was released just as the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic stopped us in our tracks. It is frustrating for all authors publishing this season, I’m sure, to have book tours cancelled and book stores closing, but the irony with your book is that it speaks directly to our current fears, of death, of illness, of trauma, of what the final moment might feel like. How odd has it been, trying to talk about a book such as yours at a time such as this?
SUE: It’s oddly ironic, indeed. Many people have commented on the book in the context of our current pandemic. Of course I started writing it over six years ago, so had no factual knowledge this maelstrom was heading our way.
At the same time, given that I’m a hypochondriac terrified of death, the book underscores how I’ve always been on the lookout for Death—pandemic and otherwise. The book is structured, in part, around a metaphorical road trip, as the narrator tries to outrun and outdistance death.
So I’m also not the least surprised by the coronavirus; on some level I’ve been expecting it. I’ve been flying with a face mask, literally, for over 15 years! And in the book I list all the unguents and potions I use to survive death: for example, Thieves Oil. A different formula was developed during the Plague, but I use the modern version to stave off all sorts of new plagues and viruses.
In short, yes, my instructions on how to survive death are ironically relevant.
Pandemic aside, the book is relevant for anyone who generally fears death. However, thematically, it’s also about how to survive life—how to live an emotionally authentic life that will be transcendent.
DINTY: But your book, though focused on “death and other inconveniences,” is full of humor too, gallows humor on some pages, flat out funny moments on others. What are your thoughts on our need for humor right now, as the world faces this frightening and previously inconceivable challenge?
SUE: I’m pleased you see the humor in the book, which I was trying to convey by the title. Humor, gallows and otherwise, revels in the absurdities of life.
When you’re in the middle of a tragedy, the humor isn’t always obvious, of course. The power of creative nonfiction is that we implement a reflective voice to look back and better understand the past, which can involve seeing humor in a situation that didn’t seem funny when we were living it.
One of the essays in the book, “Flirting with the Butcher,” is about my first 12-step meeting of Sex Addicts Anonymous. This was during the time Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested, and his whole nightmare was in the news. In my then-current state of emotional disarray—I was also struggling with an eating disorder—and I became obsessed with Dahmer. I mean, my anorexia seemed “small potatoes” when I considered there were people with the ultimate eating disorder—cannibalism—out roaming the streets!
Perhaps the most absurd thing about this is that it didn’t seem absurd to me at the time.
DINTY: And of course, the ordeal we are living through now, COVID-19, includes undeniable tragedy – death to some, sickness to others, separation from loved ones for almost all of us. But even this moment will, as hard as it may be to fathom right now, eventually be fodder for humor, maybe even absurd humor. The Greek masks, comedy and tragedy: one comes off, the other comes on. You’ve made a career of writing with wit, grace, and honesty about difficult issues – abuse, incest, addiction, death. Do you have advice for other writers who want to strike that sort of balance in their own writing, the tipping point between too bleak and too lighthearted?
SUE: I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to strike that balance. Mainly, it’s important to write in a way that’s emotionally authentic for any given narrative. For example, my first two books, one about incest, the other sex addiction, are darker than the two more recent books, The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew and now How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences, even though they address a few of the same issues. The newer books are more ironic mainly because that’s how I now see those moments in my past. As my feelings toward my experiences change, so does my writing.
In order to discover your own particular viewpoint, it’s crucial to start from a small, specific detail and write outward from that. In other words, for me to write about the COVID-19 pandemic, I might begin my narrative, say, at the moment I told my partner I couldn’t kiss him goodnight because he’d been to the grocery store that day. Maybe a molecule of virus, lurking in the produce aisle, had adhered to him! I begin with the smallest personal detail in order to discover the universal. The universe, like the devil, is in the details.
Don’t get wedded to one voice. Don’t impose how you think an essay or memoir should sound. Listen to how the piece at hand wants to sound. Experiment. As an exercise, try writing a scene two different ways: one perhaps very serious, even melodramatic, the other, say, ironic, humorous, even absurd. Which voice helps you uncover some truth? Which makes you go, “Ah, ha!”
DINTY: When most people think about death and what lies beyond, they imagine either a sort of nothingness, or else some personal image of paradise. Both seem nebulous, which isn’t much help for a writer. How did you address that challenge? What strategies did you use to bring order to ill-defined territory?
SUE: The book is structured in three sections, each titled with the name of one of the Three Fates. There are also six brief sections written as if through the voice of these Fates. This structure is a reminder that death is ever-present, and we have to be creative, lucky, and tenacious in our ability to outwit it. So there’s both a memento mori (“remember you must die”), and a memento vivere (“remember you must live”).
As a writer, I focus on the creative option to live. My aforementioned road trip to survive death is also a vehicle to journey through my life collecting memories, as it were. I “drive” through all areas of my life, from youth to the present, not just amassing memories, but reflecting upon them, making metaphorical sense of them, making sense of my life.
In short, if all else fails—if I’m sadly not able to survive physical death—then I’ve preserved my memories to outlast me. They are now collected in my books after all. The art we leave behind transcends death. There are many reasons to write and create art. For me, cheating death is one of the most central.
Dinty W. Moore is editor-in-chief of Brevity magazine and the Brevity blog.
Sue William Silverman is author of How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences, the memoirs, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You and Love Sick, and a memoir craft book, Fearless Confessions.
March 10, 2020 § 3 Comments
Since so many writers and readers had to change their plans to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference last week (#AWP2020), and miss the bookfair, Rose Metal Press is offering a we-couldn’t-go-to-AWP online sale, with all books nicely discounted and free shipping too (use the code AWPFREESHIP).
Actually a lot of presses that had to miss the conference are offering post-AWP discounts, and please support them all if you can, but Rose Metal is home to The Rose Metal Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction, a book, frankly, toward which we feel a great fondness.
But, hey, listen to Phillip Lopate: “The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction … is a lot more than flashy. These thoughtful, thought-provoking essays and exercises have the paradoxical effect of slowing down our attention and encouraging an expansion of the moment, while seeming to be saving writing and reading time. A very useful compilation.”
Great for teaching, and perfect for the the individual writer in need of prompts and inspiration!
The sale only lasts through March 12th, so jump on it today!
January 24, 2020 § 2 Comments
For Jennifer McGaha, writing a book is like hiking. The journey will envelop you in foggy haziness, unexpected visitors will creep up along the way, and hopefully others will be there to push you when you’re floundering. She finds joy in not knowing what will happen on a walk or where an essay or book will lead her. After all, we all want to get to the end of the trail and finish writing a story in the same way: tired but satisfied with the process of exploration. Here’s an excerpt from McGaha’s craft essay:
You can write without discovery, of course. You can write to a scripted conclusion, and it will be easier. Maybe no one will even notice. But why on earth would you? Why, with as hard as it is to write anything, with all the time and love and grit you put into the creation of your art, would you settle for anything less than two stunning bighorn rams rising out of the mist?
January 23, 2020 § Leave a comment
How did we become so desensitized? What was the turning point? Is it now too late? These might be some of the questions that Joanna Brichetto’s profound essay will evoke. She uses a moment watching nature unravel from her porch to contextualize how a facet of our nation’s social fabric has become both extraordinary and commonplace. An excerpt from Brichetto’s essay follows:
The robin dipped, raised, dipped, raised, again and again. When his beak was in the water, ripples radiated to the edge of the plastic. When his beak was in the air, the surface of the saucer had already stilled. It was as if there was room only for one set of ripples at a time: either the water or the throat. I kept watching both—the taking of turns, the shimmers of wet, the shivers of feather—when would the pattern break? I was afraid to move or blink. I was afraid he would stop drinking, and I was afraid he would never stop drinking. And when at last he fluttered up to the hackberry tree in his own good time, I found that I was crying.
Read the full essay in our January 2020 issue.
January 22, 2020 § Leave a comment
After you read this piece, write down a list of things that scare you. Toss the paper into a fire, maybe cut it into tiny pieces and bury it, or leave it as a note in a book at your library. Like Professor Jill Kolongowski’s Spring 2019 creative writing class did with this compelling collaborative essay, set the things that scare you free. Here is an excerpt:
Being yelled at. Being yelled at. Being yelled at. People who can’t won’t be reasoned with. Initiating confrontation. People who are overly aggressive. Conflict. Conflict. Confrontation. Confrontation. Getting into a fight unwillingly. My anger. Guns. School shootings. Not being able to fight back. Seeing a crime happen in front of my eyes. War.
Global warming killing me before my time. Natural disasters.
Driving. Drunk drivers. Car accident. Car accident. Car accident. Car accident.