The Case for Single-Sentence Prose in the Age of Insecurity

July 23, 2020 § 19 Comments

JasonThayerAuthorPicBy Jason Thayer

I was having trouble focusing. Every story idea, every essay concept seemed unwieldy, unmanageable in the hellscape of Spring 2020. My mind flitted from anxiety to new anxiety as I obsessively checked the infection rates, monitored the new restrictions, raged against the maskless. I sat down at my computer every afternoon and tried to write something new and failed. I tried to revise my memoir manuscript, but couldn’t keep track of the arc, couldn’t assess whether the pacing in the first chapter was too fast or whether my hook was punchy enough to attract an agent.

The doorbell rang. It was our neighbor, a woman with short gray hair who wore pedal pushers like my mother. She was hugging a cardboard box.

“We have this food I won’t eat,” she said, then took a breath. Exhaled. “I don’t know if you know yet, but my husband died last week.”

I did not know this. I stood on the front porch with her for a few moments, fumbling for condolences, finally taking the box of food.

I told my partner about the interaction, the way our neighbor had used the plural, we, and then the singular, I. We unpacked the saltines, the canned chicken breast, the diet 7-Up. Trips to the grocery store were daunting and so, even though these items didn’t top our shopping list, we made our way through the gifted food.

In the morning while I washed dishes, I’d see our neighbor walk past the window and my mind would swim toward her sadness. Grief is its own isolation, and knowing that she was bearing hers alone, in lockdown, seemed an unprecedented cruelty. My father died when I was a child, and with a loss like this, comes a special communion with the bereaved; I could not stop thinking about my neighbor. Wondering what she made for dinner, and how long the leftovers lasted. Whether she was eating much at all. Whether there were days she didn’t speak to anyone except the cat that skulked across her lawn chasing squirrels. At night, I would look across our yards, the ill-defined property line, and see her reading in her living room, a single light on in the big dark house. In the morning, I would see her walk past my window as I washed dishes, and if I let my mind linger too long on her sadness, my eyes would well.

I sat down to write about this, but again, the task of molding this small interaction into a traditional essay seemed daunting. I did not have the attention span to research the impact of grief on bereaved spouses, or cull my memory for a poignant anecdote that would characterize our deceased neighbor, bringing to light what was lost. Even a flash piece was more than I could commit to, as the daily news grew more and more grim, the world around us more chaotic and unstable.

2020-07-21_15-11-48But what about a single sentence? Could I write a single sentence about my neighbor’s private grief and its vicarious impact? Yes, I could. I could work within these parameters. I could commit to this.

The single-sentence format is well-suited for this new world where our attentions stray, where our brains must keep tabs on virus rates, on which family members aren’t wearing masks, on systemic racism, on cops murdering unarmed Black and brown people.

This isn’t to suggest the single-sentence form is any easier to write. For example, I had wanted to write this blog entry in a single sentence, but couldn’t manage to fit everything I wanted to say. The limitations of a single sentence challenge the writer to twist syntax, bend structure to their will, or else winnow narrative down to the bones.

But with these restrictions also comes the opportunity for innovation. Experiments that might not be sustainable in longer work are manageable, even revelatory in brief formats. Could I read a whole novel where the protagonist was a slice of pizza? No. But a single sentence? Definitely.

Single-sentence stories can be told in a single breath, like Hemingway’s famous, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” But they can also take the form of Diane Seuss’ tour d’force, “I hoisted them, two drug dealers, I guess that’s what they were,” published in Brevity. Here, content dictates form. The long-winded, tangent-laden single sentence mimics the breathless adrenaline of the speaker in that moment, trying to make sense of what she has just done, excising the two drug dealers from her son’s apartment. This form wouldn’t work for a plodding story without that charged immediacy.

For my purposes, a modest single sentence was ideal for distilling a small interaction that lingered with me:

I did not know our neighbor died until his wife knocked to offer a box of food she wouldn’t eat: pancake mix, diet 7-up, Pepperidge Farm white bread her husband had stomached during a 3-month-long losing-battle to cancer, a box I took gratefully, offering condolences—no hugs, because the virus was already spreading, and because I didn’t know these neighbors well enough to provide this comfort, in fact, had no idea that the jolly guy I’d bantered with under the black walnut tree we shared, had cancer—and now I try not to watch her, absorb her loneliness, take it as my own, the widow social distancing in that big house, leaving briefly for daily walks past our kitchen window as I wash dishes, griddle my partner a breakfast of pancakes.

I had seen single sentences published in lit mags before, but I’d never heard of a journal that dealt exclusively in single-sentence content. Well, I thought. That’s an idea. That’s a magazine for this new age of insecurity.

This July, I launched Complete Sentence, an online magazine of single-sentence prose. Weekly, we publish single-sentence essays, stories, reviews, and hot takes. If you are having trouble focusing, consider this challenge: write a single sentence. Just one. And then send it our way.

For submission guidelines to Complete Sentence, click here.

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Jason Thayer is the Editor-in-Chief of Complete Sentence. His work has been published in The Rumpus, Fourth Genre, Hobart, and Essay Daily among others. Find more info at jasonthayer.com and on twitter @thejasonthayer.

Writing and Publishing from the Front Lines of a Pandemic

June 3, 2020 § Leave a comment

ZoomChristopher Madden, David Lëgere, and Colin Hosten are editors at Woodhall Press, publisher of Flash Nonfiction Funny, Flash Nonfiction Food, and the forthcoming Fast Funny Women. The three of them had a socially distanced discussion on our current public health crisis and the importance of storytelling as a way of documenting individual experiences. Below is a truncated transcript of their conversation:

Christopher Madden: We’ve published two collections of flash nonfiction, with a third on the way. Is this perhaps the right format for pandemic-related storytelling?

Colin Hosten: The context seems very different, thematically. We’ve tackled humor and food. How would we navigate the ongoing tragedy of this crisis?

David Lëgere: The theme is different, but I don’t think that changes our goal as a publisher—to connect readers and writers through vital storytelling.

CM: Flash nonfiction, specifically, may be very well suited for people on the front line of this pandemic, as opposed to longer form essays.

DL: Exactly—it allows us to capture as many voices as possible in one compendium.

CH: And what kinds of voices would we be seeking? You mention people on the front lines…

CM: Basically anyone facing this crisis head-on. Nurses and other medical professionals. ER staff. Essential workers making sure trash is still picked up. Delivery workers, first responders….

DL: Patients?

CM: Sure—the idea is to preserve and amplify these essential voices and stories from anyone caught on the front lines of this.

CH: I think it’s a fantastic idea. And it may be a way to highlight some of the things that these diverse voices might have in common.

DL: What should we use as a working title?

CH: We already have a paradigm going with Flash Nonfiction Funny and Flash Nonfiction Food. Maybe something like Flash Nonfiction Frontline?

CM: Is that too general? Should we make it clearer that we mean the front lines of this pandemic?

DL: I mean, this is basically the main thing occupying the public consciousness for the foreseeable future—let’s just be direct: Flash Nonfiction COVID-19.

CH: Well, that certainly is direct.

CM: It’s more to-the-point,

CH: We’ll need to get a call for submissions out, sooner rather than later.

DL: Are people even able to do much writing through all this stress and trauma?

CM: Maybe part of the point of this is to encourage those on the front lines to use writing as a tool for reflection, for negotiating the trauma.

CH: And, again, the flash form allows people to dive right in and back out again in just 750 words. To Chris’s point, flash nonfiction may be the appropriate vehicle for something like this.

DL: So what’s the best way to get the word out, besides all the usual suspects?

CH: Brevity publishes some of the best flash nonfiction being written these days. We should reach out to them and see if they’d be willing to share with their readers.

DL: Good idea!

CM: I sure hope we get lots of strong submissions.

DL: I’ll be checking flashnonfictioncovid@gmail.com every day!

CH: And let’s make sure folks know they can go to https://www.woodhallpress.com/post/call-for-submissions for more information.

CM: And share it with their friends on the front lines!

New Ohio Review Nonfiction Contest: Three More Days

April 19, 2020 § Leave a comment

new-ohio-reviewBy Connor Beeman

New Ohio Review has extended its annual contest until April 22nd — that’s just three more days — and we’re happy to announce that Ira Sukrungruang is our nonfiction judge. Sukrungruang is the author of two memoirs, Southside Buddhist and Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy; a short story collection, The Melting Season; and a collection of poetry, In Thailand It Is Night, as well as the recent collection of essays, Buddha’s Dog & Other Meditations. He’s a Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College and the recipient of the 2015 American Book Award as well as several prominent fellowships.

Sukrungruang’s writing often confronts his upbringing, and in particular deals with his Thai heritage, eastern religion, and life in America as the son of Thai immigrants. Buddhism plays a vital role in many of his works, as can been seen in essays from Buddha’s Dog. “The Animatronic Dog,” for instance, blends a vivid account of growing up Thai in Chicago with a story of Buddha befriending a dog. This story is told to Sukrungruang by his mother, who is herself an unforgettable figure throughout the book. Another essay, “The Dog Without a Bark,” finds a young Sukrungruang briefly befriending a local dog with cut vocal cords and finding an unexpected connection. Looking back on this moment, Sukrungruang writes, “I remember that Sheltie for the lessons I carry with me: you don’t need a voice to know what you want. You don’t need to sound like everyone else to make yourself heard.”

We’re excited to have Ira Sukrungruang—an inimitable voice in his own right and a wonderful writer and teacher—as our nonfiction judge, and we look forward to seeing the work that you share.

https://newohioreview.submittable.com/submit

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Connor Beeman is an Editorial Associate at New Ohio Review.

About the Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay Contest

March 13, 2020 § 2 Comments

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By Carma Hiland

Fourth Genre is offering a $1,000 cash prize for your best nonfiction essay when you submit to the Steinberg Essay contest, and we’ve just extended the deadline until the end of the month! As excited as we are about this contest, as writers ourselves, we also understand the inherent sense of unease that comes with writing contests. There’s something unsettling about bribing authors for their art. Is money the most appealing prize? Is it enticing enough to get an author to release their personal essay into the world, especially into the hands of unfamiliar judges?

Sending an essay into the abyss of the contest system can be stressful in many different ways. All of us on the Fourth Genre editorial team, myself included, have gotten to submission pages and reconsidered whether the submission fee—in this case, $20—is worth the small chance an essay will win or get published. And there are other questions we, as essay readers and writers, tend to ask, such as, should creative writing be so easily commodified? Does exchanging your writing for money cheapen the experience? Is the grueling process of drafting, revising multiple times, and submitting after hovering over the submit button for longer than you’re willing to admit worth the time for the payout?

Joey Franklin, co-editor at Fourth Genre, writes on this system of competition in an article published in the June 2019 issue of Poets & Writers. “For many of us, the real reward for entering a creative writing contest will not be money or publication,” he writes, “but rather the invaluable education that comes with finishing a piece of writing, and the particular clarity that comes from rejection.”

The greater reward is certainly the accomplishment of completing an essay that others may connect with and enjoy. Few of us choose to write out of any monetary motivation. But a little extra cash doesn’t hurt, nor does the chance at publication. In the spirit of clarity, here is a glance into the sorting process at Fourth Genre. During our regular reading period (Aug. 30 through Nov. 30) we receive around 900 essays; however, the normal submission rate for the Steinberg Essay contest drastically drops to 250 submissions. Take advantage of this. Many readers are involved in ranking each essay. Even if you don’t come away with the cash prize, all essays submitted during the contest are eligible to be published in the following issue.

Let us celebrate your writing. Don’t let your nonfiction molder in your documents folder; gain the education that comes with finishing a piece of writing and letting it out into the world. The Steinberg Essay contest is a great opportunity to do that—and could come with monetary rewards, too.

We have extended the deadline for Steinberg contest submissions to March 31st.
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Carma Hiland is assistant managing editor of Fourth Genre.

 

 

Call for Submissions: Adapt This City

November 11, 2019 § 1 Comment

slagFrom Slag Glass Citya nonfiction literary journal of the urban essay arts:

Announcing a special call for submissions: Adapt This City. Nonfiction prose, photography, and hybrid works submitted for this call are accepted from November 5, 2019—February 5, 2020.

Creative nonfiction selected for publication by the 2020 editorial board will be published in the online journal and promoted broadly, as well as considered for publication in the annual miniature print edition.

Here in the Slag Glass City we want to see stories, arguments, lyrics, and reports about 21st century cities transforming, in tiny or tremendous ways. We welcome fresh takes and variations including: mosaic, montage, photographs, soundscape, drawing, image + text, video, audio, and/or hybridity. We have no length requirements and will consider prose from short-short/flash to longform.

As rising shorelines consume cities, as displacement guts neighborhoods, as immigrant families fear deportation raids, as city dwellers fight epic battles for rent control and public school teachers strike, as desert cities burn and hurricanes blow ocean cities off their foundations, how are we adapting? Can the contemporary metropolis adjust to cataclysmic change—the urgent and the everyday, the systemic and the intimate? When we do adapt, who benefits, who pays, and how is the city implicated? Can the old city adapt into the city we need now, without leaving anyone behind?

Write us a city bent on survival.

Submit all work to our special submission portal: https://tinyurl.com/SlagGlassAdaptations. (Visual artists should submit low resolution samples, or contact us to share work too large for the Submittable portal.)

Regular submissions are still open October-June. Slag Glass City considers nonfiction prose, graphic narrative, video, audio, soundscape, photography, mixed media, or any other form of essay arts. The prose cannot be previously published, including on author blogs, but visual art may appear on artist’s sites. We are unable to pay contributors, but artists retain all rights, we promote widely, and all work published stays “in-print” online.

Slag Glass City is a magazine of essay arts, textual burlesque, and post-industrial forms, edited by Barrie Jean Borich. Published at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, we are an international creative nonfiction and multidisciplinary media journal engaged with sustainability, identity, and art in urban environments. The living city is broken and blooming. How will our roof gardens grow?

If you have QUESTIONS please email this address: slagglasscity@gmail.com

Image by Carlos ZGZ

Experiences of Disability Issue Open for Submissions

October 1, 2019 § 8 Comments

disability editorsSubmissions are now being accepted for Brevity’s upcoming special issue, “Experiences of Disability,” to be published in September 2020.  You can submit your flash essays here.

For this issue, we invite brief nonfiction submissions (750 words or fewer) that consider all aspects of illness and disability: what it is, what it means, how our understanding of disability is changing. We want essays that explore how disability is learned during childhood, lived over the entire course of a life, and how our changing understanding of disability shapes the way we experience ourselves and others. We are looking for flash essays that explore the lived experience of illness and disability, as well as encounters with ableism, and that show readers a new way to understand the familiar or give voice to underrepresented experiences.

The “Experiences of Disability” issue will be guest edited by Sonya Huber, Keah Brown, and Sarah Fawn Montgomery (shown above). Huber is the author of five books, including the essay collection Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System. Brown is a journalist and author of the essay collection The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture & Other Reasons To Fall In Love With Me. Montgomery is the author of the recent memoir Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir.

Our anchor author, Esmé Weijun Wang, is the author of the New York Times-bestselling essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias (2019), for which she won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize. Her debut novel, The Border of Paradise, was called a Best Book of 2016 by NPR. She was named by Granta as one of the “Best of Young American Novelists” in 2017 and won the Whiting Award in 2018.

Submissions will be accepted through Brevity’s Submittable page until March 1, 2020. Those for whom Submittable is not accessible or for whom the reading fee of $3 would be prohibitive can email their submissions to brevitydislit@gmail.com with the subject formatted as SUBMISSION: (Title) by (Name).

Editors gladly accept donations on the GoFundMe for the Experiences of Disability issue, which has a $1,800 goal for the special Brevity issue. This will pay authors and provide honoraria for anchor authors. Any additional money above this amount will be contributed to Brevity, to help with web-hosting fees and other ongoing expenses.

“Experiences of Disability” – A Brevity Special Issue

September 18, 2019 § 27 Comments

EsmeWang_Media_1

Esmé Weijun Wang

Brevity is excited to announce an upcoming special issue, “Experiences of Disability,” to be published in September 2020 and featuring anchor author Esmé Weijun Wang. The submission period will begin on October 1, 2019.

We invite brief nonfiction submissions that consider all aspects of illness and disability: what it is, what it means, how our understanding of disability is changing. We want essays that explore how disability is learned during childhood, lived over the entire course of a life, and how our changing understanding of disability shapes the way we experience ourselves and others. We are looking for flash essays (750 words or fewer) that explore the lived experience of illness and disability, as well as encounters with ableism, and that show readers a new way to understand the familiar or give voice to underrepresented experiences.

disability editors

Huber, Brown, Montgomery

The “Experiences of Disability” issue will be guest edited by Keah Brown, Sonya Huber, and Sarah Fawn Montgomery. Brown is a journalist and author of the essay collection The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture & Other Reasons To Fall In Love With Me. Huber is the author of five books, including the essay collection Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System. Montgomery is the author of the recent memoir Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir.

Our anchor author, Esmé Weijun Wang, is a novelist and essayist. She is the author of the New York Times-bestselling essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias (2019), for which she won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize. Her debut novel, The Border of Paradise, was called a Best Book of 2016 by NPR. She was named by Granta as one of the “Best of Young American Novelists” in 2017 and won the Whiting Award in 2018.

Submissions will be accepted through Brevity’s Submittable page starting on October 1st.Those for whom Submittable is not accessible or for whom the reading fee of $3 would be prohibitive can email their submissions to brevitydislit@gmail.com with the subject formatted as SUBMISSION: (Title) by (Name).

Editors gladly accept donations on the GoFundMe for the Experiences of Disability issue, which has a $1,800 goal for the special Brevity issue. This will pay authors and provide honoraria for anchor authors. Any additional money above this amount will be contributed to Brevity, to help with web-hosting fees and other ongoing expenses.

Write Funny, Win Money

August 22, 2019 § 10 Comments

Ever wondered how to get into McSweeney’s, the New Yorker’s Shouts and Murmurs, the Belladonna, Slackjaw, or another prestigious humor site? It’s not easy, but it’s not hard—write something very funny, make sure it fits the venue’s tone, send it in.

Step one tends to trip us up. How can you write funny, on demand?

Writing comedy is a learned skill. Yes, some writers start with more talent than others, but it’s not talent that makes an essay hilarious. Humor comes from a great premise (that you thought up after discarding 50 similar-but-not-as-good ideas), a specific point of view (that took a couple of drafts to get to) and tight, focused writing with careful word choices (that took another few drafts to whittle out of the initial bloated, semi-funny word glob).

Here’s a chance to learn the skill, and maybe win some money and/or publish your own comedy writing.

Slackjaw, Medium’s most-read humor publication (90,000+ followers), wants to support humor writers—and aspiring humor writers—everywhere, with their first Humor Writing Challenge.

Most writing contests are set-it-and-forget-it. Send in your work and hope for the best. This one’s different. Participants in the contest will be pitching ideas (so they can choose the best/funniest one to write), getting peer feedback, and re-writing. An online community will provide support and direction to contestants. Even if you don’t have a burning desire to write comedy, this process can introduce you to collaborative idea development, and how to solicit and implement editorial ideas in your own work. Plus, you’ll have deadlines to generate some specific assignments, and motivation to rewrite and sharpen your work.

The judges panel includes comedy writers for The Onion, Comedy Central, The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, etc, and there’s $2000 in cash prizes. Finalists will have their work considered for (paid) publication on Medium, too.

If you want to publish humor writing, or you need a kickstart on your autumn writing plan with a fun, supportive environment, consider signing up for Slackjaw’s Humor Writing Challenge.

Find out more and sign up here.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. Find her at Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference this weekend, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram for choice bits of conference writing advice.

Wandering Aengus Press Book Awards

April 29, 2019 § 2 Comments

dandelion-2733649-1920-pixabay_origWandering Aengus Press has launched its inaugural book awards and is now accepting creative nonfiction manuscripts as well as manuscripts in fiction and poetry (and hybrids too). We will publish up to three prize winners this year. The press is dedicated to publishing works to enrich lives and make the world a better place, because why not do as much good as we can in the world with what little time we have?

The deadline to submit is May 31, 2019. The sooner you send in your manuscript, the more time our editors will have to spend with it, so for your own sake, please don’t wait til the last minute.

The Wandering Aengus editors will select the winning manuscripts, and we’ll announce the winners by September 1, 2019. The winning manuscripts will be published as perfect-bound books by Wandering Aengus Press or our imprint, Trail to Table Press, with full distribution via Ingram. Winners will receive 50 copies of their book. Authors will have input into the cover design and interior design.

Learn more and submit your best work at http://wanderingaenguspress.com/index.html.

Kiese Laymon Judges 2019 New Ohio Review Nonfiction Contest

April 12, 2019 § 1 Comment

mississippi-body2By Madison Foltz and David Wanczyk,

We are thrilled to have award-winning memoirist Kiese Laymon as the judge of our 2019 New Ohio Review nonfiction contest. The deadline is April 15. The winner will receive $1000, and this year we are happy to announce that two dozen honorable mention pieces—spread across poetry, fiction, and nonfiction—will be published either in our print magazine or online at newohioreview.org. All entrants receive a one-year subscription.

In his frank, powerful new memoir, Heavy: An American Memoir, Laymon writes about his American experience, about pains both physical and cultural. And as the memoir’s title implies, much of the book deals with Laymon’s struggles with body image.

Martha Anne Toll writes in her review of Heavy for NPR, “Laymon intersperses stories of friends and girlfriends and teachers and books with a narrative about food—both its attraction and revulsion. His body is a character in this memoir, the body of a black man, objectified by the culture, threatened and threatening because of America’s long, ugly history of racial oppression.”

Laymon explores his childhood in Jackson, Mississippi, which was filled with violence, familial betrayal, and beatings, alongside his later expulsion from Millsaps College, a gambling addiction, his eventual graduation from Oberlin, and his battle against racism. Throughout his story, he also links his own writing and struggles to those of authors like Toni Cade Bambara and Richard Wright. Like their work, Heavy is intense, powerful, important. And it’s difficult to read at times. It’s not only the story of a black male body trying to find its place in America, but also the story of all the reasons why that place may never be found. Laymon, with a pulsing, melancholic, hurt-but-indomitable voice, highlights how personal demons and toxic behavior can form a maelstrom within us that can keep us from thriving. “The nation as it is currently constituted,” he writes, “has never dealt with a yesterday or tomorrow where we were radically honest, generous, and tender with each other.”

We are excited to work with Laymon because he is offering that kind of artistic reckoning.

A professor of creative writing and English at the University of Mississippi, Kiese Laymon has authored a full-length novel, Long Division, and a collection of essays titled How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. His reviews, essays, and stories have appeared in publications such as Vanity FairOxford American, and LitHub, among others. His writing is characterized by razor-sharp observation and reverberant-colloquial eloquence that also exposes his deepest vulnerabilities. And Heavy is an example that pulls no punches.

Please submit your pulls-no-punches essay. Your radically honest memoir. Your generous, tender-funny hybrid form. Your unignorable short-short. Laymon, we think it’s fair to say, has been through plenty. We know he will be excited to see your story.
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Madison Foltz is the New Ohio Review intern and David Wanczyk is editor of New Ohio Review.

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