October 9, 2018 § 5 Comments
Jill Talbot and Marcia Aldrich discuss the release of their Longreads essay on the morning that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Jill: When we submitted our collaborative essay, “Trouble,” to Longreads in early August, we included the following synopsis:
The essay details the trouble we ran toward during our adolescence (drinking, boys) and the trouble that found us both, including sexual assault. While we had different upbringings—Talbot attending public high school as the daughter of a football coach in Texas in the late 1980s and Aldrich attending a private school for girls in Pennsylvania in the late 1960s—we share a history of daring, of lost direction, of dark bedrooms. Jill begins the essay, and we alternate sections throughout to reflect on our wild behavior, its consequences, and our respective parents’ inability to control or contain us.
Marcia and I were delighted to receive an acceptance from senior editor Krista Stevens about a week later, but when we were asked to approve the preview in September, I grew anxious. Anxious about what I had divulged, anxious about the details that pinpointed a young man so clearly that anyone with an MHS yearbook could identify him, and anxious about describing my own reckless behavior. I wondered when the essay might run, feeling more and more a desire to run from it. And then on September 26th, Marcia and I received an e-mail from Stevens:
In light of the subject matter of the piece we want to get it out ahead of Ford’s testimony and so we’ll be publishing this tomorrow morning at 7:30 am Eastern.
Marcia: When we began our essay “Trouble,” we didn’t think about how it might participate in any specific event larger than our own personal lives. It was the second iteration of our collaborative essay writing experiment, undertaken after we completed our first essay on our mothers, and we wanted to continue the practice. “Trouble” seemed the natural next subject because it had defined and troubled both of our lives, haunted, one might say, and those are the kinds of subjects that we feel compelled to write about, that call us. Of course, I was aware of last year’s dramatic rise of the #MeToo movement although it didn’t explicitly influence me, at least I don’t think it did. I couldn’t talk about trouble without at long last resurrecting a few of the sexually disturbing experiences I had as a very young girl. Entering those experiences again was made more meaningful because I was doing it with Jill and not alone. I don’t want to say writing with Jill made it easier exactly, but it emboldened me, bolstered me.
Here’s an excerpt from the essay, from one of Marcia’s segments:
At some point he hauled me to my feet and got me back in the car and drove me to my house. I don’t remember any words between us. He didn’t get out of the car and help me to the door. He leaned across me, opened the car door and looked at me as if to say get out. Which I did. Somehow. And I walked up the flagstone path to the back porch, stumbled around looking for the key, and finally opened the door. It was way past my curfew and my father had been listening for my return. I can’t remember if he saw me or just spoke to me from behind his bedroom door. It’s hard to believe he could have set eyes on me and not known something wrong had happened.
And it’s hard to fathom what he made of my running a bath at 2:30 in the morning. But that’s what I did.
My mother never stirred.
Read the entire essay “Trouble.”
October 2, 2018 § Leave a comment
There’s nothing meek or mild in Gabe Montesanti’s evocation of being coached on a girls’ swim team, found in Brevity’s September 2018 issue.
Here’s an excerpt from Montesanti’s flash essay:
Coach decided months ago we should wear two suits. Then he decided we should all wear men’s trunks on top. Mine are black with red flames. “Good thing the boys think you’re pretty,” he tells me. “They don’t have to know how goddamn slow you were today. I could’ve gone down to the music store, gotten a piano, chucked it in the pool, and it would still kick your ass.”
Read the full essay in our new issue.
September 24, 2018 § 2 Comments
In Brevity’s September 2018 issue, Steven Schwartz finds his breathless way through a haze of distraction during a short meditation to discover the meaning of dhyana, or keen awareness, when he least expected it.
Here’s an excerpt from Schwartz’s fine flash essay:
…and I was so fully into detailing this imbroglio with the uncongenial barkeep that steam could have been coming out of my ears, and I had to think, Whoa, I’m meditating here! and get back to my breath, which had of course become rapid with anticipatory rage as I conjured a scenario along the lines of Kill Bill…
Read the rest in our new issue.
September 20, 2018 § Leave a comment
In Brevity’s September 2018 issue, Peggy Duffy confronts the sometimes painful, sometimes profound, and often long process of dying as mother moves in and out of consciousness during her last days of life.
An excerpt from Duffy’s poignant essay follows:
At her scheduled visit, the weekday hospice nurse will not commit to the couple of days the weekend nurse predicted. Vitals are better. In hospice language, my mother has rallied. She lies on her back in a semi-conscious state, blanket tucked under her armpits, raising and lowering one arm in a slow, gentle rhythm, as if conducting an orchestra in her sleep. My father lies on his bed, sneaker-clad feet propped on a pillow, interpreting each movement as a sign of recovery.
Read the rest in our new issue.
August 17, 2018 § 13 Comments
By Jay Vera Summer
When I first began submitting to online literary magazines seven years ago, I had no idea how the process worked. I felt nervous and intimidated, and it took all of my courage to send something out. I’d submit to one publication, wait, think about the submission literally every day, and then feel dejected and possibly cry when I received a rejection weeks or months later.
Each time I saw a rejection in my inbox, I took it personally. I’d wonder if my writing was trash, if I should give up writing completely. It’d take me a few weeks to rebuild my confidence, then start the process all over, submitting my story or essay to another lit mag, then waiting. If three lit mags rejected something, I abandoned it, figuring the editors knew better than I did.
As some of you have probably guessed, I didn’t get anything published this way.
Later, I met published writers through writing workshops and eventually, an MFA program. Initially, I was surprised to hear people I admired and considered successful talk about their rejections. When a woman who’d won a Pushcart Prize told me she always sent out her pieces until they were either accepted or rejected at least fifty times, I realized I needed to adjust my perspective on my own work and not give up so easily.
In the world of writing, rejection is not failure. It is a necessary part of professional growth and the road to publication. Although at first I still felt the raw sting of each rejection, I began to submit more widely and frequently after learning many accomplished writers viewed their rejections with pride. I tried to mimic them and take my rejection letters as a badge of honor, an initiation of sorts. Instead of taking a rejection as proof I’m not good enough, I decided my ability to withstand rejection was proof that the label “writer” truly belongs to me.
After becoming a literary magazine editor myself (of Saw Palm, weirderary, and now, Chronically Lit), I learned first-hand that lit mags editors often reject work they consider good. Sometimes a piece is high-quality, but doesn’t fit the aesthetic or theme of that particular issue or publication. Sometimes one editor really wants a piece, but another overrules them. Sometimes everyone at a lit mag likes a piece, but they decide it’s too similar to something else they’ve already accepted.
The bottom line is, a rejection isn’t necessarily a value judgment of the work in question, even if it feels like it.
Last year, I decided to get over my fear of rejection once and for all. I was graduating with my MFA and realized I had over a dozen short pieces I liked from my three years in the program. I began a big push, submitting these pieces widely, determined not to stop until each piece had either been accepted, or rejected at least fifty times. I submitted pieces to multiple outlets simultaneously (but only to publications I’d read and knew were appropriate, of course–submitting to publications that aren’t a good fit is a waste of both writers’ and editors’ time).
During this year of intense submitting, I received twelve acceptances. To earn those twelve acceptances, I had to sustain 330 rejections. Yes, three-hundred-thirty. That’s roughly 28 rejections for each acceptance, almost one rejection a day for an entire year. And I am so happy about it. I’m not only happy because of the acceptances, though of course, that feels nice. I’m happy because I finally understand and can handle the process. I finally believe in my work.
If the timid, insecure writer I was seven years ago could see me now, she would be so proud.
Jay Vera Summer is a writer and college writing instructor living in Florida. Her work may be found in The Hawai’i Review, The Conium Review, Proximity, Luna Luna Magazine, and more. She is Editor in Chief of the online literary magazine Chronically Lit. Find her at jayverasummer.com or @jayverasummer on twitter.
July 13, 2018 § 2 Comments
By Tucker Coombe
Winter on Overland Mountain––some 3,000 feet above Boulder, Colorado––could be exhausting, writes Karen Auvinen. Snow fell “a foot at a time” and temperatures could plummet to twenty-five-degrees-below zero. Winds “howled and clawed at the cabin, rattling the gass panes like a live thing.”
Surviving winter, however, was by no means her greatest challenge.
Auvinen’s intimate and unforgettable debut memoir, Rough Beauty: Forty Seasons of Mountain Living, tells of the decade or so she spent on the outskirts of civilization. Like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Rough Beauty offers a glimpse into a life that’s pared down to its essentials, open to unexpected, even profound, change.
Auvinen was nearly forty when she began living in a rustic cabin about four miles outside the tiny town of Jamestown, Colorado. She supported herself by running a rural postal route, teaching writing at a nearby community college, and cooking once a week at the Mercantile Cafe––the town’s only business establishment.
Auvinen depicts her younger self as awkward and a bit prickly, “[p]roud to be called ‘fearless’ and ‘tough,’” she writes. When her first rented cabin burned down––leaving nothing but her truck, her beloved dog (a semi-feral husky named Elvis) and the clothes on her back––the Jamestown community “arrived like the cavalry.” One friend took her shopping for clothing essentials, another bought new supplies for Elvis, and customers on her postal route left her envelopes of cash. The town even held a benefit in her honor. But she couldn’t abide the attention or the goodwill. “I roasted on the twin spits of chagrin and embarrassment,” Auvinen writes, “…more uneasy with condolences and well wishes than I would have been with condemnation and blame.” She loaded up Elvis and headed to Utah for a few days of solitary camping.
Who among us hasn’t at least considered a life of solitude? My own attempt, decades ago, was short-lived and humiliating. One autumn, shortly after college, I decided to stay in a somewhat isolated, bare-bones house on Cape Cod. I’d envisioned long, peaceful days spent reading and writing, but instead found myself becoming unmoored without the comforting noises of summer. At night I’d wrap myself in a blanket, listen to the tick of an old shelf clock and recall in vivid detail every horror story I’d ever been told. I didn’t last a week.
Auvinen’s memoir purports to focus on her years of relative isolation on the mountain. But it’s the stories she tells of her childhood and her teenage years that are most affecting; without seeming melodramatic, they have a real sense of poignancy and immediacy.
An irreverent, headstrong kid, “I licked the sidewalk because I liked the taste of dirt,” says Auvinen, who grew up in a family where women were “parsley on the plate––accessories or helpmates.” Her father, an Air Force career man, ruled the family with tyranny and occasional violence.
Auvinen writes of her father’s decision, during her middle-school years, to relocate the family to Hawaii, and to euthanize the family dog rather than bringing her along. Before the dog’s final trip to the vet, he carried the struggling animal outside and tried to fit her into a wooden box he’d chosen for her burial. Karen watched in horror: “I couldn’t control the sound coming from my chest––the guttural, animal wail of grief.”
Karen began marshalling considerable will against her father’s bullying and “forged a dark armor to protect me and keep others at bay.” Before entering graduate school––in a symbolic rejection of her father––she changed her last name. He threatened to track her down. She eluded him by quitting her job and moving into a tent in the woods. She and her father would not speak for another decade.
Living alone, in relatively rough conditions, seemed to suit her. “My preference was for the earth, with its rough beauty, its inscrutability, its mixture of shit and muck,” she writes.
Gradually, Auvinen began to feel grounded by the rhythm of the seasons and to sense a slow “unraveling” inside herself. Perhaps most importantly, she was both buoyed and steadied by the stubborn companionship of Elvis. For years, even as she avoided friends and family during the holidays, she relished cooking dinners––roast chicken, perhaps, or rosemary lamb––to share with her dog. Opening her heart to Elvis, she later realized, was life-changing.
When Auvinen first set out to live on Overland Mountain, she believed that her “commitment was not to a person but to a place: “…I placed my bet on landscape, putting all my chips on wildness.” But for all its focus on mountain living, what this memoir really seems to be about is the difficult terrain of human love and connection.
Tucker Coombe writes about nature, education and dogs, and lives in Cincinnati.
July 6, 2018 § Leave a comment
From our Friends at The Matador Review:
Alternative art and literature magazine The Matador Review is now accepting submissions for the Fall 2018 publication. We publish poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and creative non-fiction, inviting all unpublished literature written in the English language (and translations that are accompanied by the original text) as well as many forms of visual art. The call for submissions will end August 31, 2018.
When asked by author Angela Yuriko Smith what we’re looking for, Editor-in-Chief JT Lachausse replied:
“We want what you haven’t seen. Allow me to be dramatic: Imagine that every piece of art is represented by a stone. Many stones make up the mountains and buildings, but even more hide beneath the surface. We are so familiar and fond of the overground rocks, but in the caves and oceans-deep, there are stories that tell things wildly. Desperately, furiously, without great laborious sanitizing or editorial puncturing.”
More information on submitting to The Matador Review can be found at our submissions page.