In Memoriam: When Sound and Sense Collide

Chauna Craig lays to rest a rhythmic line of her short story “High on the Divide” in this week’s In Memoriam:

First lines come to me when I walk to work, sometimes in a slow gathering of words in my head, sometimes in a flash, a complete first sentence that yearns to stretch into story.  In the latter case, I repeat the gift sentence to myself, sometimes aloud, afraid I’ll forget it before I can write it.  I’m not surprised that many of these first lines emerge or evolve rhythmically.  The beat of my feet on the sidewalk, words chanted to hold them in place.

See?  Even there, I sneaked in some dactyls:  BEAT of my FEET on the…

Rhythm is as natural as a heartbeat.  It slips into every day speech, often unintended and unnoticed. Terrance Hayes once mentioned at a poetry reading the beauty of hearing perfect iambic meter from the mouth of a man ogling a woman at a gym:  I’d like to get me some of that.

Rhythm, especially when you pay attention to it, is powerful, powerful enough that my language-loving self can silence my feminist self awhile to appreciate the irrepressible rhythm and energy of that line.  I’ve never forgotten Hayes’ example, and I still share it to sensitize students to the rhythm around them (though I let my feminist self make a few comments too).

Of course when an editor agreed to publish my short story, “High on the Divide,” with a few changes, one of which excised an intentionally rhythmic line, I balked.  That’s a bloodless way of saying that as I reviewed the suggested kill, my heart fluttered erratically while a voice in my head screamed “Nooooooooo!”

I always let that voice finish its tantrum in the privacy of my own head.  It comes from a child raised on Dr. Seuss, a girl who would soothe herself to sleep by repeating sentences with a different emphasis on each word to test how the meaning changed.  That girl sprang out of bed one night to tell her mother that if someone said, “I’m not not going to bed,” it meant that she was going to bed, that two nots cancelled each other out!  “That’s called a double negative,” her mother answered.  And the girl was crushed to realize that her own private discovery had already been identified, catalogued, and put on display in the Museum of Grammar, Useful and Otherwise.

I cut that passionate word-loving girl a lot of slack.  I listen to her because she keeps me connected to the visceral wonder evoked by language.

But I know my own tendencies too.  Every writing Hyde has its Jekyll, and every Jekyll needs a Hyde to rein in the monster of excess.  When I was in graduate school, my Jekyll was a professor, an expert in postmodern literature and the backhanded compliment.  He summarized one of my critical papers:  “You let a fine turn of phrase stand where more sustained thought would serve you better.”  Ouch.  While I mocked his stuffy arrogance, the comment stung most because I knew it to be true.  I switched to creative writing.  But there is no excuse for flab or showiness in any genre of writing.

This first line of “High on the Divide” came to me on a morning walk when I was thinking about Butte, Montana:  The men are descended from hard-rock miners, their lungs gone to granite, their hearts chunks of ore.  I distinctly remember repeating it as I walked, in part for the sheer pleasure of the sound and rhythm.  By the time I sat to write, I continued in the same vein.  Next lines: “On the rocks,” they say when they order their bourbon.  “On the rocks,” they say when I give them their Cokes.

The editor cut that last line.  I’d created it for the parallel structure, the repeated words and rhythm, the variation at the end that demonstrated the bartender narrator’s caretaking role as she tries to protect these drunks from themselves.  That opening paragraph reads aloud beautifully, in part because of the hypnotic effect of the rhythm and repetition.  I could have made a form/content argument to keep that line, and that’s what the little language-lover inside begged me to do.  Remember, she likes sentences that sound good, that soothe her to sleep.

But if that were my purpose with language, I’d write lullabies.  Just as the narrator of that story needed to be jolted out of her hypnotized state, so did I.  That lovely-sounding sentence didn’t even make sense.  If you order bourbon and someone hands you a Coke, there are a lot of things you might say, but “on the rocks” isn’t one.

I knew the editor was right.  There was something sharper and faster about the first paragraph without that line, and in a story of a thousand words, I didn’t have the luxury of indulging in rhythmic nonsense.  It always hurts to say goodbye to pretty things that have outgrown their usefulness, but I’m finally ready to bury this one.  Rest in peace, original third line of my story.  I raise my glass of bourbon—on the rocks—to your memory.

You can find “High on the Divide” here, in Damselfly Press Issue 25.


Chauna Craig
Chauna Craig

Chauna Craig’s stories have appeared in Prairie Schooner, GreenMountains Review, Quarterly West, Seattle Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and elsewhere.  Her fiction awards include descant’s Sandra Brown Short Fiction prize, the Mari Sandoz/Prairie Schooner Award in Fiction, and Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. She has also received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Hedgebrook, and the Heinz Foundation and a scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.  She teaches creative writing at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

In Memoriam: Getting the “Fuck” Out

Theodore Carter admits to a genre “frak-up”  in this week’s edition of In Memoriam:

When I type “fuck,” I mean it. I don’t do it a lot. It’s naughty and often distracts from my syntax and storyline. Still, sometimes, there is no other logical word to show a character’s frustration, disappointment, or anger. Omitting it can be more shocking than including it. Such is the case in my story “The Thirty-Ninth President and the Thirteenth Tentacle,” when one of my primary characters, a tentacled alien named Veltra, voices frustration over her orders to follow a peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter.

I enjoy experimenting with genre and do my best to keep my reading broad. I’m proud that like Mark Twain I’ve published in The North American Review, the oldest literary magazine in America. I’m also proud to have read manuscripts for Weird Tales, the long-running pulp magazine which published Stephen King’s early work.

From this background, I wrote a short story based on Jimmy Carter’s UFO sighting. (Seriously. It happened.) I was thrilled when Bruce Bethke, the originator of the term “cyberpunk,” accepted the story for publication in Stupefying Stories.

However, as an editor, Bethke doesn’t condone the vulgarities spewed by my alien character. When I received Mr. Bethke’s edits, I wrote back:

“I noticed you replaced “fuck” with “frak”. Would it be possible to use “F–” instead?  I like the idea of Veltra using a word especially offensive to Jimmy Carter and fear “frak” could be misconstrued as alien talk.”

What I didn’t know, and what Mr. Bethke told me any Sci-fi fan should know, is that the “frak” comes from Battlestar Galactica and is a well-known euphemism for “fuck.” My trekky siblings would have been horrified at my ignorance. My creative writing instructors may have exhaled in relief.

As a writer, I sometimes work in one tradition one day and another the next. Sometimes this means sending stories to vastly different markets, and it always means reading a wide variety of material. For me, these gaps between genres are ripe for creative exploration. The risk is that there are cultural touch points that I miss. For instance, I’ve never watched Battlestar Galactica.

Mr. Bethke and I settled on a first mention using “F—,” then subsequent uses of “frak.”I felt a little sheepish at having exhibited poor knowledge of the genre and wasn’t about to fight.

I usually bow to the editor. I want his/her audience. Mr. Bethke has a defined aesthetic. He knows what the frak he’s doing. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t have sent him the story in the first place.

You can check out the September 2012 issue of Stupefying Stories and read my story. If you’re a true Sci-fi fan, “frak” may be the perfect word in it. However, I still think that if I were an alien following Jimmy Carter around Georgia before he became president, I’d wonder just what the fuck I was doing.


 

Theodore Carter
Theodore Carter

Theodore Carter’s fiction has appeared in The North American Review, Potomac Review, and A cappella Zoo. He has also published in genre mags and themed anthologies focused on humor, horror, erotica, super powers, and Jimi Hendrix. He has an M.A. in creative writing from The Johns Hopkins University.

You can find out more at www.theodorecarter.com.

Anthony Varallo, Author of THIS DAY IN HISTORY and OUT LOUD, Adds EVERYONE WAS THERE to 2016 QFP Titles

Queen’s Ferry Press announces the final book of 2016, Anthony Varallo’s collection Everyone Was There.

Plano, TX—March 18, 2015 Queen’s Ferry Press, an independent publisher providing a venue for fine literary fiction, announced it will publish Anthony Varallo’s collection, Everyone Was There.

“I’ve always admired Queen’s Ferry Press for publishing fiction that is innovative and challenging, yet still has emotional impact, resonance, and a beating heart,” said Varallo. “I hope Everyone Was There fits into that camp, and I feel very lucky to work with such an outstanding press.”

Everyone Was There will release in December, 2016.

About the Author:

Anthony Varallo
Anthony Varallo

Anthony Varallo is the author of This Day in History, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award; Out Loud, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize; and Think of Me and I’ll Know (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press). His stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, Gettysburg Review, Epoch, New England Review, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. He earned his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and he has received an NEA Fellowship in Literature. Currently he is an associate professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is the fiction editor of Crazyhorse.

Founded in 2011 as an independent publisher, Queen’s Ferry Press specializes in literary fiction. The press currently releases 6–12 titles a year, many from debut authors, and is the publisher of Shadows of Men, the 2013 recipient of the TIL Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction. For book updates please contact Kevin Wehmueller, Marketing & Publicity of Queen’s Ferry Press, or visit www.queensferrypress.com.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: Kevin Wehmueller, Marketing & Publicity

kwehmueller@queensferrypress.com

LESSER AMERICAN BOYS — Zach VandeZande to Publish with QFP in November 2016

Author and dog-lover Zach VandeZande and Queen’s Ferry Press will publish Lesser American Boys in November, 2016.

Plano, TX—March 17, 2015 Queen’s Ferry Press, an independent publisher providing a venue for fine literary fiction, announced it will publish Zach VandeZande’s collection, Lesser American Boys.

“I’m so jazzed to be joining Queen’s Ferry Press. I’ve long been an admirer of their books, and I’m both very glad and very honored that my book found a home with them,” VandeZande said. “Independent publishing is so vital because it gives us books that are a little more strange, a little riskier, and a little more true than what you often see out of the bigger publishing houses. I hope my book does that tradition proud. I hope it gives my readers something worthwhile, something that makes our being alone in our heads a little less lonely. A little grace in all the madness, or something like that.”

In a recent interview,  he says of the contract–among other good news–“I feel like a real live writer today,” and that it is difficult “not to have a big head about all this.” His story “Accord” appeared in the latest issue of The Adroit Journal.

Lesser American Boys will release in November, 2016.

About the Author:

Zach VandeZande
Zach VandeZande

Zach VandeZande spent too much of his life in Houston, TX, not enough of his life in Denton, TX, and now lives in Carrboro, NC with his girlfriend. He is the author of Apathy and Paying Rent and the co-editor of Critical Pedagogy and Global Literature: Worldly Teaching, and his work has appeared or will soon appear in Portland Review, Passages North, Atlas Review, Gettysburg Review, Cutbank, Thin Air, The Boiler, and elsewhere. He holds a PhD of fiction from the University of North Texas. He likes baking bread, hammocks, and people who bring their dogs.

Founded in 2011 as an independent publisher, Queen’s Ferry Press specializes in literary fiction. The press currently releases 6–12 titles a year, many from debut authors, and is the publisher of Shadows of Men, the 2013 recipient of the TIL Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction. For book updates please contact Kevin Wehmueller, Marketing & Publicity of Queen’s Ferry Press, or visit www.queensferrypress.com.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: Kevin Wehmueller, Marketing & Publicity

kwehmueller@queensferrypress.com

Marc Watkins’ MIDDLE WEST to be Published in June, 2016

Queen’s Ferry Press will publish a debut collection by Marc Watkins, guest fiction editor for the 2012 Pushcart Prize Anthology.

Plano, TX—March 16, 2015 Queen’s Ferry Press, an independent publisher providing a venue for fine literary fiction, announced it will publish Marc Watkins’ debut collection, Middle West.

“I’m delighted that my collection of stories found a home at QFP,” Watkins said. “I am impressed by the quality of work that QFP has produced, and look forward to joining an energetic independent press.”

Middle West will release in June, 2016.

About the Author:

Marc Watkins
Marc Watkins

Marc Watkins has published work in Boulevard, Foxing Quarterly, Slice Magazine, Story Quarterly, Third Coast, Texas Review, and elsewhere. He has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, Boulevard’s “Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers”, The David Baker Short Story Award, and received special mentions in the Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the Midwest.

A native of the Midwest, he dropped out of high school and worked as a handyman, janitor, and car washer before entering college. He received his MFA at Texas State University-San Marcos, where he was awarded the W. Morgan and Lou Claire Rose Fellowship in Fiction. He is currently a contributing editor at Boulevard and was a guest fiction editor for the 2012 Pushcart Prize. He lives in Oxford, MS and teaches writing at the University of Mississippi. Middle West is his first book.

Founded in 2011 as an independent publisher, Queen’s Ferry Press specializes in literary fiction. The press currently releases 6–12 titles a year, many from debut authors, and is the publisher of Shadows of Men, the 2013 recipient of the TIL Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction. For book updates please contact Kevin Wehmueller, Marketing & Publicity of Queen’s Ferry Press, or visit www.queensferrypress.com.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact: Kevin Wehmueller, Marketing & Publicity

kwehmueller@queensferrypress.com

In Memoriam: The First Failed Novel

In this edition of In Memoriam, forthcoming QFP author Sherrie Flick says goodbye to Sarah and Robert, her failed friends.

Early in my writing career I embraced flash fiction. By the time I was a senior in college, it was mine. I was in love. I had written longer stories, sure, but once I got inside sentences and rolled around in the compression involved with flash—I was trapped, happily trapped, in those tiny worlds.

Years passed, I wrote more very small stories. More and more and more. My professors in graduate school stepped forward every so often to ask one question: why don’t you try writing a novel? In retrospect, I understand why they asked me this question. Of course, I do. It’s a smart question, a move they thought would advance my career. But to me it sounded sacrosanct: flash was what I believed in. It was my hardcore crush and I was not going to cheat on it with something as long and amorphous as a novel.

Then one day a weird fuzzy feeling descended upon me. I was working on some writing and I felt … bored. Shocked, I kept right at it. But soon, I decided I really did need to break free from my own self-created flash rut. So, I embarked on a novel. I embarked on a novel like one would embark on a quick trip to the grocery store. Just jump in the car, drive to the store, and buy some food. But.

It just wasn’t that easy.

The “novel” I tried “writing” was about a couple of characters—Sarah and Robert. They’re newly married and embarking on complicated lives in a new city. For a time, Sarah and Robert showed up in everything I wrote—long or short. It was the Sarah and Robert show again and again. The “novel” unspooled ambiguously. It went and went. In fact, I still think about Sarah and Robert every so often like friends I’ve lost touch with who just refuse to join Facebook.

Versions of Sarah and Robert eventually ended up in my real novel, the one without quotation marks around it. The one I wrote deliberately and did get published, 12 years later (Reconsidering Happiness, 2009). But those pages and pages that I unrolled? Interestingly, they got cut up and refigured into many smaller stories. Pieces of flash, mid-length stories, long stories. Some of those stories show up in the book QFP will publish in 2016. In some, my characters’ names have changed, in others: there they are, my friends. My failed friends.

I mourn this novel that never was. I’m not sure why. I feel a longing when I think of it. The potential that it held. How naïve I was when I gave the form my first try. How much I had to learn before I could tell a big story, how much I had to learn before I could write a better piece a flash, something that pushed me way beyond the boredom I felt that one day at my writing desk.


Sherrie Flick
Sherrie Flick

Sherrie Flick is the author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness, a semi-finalist for the VCU First Novelist award, and the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting. Her flash fiction appears in many anthologies and journals, including Norton’s Flash Fiction Forwardand New Sudden Fiction, Ploughshares, Booth, Fiction Southeast, andSmokeLong. She has received fellowships from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Ucross Foundation, and Atlantic Center for the Arts. She lives in Pittsburgh where she works as a freelance food writer and teaches in Chatham University’s MFA and Food Studies programs. Her book of stories, Whiskey, Etc., will be published by Queen’s Ferry Press in 2016.

The Crossing: Issue 3

This one is a little late due to all our announcements in February, but here is the next issue of The Crossing:

newsletter_march
The Crossing

A web-only version of The Crossing will appear each month, and is downloadable in PDF form here. Those who subscribe to receive e-mail updates of The Crossing will receive a promotional code to be used at check-out during the lifespan of each issue.