New story jn THE BIG JEWEL

This election, sour as it is, has prompted a serious bout of giggles for me.  Since I cannot (and will not) take the campaign season seriously, I have found refuge in writing silly bits of flash fiction.  Here is one of them, which the kind editors of THE BIG JEWEL, saw fit to publish.  It is called, "Everything You Need to Know About Babies." 

You can find it by clicking the link below:

Halloween Kindle Freebie

October's here, and yes, it's the month of pumpkins and scary stories.  

SPOOKY AND KOOKY TALES is free this week, in honor of Halloween.  I'll post my recommendations for scary tales next week.  This mini-book contains "Happy Halloween," "Chopin for Igor," and "the slipstream "My Name on It," as well as some humorous flash.  

Note to cat lovers:  this little volume has three feline tales.    

You can find it at Amazon.  Click HERE

You Can't Hurry Love, in Page and Spine

Been a while since I dabbled in matters romantic, but the subject's never far from my writerly imagination.  In this tedious campaign season, it seems more important than ever to celebrate love.  

For readers who enjoyed my story collection, STRANGE COURTSHIPS; NINE ROMANTIC STORIES, here is a new story, published in the online journal Page and Spine.  It's called "You Can't Hurry Love," and you can find it below:

The Mystery of Elena Ferrante?

Most women -- if they are avid readers-- enjoy the novels of Elena Ferrante, especially her Neopolitan saga, with its detailed portrait of a life-long friendship.  Some women adore them, call them their favorite novels.  

It's almost a cult by now.

Part of the mystique (it's said) is that  no one knows anything at all about the author.  She calls one of her characters, yes, Elena.  And the books are written in an almost uncannily autobiographical style.  The novels are filled with Dickensian (or perhaps Italian neo-realist) details that most novels have abandoned.  They are novels that tell, rather than show -- and they tell a lot.  We see life in gorgeous, granular detail, and the feelings of Elena are explored bit by bit, slowly.  It's a return to that leisurely old-fashioned narrative that (some of us thought) had gone away.  And there are layers upon layers of secrecy, that the novels slowly, luxuriously, reveal-- just as life itself does.

It feels all too real.  Not a false note anywhere.   

But do I care who Elena Ferrante actually is?  

Some argue, yes, and that her hidden identity is a marketing ploy to sell more books (in which case, it's unclear why all authors don't hide under the table.)  My guess is that she doesn't like the limelight.  I can't blame her.  

Because I don't care at all who the "real" Elena Ferrante is.  I don't need to learn her name, or where she lives, or whom she votes for.  I know who she is.

I agree with Lincoln Michel's essay, We May Know Who Ferrante Is, But Have We Learned anything?  I "know" the author through her books.  She's not hiding anything from me.   It's all there in the books, in wonderful thought and feeling. She seems the least mysterious of writers, and I sense (her triumph, of course) that if she were sitting beside me, she'd understand me.  

As for biographical hunches:  no doubt, she's an intellectual, and of the European variety of that species.  A woman (although it wouldn't bother me if she weren't.)  Most of all, a writer. A great writer.

As for her novels, they feel invented.  They do not read or feel like memoirs.  As literary memoir, her trilogy would fail: the character's life seems unexceptional, ordinary (which is one of the novels' achievements -- to lend meaning to the ordinary)  As for where biography ends and novelistic imagination begins...well, that's what real writers make us forget.  

Call her by the name that she's chosen:  Elena Ferrante.

Interview with author, Misty Urban

Today we have an interview with Misty Urban, who has recently published a short story collection, A LESSON IN MANNERS and is the recipient of the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award for short fiction collections from Snake Nation Press.   
A few words about her:  Misty Urban is a fiction writer, medievalist, college professor, essayist, and editor. She has more degrees than any single person needs and changes employers and residences with regular frequency. She is in the middle of co-editing a collection of essays on the medieval legend of Melusine, and her short story, “The Last Word,” is in the current issue of Talking River.

SARETT:  Tell us about the stories in A LESSON IN MANNERS-- and my compliments on a great title!  What drew you to this material?
URBAN: “A Lesson in Manners” is the earliest story in the collection and is based on a real-life event that shattered me. It emerged as one of those second-person “how-to” riffs; the narrator tries to figure out how to deal with her sister’s cancer diagnosis. But I started to notice that most if not all of my stories were dealing in some way with the themes of grief, loss, the bewilderment of not knowing your place in the world. When I started thinking about how to compile the collection, I was drawn to the same questions that the title story takes up: how do you endure an unendurable loss? There is no etiquette for the kind of grief that swamps you. There is no “good” behavior that is going to save you from hurt. So I love the dark irony of that title, and it became the theme that brought the collection together.
SARETT:  Which comes first for you -- the story or the character?
URBAN: For me, the character is the story—the characters and their wants and problems, what is revealed about them in the course of their struggles over a scene or a day or a span of months. The story is how we see into that character’s external and internal landscape and understand the choices she is making. I like stories that are about subtle shifts, usually the realization that there’s no way out—or there’s only one way out, and it’s not pretty.

SARETT: Female writers like Alice Munro (or even Edith Wharton) are sometimes attacked for pessimistic portrayals of women.  What’s your response to this?
URBAN: HA HA HA! HA! Are male authors accused of this? Somehow I don’t think so. When a male author writes a sad and moving story, it’s a touching portrayal of the human condition. When a female author writes a sad and moving story, she’s a downer or she’s cracking up. Sady Doyle makes this point about impossible standards really well in Trainwreck. Thank goodness there are writers like Munro, and Wharton, and Toni Morrison, and Lorrie Moore, and Margaret Atwood, and Amy Hempel, and Jhumpa Lahiri, who dig into the depths of the female psyche and send dispatches from the frontier.

SARETT: In short fiction, the last sentence is all-important (this is rather different from novels.) What’s your approach to endings?  
URBAN: I like endings that bring my characters to the brink of an impossible choice and then strand them there. If the last line of a story makes me cry, I know I’ve gotten it right. I try to shape the story so it builds momentum, carrying the character along to that final crushing realization, and then conclude with the image, the metaphor, that punches the final hole and draws up everything that’s been going on all along. Once that final line or image surfaces, I know I’ve gotten my story.

SARETT: Today’s literary journals that are the primary channels for short fiction are seemingly (to me, least) not intended for the so-called  “ordinary”reader.  Can short story writers reach broader audiences -- or does it matter?  
URBAN: This was also true when I was in graduate workshops (nearly ten years ago!)  It would help the livelihood of small literary journals if “ordinary” or “mainstream” readers found literary stories more accessible, and didn’t sense some cultural high-brow/low-brow divide. In truth, those stories are really good. But it takes a certain level of training to realize how good they are, and so the divide persists. But I’d love it if audiences were finding short stories they felt directly spoke to them.

SARETT: I know that you teach writing -- and of course, there are loads of rules about writing.  Is there any rule that you secretly enjoy breaking?    
URBAN: Write what you know--good advice for beginners. But fiction is for exploring what you don’t know. A wife hiding money so she can escape her cheating husband is found out. (“Trying to Find a Corndog in Tompkins County”) A grieving woman finds work at a treatment center and they can’t help her. (“Planet Joy”) A woman moves away after her mother’s cancer goes into remission and then finds a tumor in her own breast. (“Green Space”) I write fiction to enter other worlds. The same reason I read it.

SARETT:  There’s a lot of microfiction and even “tweet” fiction.  What’s your POV -- are we getting, like, too short?  
URBAN: I thought for a long time this trend was a symptom of our cultural laziness. But recently, for a contest, I wrote a story of less than 300 words—and it took discipline to be that precise. I had to think hard about what a story actually is before I could handle the compression.  Micro-fiction might satisfy a craving for things we’re missing elsewhere—the need to excavate around and beneath the written words in a world where so much information is superficial and goes by very fast. Is it a story? That can be debated. But if it makes us exercise empathy, which I think is the chief payoff of fiction, it works.

SARETT:  My blog readers are always looking for new books.  Are there new short fiction books that you’d recommend?     
URBAN: Amy Parker’s Beasts and Children knocked my socks off. The characters and situations seemed so odd but relatable.
I’m reading Stephanie Han’s Swimming in Hong Kong and I’m struck by the pitch-perfect, deadpan voice in those stories.
I’ve discovered K. Kris Loomis’s Three Modern Shorts series, and I like the quirkiness and heart of those pieces.
Next year’s Serena McDonald Kennedy Award winner (for short story collections) is a humdinger—Patricia O’Donnell’s Gods for Sale.  It’s accomplished in every way.
In My To-Read Stack:
-Karen Bender’s Refund: Stories
=Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew: Stories
-Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women: Stories
- Mia Alvar’s In the Country: Stories

SARETT:  Any new projects in the works that you’d like to share?   
URBAN: A second story collection, The Necessaries, is making the rounds of contests. My debut novel, The Lighted Heart, is about a squire’s daughter in Shropshire, England, 1832, who is working on Fermat’s Last Theorem. Imagine Lizzy Bennet as an amateur mathematician and first-wave feminist; that’s my heroine.

Or, a forum for feminism, literature, and women in/and/of books


Buy it for Kindle HERE.

Interview with author of THE INTERSECTION: Brad Windhauser

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Today’s author interview is with author, Brad Windhauser. His new novel, THE INTERSECTION, tells the story of a white driver who hits an African-American bicyclist.  The accident inflames tensions in a gentrifying South Philadelphia neighborhood.

First, some background on Brad:
Originally from Southern California, I live in Philadelphia. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, an MA in English  from Rutgers (Camden) and am Associate Professor of writing at Temple University. My  short stories and work have appeared in The Baltimore Review, Santa Fe Writer’s Project Journal, Ray’s Road Review, Northern Liberties Review, and Philadelphia Review of Books and Jonathan. This is my second novel.

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SARETT: THE INTERSECTION adresses thorny issues about race relations in Philadelphia.  What drew you to this material-- and was there anything in your personal history that led you to it?
WINDHAUSER: For starters, I live in this neighborhood (Graduate Hospital). I bought when the area was “up-and-coming,” or, in other words, gentrifying.  I noticed how welcoming some people were while others were not thrilled by my presence. While driving one day, I almost hit a bicyclist. I wondered: given the tension in this neighborhood, what would happen if a white driver hit a black bicyclist?

SARETT: Novelist Jonathan Franzen (confession: haven't read him) said that fiction is a messy business -- and that it's dangerous for a writer to be too perfectionist.  I'm wondering how you respond.
WINDHAUSER: I’m assuming it has to do with being satisfied with the characters and plot. In that sense, yes, you’ll likely never find them to be perfect. I don’t think he would mean perfect in the sense that they’re perfect people--would anyone read such a book? Rather, perfect in the sense that there is always tweaking--you believe you get a section or character right in a scene and then, when you re-read it, you make subtle changes. Thought of in this way, the book will never be perfect. At some point, you have to let it go.

SARETT: When you’re developing material, which comes first -- story or character?
WINDHAUSER: For this novel, the accident and the fallout (the story) came first. I then interrogated the situation--who would be involved? Who would benefit? Who would suffer? In other instances, I began with an image of a character with a particular personality and wondered what would he or she care about? The story grew out of that.

SARETT: Did you have any literary muses that influenced the way you approached this novel?
WINDHAUSER: I’m a HUGE Hemingway fan, although I don’t know that this book demonstrates that affinity. When I figured out the type of story this would be--alternating points of view, multiple story lines--I investigated books that did this well. Banks’ Trailer Park and The Sweet Hereafter as well as Strouts’ Olive Kitteridge served as models.

SARETT: I know you teach.  Are there any writing rules that you secretly enjoy breaking?
WINDHAUSER: Tons, but every choice I make it is done consciously, when the story calls for it. When it comes to grammar, I love a good run-on sentence.

SARETT:  I’m always seeking new (or forgotten) writers.  Any writers in particular that you’d like recommend to our blog readers?  
WINDHAUSER: I’ve been reading story collections. April Ford’s The Poor Children is excellent (especially “A Marmalade Cat for Jenny”). Susan Muaddi Darraj’s A Curious Land: Stories from Home, and Tara Laskowski’s Bystanders

SARETT: What’s up next for you?  Any projects in the works?
WINDHAUSER: At the moment, I’m enjoying the build-up to the book’s launch. I do have a first draft of my next book, set in a San Diego Restaurant in the late 90’s. I’ll dust that off once I can devote appropriate attention to it.

You can follow Brad on:

Facebook: Brad Windhauser
Twitter @VirgoWriter

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