Archive for the ‘Kim’ Category

Writers With Literary Siblings

Keeping it in the family! Here’s a list of writers with siblings who also write.

A cozy house

The Brontë Sisters – The oldest and perhaps the most famous of literary siblings, The Brontë Sisters include Charlotte, Emily, and Anne who authored the titles Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, respectively. The sisters published and funded several volumes of poetry and wrote novels under male pseudonyms. Jane Eyre was an immediate success, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall also sold well, but Wuthering Heights didn’t see critical acclaim until later. The Brontë Sisters remain a favorite among critics and readers as a literary family with talent to boot.

Jacob and Wilhlem Grimm – We owe these literary siblings, better known as The Grimm Brothers, many thanks for their beloved Grimm’s Fairy Tales, published in 1812. The work was initially criticized as not being suitable for children, with classics such as “Snow White” and “Hansel and Gretel” changed so that the wicked mother became a wicked stepmother in later volumes. The stories have undergone many changes and iterations throughout the years, but remain stalwarts of children’s literature.

David and Amy Sedaris – This well-known and funny pair co-authored many plays under the name “The Talent Family.” Separately, these siblings are equally prolific. David Sedaris’s essay collections have sold millions of copies worldwide, and are known for featuring autobiographical material. David was a regular contributor to This American Life, where much of his early success can be attributed. Amy’s writing includes a monthly advice column in The Believer, co-authorship with Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello, and a guide to entertaining titled Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. The cover of her book, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People! can be made into a hat.

Benjamin and Jen Percy – Jen Percy has won a number of awards for her writing, including first place in American Short Fiction’s Story Contest, a Pushcart Prize, and NEA fellowship. She is currently a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and received an Iowa arts fellowship from the nonfiction writing program. She wrote the book Demon Camp, which was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick. Ben Percy’s most recent novel The Dead Lands is a post-apocalyptic re-imagining of the Lewis and Clark journey. He is also the author of Red Moon, The Wilding, and the story collection Refresh, Refresh. His honors include an NEA fellowship, the Whiting Writers’ Award, two Pushcart Prizes, the Plimpton Prize, and inclusion in Best American Short Stories and Best American Comics. And there’s more.  We interviewed Ben Percy, here.

Karen and Kent Russell – Karen Russell’s story collections St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in The Lemon Grove and her novel Swamplandia saw much popular and critical success. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Fellowship, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, was a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35, a New Yorker 20 under 40, and won the Young Lions Fiction Award. Her brother, Kent Russell, who is new to the literary scene, recently published a book of essays titled, I’m Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised A Timid Son. The collection debuted to excellent reviews: “A surprising, beautiful book, at once tough and tender, hilarious and dark, and above all, deeply original,” says NPR, and from Vanity Fair, “A ludicrously smart, tragicomic man-on-the-edge memoir in essays.” Quite a pair!

Lev and Austin Grossman – Lev Grossman is a familiar name around here. He judged the third volume of our anthology, which recently won an INDIEFAB silver medal for best short story collection and is available for purchase, here. Lev’s bestselling The Magician’s trilogy has been published in over twenty-five countries. Lev also wrote the novels Warp and Codex and is a book critic for Time Magazine. His twin brother, Austin Grossman, is a novelist and game designer. His books include Soon I Will Be Invincible, YOU, and Crooked, forthcoming in 2015. Soon I Will Be Invincible was nominated for the 2007 John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize. His writing has also appeared in Granta, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.

Did you know… Pauline Esther Friedman and Esther Pauline Friedman (also known as Dear Abby and Ann Landers) are famous identical twins and advice columnists. Both sisters are famous for the Dear Abby and Ask Ann Landers columns.

Which literary siblings do you know? Share with us in the comments!

Author Interview – “A Language Translatable by No One” by Courtney Kersten

We’re so pleased to share our third volume, The Masters Review with Stories Selected by Lev Grossman. This annual compendium of stories reflects the best emerging writers in graduate-level creative writing programs, and continually impresses with a diverse range of content and style. To offer you a little more information on these authors and their stories, we’ve put together a series of interviews with the writers in the book. In a “A Language Translatable by No One,” Courtney Kersten writes about losing her mother. It is a beautiful piece and continues to be a favorite among readers. Enjoy!
language translate
“I arrange the boots, the dress, and the swimsuit so that we can powwow together: a triage support group. She left all of us! She was supposed to wear me! The Easter dress wails Irish wake style, her boots whimper, the swimsuit has retired to the far corner of the closet to weep.”


“A Language Translatable by No One” is such a personal piece. Rather than ask you about the motivation for the story, I’m curious how the process for writing this was. How did you approach the topic?

Initially, I was fascinated by the material aspects of mourning—the things we give, the things we keep, the material things left behind that loved ones must face. Yet, as I was writing, I realized that it was about something deeper than the things themselves. Ultimately, I was trying to figure out how to reconcile this dichotomy of my mother’s silence and the abundance of material things my family had. When, in reality, I longed for an abundance of her thoughts, her words, her final goodbyes, and would’ve asked for nothing else. So, when approaching the topic, I used the material goods as a starting point to access deeper emotional truths about my experience.

To me, there is a subtle and wry humor in this essay. Even the opening line: “Obviously when you are mourning you need cheese curds.” Was this a natural choice? Did it surprise you, or does your writing style often incorporate humor?

For me, it was a natural choice. Not only did I find the gifts like the cheese curds to be sort of absurd and estranging in light of the severity of death, but I also did think it was funny. A woman is dying and you give us seven pounds of cheese curds? When it happened, of course, and we were given gifts, they were given in kindness and we accepted them so. And I’m sure that none of our friends and family gave us gifts to be funny—they were earnestly trying to help and show support. But, on the page, I think the humor is highlighted when you isolate the object apart from the person who gifted it.

One of my favorite parts in “A Language Translatable by No One” is when your mother’s inanimate object come to life. “She left all of us! She was supposed to wear me! The Easter dress wails Irish wake style, her boots whimper, the swimsuit has retired to the far corner of the closet to weep.” It offers such a lovely balance of, again humor, but it was also one of the saddest moments for me as a reader. When did this make its way into the essay. How does it elevate the piece for you?

For me, that particular part arose when I started to think about the “ripple-effect” of losing someone. In the months directly after my mother’s death (and still now), I was and am continually aware of the scale of grief and how far the loss of someone extends. Not only do you lose that person, but you lose their role and their effect in communities small and large. When tasked with the job of sorting through my mother’s belongings, her absence, for me, felt so absurd and overwhelming, that I felt it even extended to the objects and clothing she left behind. In a way, I connected to the abandoned clothing as though, somehow, we were all in this together—trying to figure out where we belonged after the woman who had taken care of us was gone. (more…)

Author Interview: Blake Kimzey – Families Among Us

Kimzey_cover-250x386Blake Kimzey’s chapbook Families Among Us (Black Lawrence Press, 2014), is a collection of stories about transformation. Six stories nod to the magic of the natural world though surreal changes in its characters. “The boy grew like a regular boy… though each successive year his back curved more noticeably and his wings became stronger and his appetite larger.” Kimzey’s changelings sprout wings, slither on ringed bellies, grow snouts, claws, and fur; they carry full galaxies in their cheeks. His stories have been called, “beautifully written universes” and they are exactly that. We spoke with the author about his collection, below.

Author Interview: Blake Kimzey

My first introduction to Families Among Us was “The Boy and The Bear,” which we published in May. It’s a story (on the most basic level) about a boy who turns into a bear. At the time I didn’t know about the other stories, but “The Boy and The Bear” is part of an incredibly cohesive collection. I’m curious: when did you write this piece? Which story in the collection was first? And when did you begin to recognize these stories were part of a larger whole?

Thank you for such kind words about the collection, Kim. And thank you for publishing “The Boy and The Bear” as part of Short Story Month earlier this year. The stories in Families Among Us are close to me, the kind of stories I write when I want a break from the longer, realist fiction I normally write (splitting my time between dark comedy and fiction about the Iraq War). With each of the stories in my chapbook I started with an image, which is not the way I usually begin (with a character or a premise). For “The Boy and The Bear” that image was simply a boy nose-to-nose with a bear. When I zoomed out they were lost somewhere in a winter-crisp forest. And then I simply wanted to know how the boy and the bear ended up like that, and I wanted to know what their relationship was. As with all writing, it became an investigation. Image led to premise and then I felt comfortable. I tried to rewind the story from that moment and I found the boy in a village and then locked in a cellar. As it turns out, this was the fifth piece I wrote in the collection, giving me a handful of stories that felt connected. All of them are set in what looks and feels like the real world, but the characters give it a magical quality. I wrote “Up and Away” first after re-reading Metamorphosis when I was waiting to hear back from grad programs spring 2011. A bit of anxiety made my writing feel stale and I needed to change things up, and so I wrote fully into a new kind of imagination for me, and it has been the best thing for my writing practice, to have this outlet. All told it took me two and a half years to write these six very short stories. They take longer for me to imagine and write than the fiction I tend to write, and are influenced by Kafka, Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Aimee Bender, Roald Dahl, and Angela Carter. I don’t know what is going to happen anytime I sit down to write, a feeling that is doubled when I can’t shake an image that begs investigation. Writing a short tale reminds me you can do anything in fiction, magical realism or otherwise. I wrote “And Finally the Tragedy” last and when it was complete I knew I had a short collection I could send out to chapbook competitions.

Lets talk about some of the elements that tie these stories together. First, none of your characters have names. Instead they are the mother, the boy, the man, the girl, etc. Where did that choice come from? To me it contributes a fable-like quality to these stories, and allows characters to be any person for any reader. At the same time it develops a purposeful distance. How did you intend for the not-named characters to be received?

I wanted to keep a healthy distance from the characters in each of these stories so that the audience would actually feel closer to them. That makes no sense, but I wanted to give the reader enough room to make part of the story their own, to cede some of the imaginative work to the audience. When I encounter a character with no name I feel that gives me license as a reader to make a few of my own determinations about who/what they are within the context of everything else the author gives me. And for me the best way to do that as an author was to keep the cast nameless. It also felt like a directive for the audience to read the stories as tales, and maybe even to shoulder more of the emotional freight as they read along. This was a story-by-story decision that gathered into a meaningful choice for the collection as a whole. I wanted the characters to feel particular on the physical level and within individual family units, but I also wanted them to feel unconstrained by the specificity that naming brings. One of the things I love most about writing a great character is choosing the perfect name. A name can take a character all the way to the end, but in these stories it felt like the absence of that particularity was an essential component to sparking the emotional charge in each story. For me, the absence of a name also contributed to the sense of timelessness I wanted to convey in each story. (more…)

October Recap – Fiction, Essays, Interviews

In case you missed any of the amazing fiction, essays, or interviews we published last month, here is a list of all the goods. Enjoy!2008-08-06-a-devils-distinction


“What Happened to Eloise” by MANUEL GONZALES “At first we assumed she was the only one, the young woman with a thick smear of blood on her lips.”

“Other Dangers” by BEN HOFFMAN “The Japanese people were dust now and soon we would be dust too, if we did not line up promptly, if the Soviets had their way, if our cursive wavered, if we did not keep our voices down.”

“The Punk’s Bride” by KATE BERNHEIMER “So she went and they listened to records. They got really drunk on tequila, the kind that comes in a glass skull. The next day she made him breakfast. Then lunch. Then supper. After a few years like this he said they should get married.”

Contest Winner: “In Ribbons” by PAUL MCQUADE “He has asked grandma how Miss Pak came to be blind, but each time, grandma shook her head and said, ‘There are some things little boys shouldn’t know.’ ”


“Vocabulary of Fear” by LINCOLN MICHEL “On the surface, horror and terror seem like synonyms, but Radcliffe argues that “Terror and horror are so far opposite…” Do you know the difference between horror and terror?

“Familiar Terrors: What Scares us About The Domestic Surreal” by SADYE TEISER “These stories call into question what it is we know about the very basis of our lives. They change the constant; they make the familiar grotesque. The scariest tales tell us that nothing can be known for sure. What is more frightening than that?”

“Fear Works — Scary Stories in Children’s Literature” by KIM WINTERNHEIMER “Suddenly, the thrill of a scary story becomes more than a fun way to spend a dark evening — it becomes key to development.”


Lemony Snicket – AN UNFORTUNATE INTERVIEW: “Because it’s so absurd that it’s happening to children that the line between it being terrifying and funny is more easily straddled.”

Ellen Datlow – AWARD WINNING HORROR AND SCIENCE FICTION EDITOR: “One thing I’ve learned is that the borders are fluid. Many of the most interesting stories combine science fiction and horror, or drift uneasily between dark fantasy and horror. There is science fiction that feels like fantasy and fantasy that feels like science fiction.”

Julia Elliott – AUTHOR OF THE WILDS: To me, every text—whether religious, artistic, or scientific—is a reinvention of reality.

Author Interview – “OpFor” by Shane R. Collins

We’re so pleased to announce the availability of our third volume, The Masters Review with Stories Selected by Lev Grossman. This annual compendium of stories reflects the best emerging writers in graduate-level creative writing programs, and continually impresses with a diverse range of content and style. To offer you a little more information on these authors and their stories, we’ve put together a series of interviews with the writers in the book. In Shane R. Collins’s “OpFor (Oppositional Force),” cadet Warren Buehler begins accumulating objects as the departure date for his commission draws nearer. It is a fantastic story and as Lev Grossman writes in his introduction the story opens with “a sentence that goes from tweeter to woofer in thirty words.” Enjoy!


“The first thing Buehler had bought was a calendar from Sports Illustrated. Girls in string bikinis. It helped him keep track of how many days were left until he commissioned. He crossed out a square each night. One hundred thirty days.”


I think the question that first comes to mind is, where did the idea for this story come from? Readers will want to know, have you ever served in the armed forces?

I’ve never served in the armed forces although I did train in Army ROTC for three semesters when I was in college. It was a strange and transformative experience. I signed up thinking it would be fun, interesting, and an easy credit. By the second semester, I began volunteering for extra training. I seriously considered joining for good—contracting so that when I graduated, I’d be an Army officer. By the third semester, however, I took a creative writing workshop and I knew the Army wasn’t what I really wanted. Sometime during my second semester in ROTC, we found out that contracted cadets were eligible for a $25,000 Career Starter Loan through USAA. When we were bored during training (which was most of the time) we’d daydream about how we’d spend that money.

This story examines an obsession with things. In the case of Cadet Warren Buehler, it is driven by an emotional need to exert control over his life. How was the use of objects (and in this case excessive spending) an effective tool for examining this?

I think a lot of twenty-something college students are practical and fiscally responsible individuals. Myself and the cadets I knew in the program were definitely not among them. Paychecks were generally spent on beer, takeout food, video games, and tobacco. If a cadet was particularly serious about ROTC, they might allocate a small amount of their money to buying some of their own equipment. There were exceptions, of course. I remember a couple of nursing student cadets who were much more responsible. When I began to write about Cadet Buehler, I recalled this erratic spending of ours but amplified it. Buehler gets the branch that he wanted, until he learns it’s not what he wanted at all. His purchases, which become increasingly frantic as his commissioning date approaches, are how he tries to make the most of the time that he has left as a civilian. The manic spending is like a defense mechanism, though not a very healthy one.

What is your writing process like? For example, how long did it take you to write and revise “Op For”? Is this typical for your process?

More and more, I’m becoming a devout believer in the outline. I used to brainstorm, lock on to an idea I was excited about, and begin writing. Now I try to have the self-control to write an outline first. I find that the more detailed I flesh out my outline, the less revising I need to do when the first draft is done. Outlines help me isolate things like flat characters, plot holes, and other flaws while it’s still easy to fix.

I used to be a plot-first kind of guy but my MFA program has really helped teach me the importance of characters. My story ideas usually still begin with a concept of “something happens” but then I focus on the character this is happening to. I ask myself three questions. What does the character want? How do they try to get it? What do they do when they do/don’t get it?

Compared to the other stories in my ROTC-Land collection, “OpFor” is a bit of an oddity. I had all of the stories outlined before I began writing it. However, about three quarters of the way through, I realized I had very few written about fourth semester cadets. I sketched out a quick outline and wrote the first draft in two days. (more…)

Fear Works – Scary Stories in Children’s Literature

This October we examined the difference between terror and horror and what is so scary about when the familiar turns frightening. Kate Bernheimer’s “The Punk’s Bride,” Manuel Gonzales’s “What Happened to Eloise,” and Ben Hoffman’s “Other Dangers” is a crop of fiction that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It is all in honor of our favorite month, and with one day left before Halloween, we’re not stopping yet.

fear works

The foundation of scary stories has its roots in children’s literature. Some of the first stories we hear as kids are fairy tales and nursery rhymes, narratives that are traditionally dark. Fear is largely embraced in children’s literature, and for good reason. Because it works. There is a lot to be gained from the scary stories we cherished as kids.

“Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses.” —  Neil Gaiman

What Gaiman refers to is the idea that reading a scary story becomes safe via the boundaries of a book. He goes on to say: “You ride the ghost train into the darkness, knowing that eventually the doors will open and you will step out into the daylight once again.” This idea is echoed again and again regarding dark content for children. The fact that it takes place in a story allows kids to exert control over the situation. They can shut the book and turn away. Similarly, children can more easily understand that an event or character is not real or even possible. It allows them to approach horror as an adventure, as opposed to something paralyzing. Sheldon Cashdan, PhD, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst says: “Every time the witch dies, it magically restores children’s faith in their ability to conquer their own troublesome emotions.”

Suddenly, the thrill of a scary story becomes more than a fun way to spend a dark evening — it becomes key to development.

“Scary stories play an important role in children’s emotional education, allowing them to identify and control their darker feelings — a good coping mechanism. It’s a chance for them to experience a really potent fantasy and almost live it, without any of the consequences.” — Lindsay Knight, Head of Children’s Books for Random House Australia

Through the journey of a book children can examine terrible circumstances and emerge with a new set of tools, a new way to handle fear. The presence of goblins, ghouls, and ghosts in literature allows for scary stories to act as a vessel into a fantastic land, one where the world has turned a shade darker. In these literary worlds, if kids can’t cope with fear, the consequences are terrible.

The value in facing ones fears through reading about them becomes clear: it is an experience that (one hopes, at least) can’t be gained in the real world. Speaking on the necessity of evil in literature, Neil Gaiman says:“There’s no point in triumphing over evil if the evil isn’t scary.” And perhaps what is most interesting about the bulk of scary stories for children is that this triumph must occur in the absence of “safe” adults—without mothers and fathers. Many villains in children’s literature (the witch in Hansel and Gretel, the “Other Mother” in Coraline, Voldemort in Harry Potter, Miss Trunchbull in Matlida, along with countless others ) are adults. However, in the most effective stories in which kids conquer wickedness, children act alone or with the help of their peers. (more…)

An Unfortunate Interview – A Discussion With Lemony Snicket

If you are interested in interviews where people say smart things and cover interesting topics, then you’ve come to the wrong place. You don’t want to read this interview — you don’t. It might be the most terrible interview you’ve ever read.

lemony creative

 An enormous thanks to Daniel Handler, AKA Lemony Snicket, for speaking with us this month for our October Scarefest. Daniel Handler is author of the novels The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth, Adverbs, and, with Maira Kalman, Why We Broke Up. His novel, We Are Pirates publishes in the spring of 2015. As Lemony Snicket, he has written the best-selling series All The Wrong Questions as well as A Series of Unfortunate Events, which has sold more than 60 million copies, and was the basis of a feature film starring Jim Carrey. Most recently he was the titular editor for Best American Non-Required Reading 2014 and will host the National Book Awards this November. You can learn more about Daniel Handler and Lemony Snicket, here.

As a publication that focuses on new and emerging writers, our readership is always interested in hearing how the writers that they admire got their start. Can you talk about your beginning? Specifically The Basic Eight and the start of The Lemony Snicket books?

I had just graduated from college and stayed on campus for almost a year working in the basement of the restored mansion at Wesleyan University where they gave poetry readings and things like that. So in exchange for keeping an eye on the place, and laying out catered food and coffee and cleaning up, I had free rent. I worked on a novel that I ended up throwing away, then I moved to San Francisco, which was my hometown, and I began a series of office jobs that paid the most amount of money for the least amount of time so I could work on The Basic Eight. I didn’t know anything about anything in terms of publishing.

The_Bad_BeginningDid you have to query an agent? Was that an entirely new process for you?

It was entirely new and not only was it new to me it was new to anyone I knew — I didn’t know anyone who was doing it. I would read these kinds of magazines that are helping you to be a writer and that always felt to me kind of like scams. I couldn’t put my finger on it. They’re focused mostly on genre writing and the kind of a quasi-professional writing as opposed to artistic writing. I wish there were a nicer way to put it because I have nothing against any of it, I just didn’t think that’s what I was doing.


<< To read the full interview click here >>

Part One: Daniel Handler On His Start as a Writer:

“I was working on a mock-gothic novel I was calling A Series of Unfortunate Events. And it wasn’t for children and it wasn’t about children. It wasn’t working at all. That was kind of a terrible time because I had this novel that wasn’t selling and I had maybe 100 pages of a novel that wasn’t working. Even I knew it wasn’t working. As opposed to The Basic Eight, which I thought worked fine but which no publisher had bid on yet. So that was really terrible to think that I was getting worse as a writer. You know, less sellable.”

Read this section of the interview here.

Part Two: Daniel Handler On Writing For Kids:

“I was trying to do kind of gothic oversized things that were happening to adults over and over and over again and it just became this sick joke.”

“It’s just that the world is complicated and you can’t make a really clear rule about it. That the Baudelaires end up choosing to light a hotel on fire in order to serve as a signal is a terrible choice. And every kid kind of knows that. They know that the rule isn’t hard fast, and yet we pretend that it is, which is weird.”

Read this section of the interview here.

Part Three: Daniel Handler On His Next Novel:

We Are Pirates is about some teenage girls and some old people in a retirement home who would both like to get away from the surveillance of their very narrowed and surveilled worlds; they’d like to escape and they’d like to escape somewhere off the map and do something forbidden. And they do and it’s terrible. The moral is: there is no place outside the world. We’re all in it. So you can escape from your own circumstances, but then you’re invading someone else’s.”

Read this section of the interview here.

Interview: Award-Winning Editor, Ellen Datlow

An enormous thanks to Ellen Datlow for agreeing to discuss horror with us this month. Ellen has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and currently acquires and edits stories for She has edited more than sixty anthologies, including the annual The Best Horror of the Year, Lovecraft’s Monsters, Fearful Symmetries, Nightmare Carnival, and The Cutting Room. Forthcoming are The Doll Collection and The Monstrous.

She’s won multiple awards for her editing. She was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre”; has been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career, and the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award for 2014, which is presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field.

ellen datlow

This month The Masters Review is focusing all of our content on horror and scary stories, of which I consider you the authority. Can you talk about your specific preferences in the horror genre? How they’ve changed, grown, or even simplified? What must a story evoke to be considered horror?

I’m afraid I’ve got to disappoint you—I have no specific preferences in horror. I love stories that stick with me because there’s more going on in them than just a one-note “scare.”  For me, great horror fiction has the same elements as any great fiction: A unique voice, characters that keep me interested, and a believable plot that forces me to continue reading. With the addition of an underlying sense of dread.

You’ve edited more than sixty anthologies, have over thirty years of experience editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and have numerous awards to your name. What have you learned about the genre in this time?

One thing I’ve learned is that the borders are fluid. Many of the most interesting stories combine science fiction and horror, or drift uneasily between dark fantasy and horror. There is science fiction that feels like fantasy and fantasy that feels like science fiction.

And some of the best writers dance around the genres gracefully by creating disturbing horror, compelling fantasy, or realist science fiction depending on where their muse leads them.

I often think horror is misinterpreted. What would you say to someone who doesn’t like it? Who would you encourage them to read? What does horror offer readers that is unique (beyond the obvious thrills and chills)?

I’d advise them to ignore most of the movies that refer to themselves as “horror”—they’re not. Most of what’s out there debases the entire genre with its graphic violence against women and its slasher mentality. That type of sensation horror is the lowest form of the genre.

To me horror often overlaps with the weird, in that it’s creepy and gives you a chill. (Although as I mention below, some weird work isn’t dark enough for me to consider it horror.) A movie might keep you on the edge of your seat (which doesn’t mean there should be no violence—John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the most effective pieces of horror film making I know).

Effective horror explores the truths that humans are loathe to face: death most prominently—the fact that we’re all going to die. The loss of loved ones, losing one’s control, fear of the unknown, pain. These things scare us whether couched in the supernatural or psychological. (more…)

Author Interview: Julia Elliott, The Wilds

We sat down with Julia Elliott whose short story collection The Wilds debuts with Tin House later this month. Elliott’s fiction has appeared in Tin HouseThe Georgia Review, Conjunctions, Fence, Puerto del Sol, Mississippi Review, Best American Fantasy, and other publications. She has won a Pushcart Prize and a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. Her novel The New and Improved Romie Futch will be published by Tin House Books in 2015.  Learn more about Julia and The Wilds here:

wildsThe Wilds comes out later this month. What was the first story you published that appears in this collection and can you tell us about its path to publication?

“Jaws” was originally published in the “Politics” issue of the Mississippi Review in 2004. I, like most progressive types during this era, was all fired up with anti-Bush outrage, and this story was my response. The original narrative contained some pretty stilted political discourse between father and daughter, most of which I cut when radically revising this semi-autobiographical narrative for inclusion in The Wilds. I even changed the point of view to second person and focused more emphatically on the daughter’s emotional struggle with her mother’s onset of dementia.

The texture of your writing and the use of your language has been called gothic, macabre, or even grotesque. (To me this is a wonderful compliment!) What do those labels mean to you? Do you agree with them in the context of your writing?

Okay: I will admit that I have a ghoulish fascination with phenomena like brain parasites, feral-dog packs, and lunatic levitating grandmothers who rave about apocalyptic cannibalistic dragons, but the linguistic excess toward which I’m inclined might be more fairly described as “purple” or “hyperbolic,” a sensibility that definitely includes the “grotesque” and the “macabre,” but that also celebrates “comic” and “sublime” elements. I am comfortable with the term “gothic” as an evocation of both medieval/renaissance and southern nuances. One of my grad-school phases, for example, involved binge-reading antiquated medical texts, like “leechbooks” that juxtaposed cough-syrup recipes with potions that would keep the devil from visiting one’s bed at night. While I have (hopefully) shed the cheesy archaisms and Tolkienesque dorkiness that used to taint my prose, tempering these inclinations with dystopian and satirical elements, my delight in verbal excess, uncanny fairy-tale moments, and gritty sensory detail can be traced back to the ridiculous quantity of medieval and early modern texts I consumed in grad school. Although I admire writers classified as “southern gothic,” particularly Carson McCullers, I think that growing up in a humid, mosquito-infested swampland infects the brain with obscure yet-to-be-discovered parasites that can, when combined with decades of ancestral looniness, create a sensitivity to a particular species of fecund strangeness that can be described as “southern gothic.”

The Wilds is such a cohesive group of stories. Do you utilize language with the same texture that we see in this collection in all of your writing? In your forthcoming novel for example, can we expect similar things?

My forthcoming novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, does evoke the “fecund strangeness” of the South with linguistic gusto, but in a much more self-conscious way. The novel describes the plight of a divorced taxidermist who participates in an “intelligence enhancement” study at the Center for Cybernetic Neuroscience in Atlanta Georgia. After neuroscientists download a range of hifalutin humanities data into Romie’s head, he returns to his hometown to confront his failed marriage (among other things). For the first chapter of the novel, I had to struggle to keep Romie’s diction under control, and then, as various texts and data sets are downloaded into his brain, his language becomes fuller, incorporating flashier rhetorical tropes, “SAT words,” and terminology from contemporary literary theory. In some ways, this novel explores my own journey as a skeptical Southern person encountering the joys and absurdities of academia.

Your stories reflect an interest in the natural world—many of the characters are scientists, for example—but also contain elements of the absurd and surreal. In your opinion, how close does science land to the surreal? Why is it so effective to use science as a vessel for examining the absurd?

What a great question! As an amateur primatologist who is attempting to write a novel about a “real” primatologist observing baboons at a strange research institution in the desert, teasing out the interplay between science and the surreal is one of my key obsessions. Moreover, if you look at just about any out-of-date scientific theory, “knowledge-set,” or data array, you will find plenty of absurd elements. Again, my grad-school binge-reading of scientific texts included renaissance gynecological and obstetric manuals that blended “clinical” descriptions with superstitious absurdities and wild imaginings in the most breathtaking ways. For a while, misogynist theories of monstrous births were my specialty, and pre-fallopian ideas about clammy, insert, spiritually-vapid “female seed” are not much more outlandish than the Freudian “vaginal orgasm” or evolutionary psychology’s semi-current beliefs about “hard-wired” gender traits. All discourses boil down to a historically-bound, limited human being (or group of human beings) attempting to make sense of an incredibly strange and complex universe that they experience through five senses. Not only are all observations subjective, but even the most “technical” language is laden with poetry, emotion, and the whole sad history of human aspiration. To me, every text—whether religious, artistic, or scientific—is a reinvention of reality. (more…)

Graphic Memoir – “Tomboy” by Liz Prince

This year Banned Book Week focuses on comics and graphic novels, which coincides nicely with the conclusion of our reading of Tomboy by Liz Prince. This graphic memoir reflects on Prince’s childhood as an oft misunderstood tomboy and is a tale of growing up under the confusing lens of gender stereotypes.


Tomboy is a charming YA graphic memoir that deals with issues related to bullying and conformity, especially in relation to children who don’t conform to traditional gender roles. Liz Prince writes about her life as a girl who doesn’t identify with anything “girly”. Stuck somewhere in “the middle,” Tomboy follows Prince through her formative years on the path toward self-discovery and acceptance. Even at the age of four, the thought of wearing dresses made Prince cry. Her parents embraced Prince’s choice to wear the clothing she wanted, like her baseball hat and favorite hand-me-down blazer, though her preferences weren’t as universally accepted by the outside world. For example, when Prince joins the Little League she is relegated to the outfield.

These examples offer a glimpse into a young person’s struggle to find an identity that aligns with who they truly are. Early in the text Prince offers the dictionary’s definition of a tomboy as: “ a girl with boyish behavior,” though she is quick to identify how subjective this is. She says: “Some people think that any girl who is athletic is a Tomboy. What about girls with short haircuts? Or any girl who prefers to wear jeans. Or girls who work in construction? Obviously this subject matter makes a lot of assumptions about gender…”

These assumptions are at the forefront of Prince’s graphic novel, which illustrates the issues behind gender stereotypes and identity conflicts through compassionate storytelling and clean, black and white graphics.

tomboy_web4Prince recounts her young adulthood with humor, although some of Tomboy drifts into darker territory. As a girl who didn’t fit into the sugar-and-spice mold, she was called a lesbian before she knew what the term meant (and even though it wasn’t accurate). As her gender and sexuality are being called into question, Prince showcases how difficult the issue of identity is when paired with sexuality. Though it isn’t overt, it is a nice platform for the discussion of gender and gender equality, and how any gap in our public and private identities, especially when difficult to digest visually or behaviorally, can create intense pressure. Prince’s memoir shows how she internalized the message that she wouldn’t be accepted as-is, and fought against this conflict to stay true to herself. Her journey is depicted with honesty and compassion, though at times this honesty means reflecting on her youth with anger and defiance. Growing up isn’t easy, and Liz Prince shows us in Tomboy that her experience has created a lens with which to view behavior and gender in a genuine way.

Publisher: Zest Books

Pub date: September 2014

Content contributed by Kelly Garrett

Friends in Fiction: The Short Anthology

bookThe Short Anthology  is proud to announce its first issue available online, and listen friends, this is a cool project. Each issue of The Short Anthology uses work from a photographer as inspiration for fiction.

This first issue involved writers from around the world interpreting of a set of eight photographs. The photos were taken by Joe Coleman and featured images of the sea from Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand. The stories range from science fiction set in Uganda, to a story about immigration and loneliness in Dover, UK.

It’s a great concept, and cool use of art providing inspiration for writing. For more information you can contact the editors at: editors (at) theshortanthology (dot) com. And for a better taste of their style, check out a photo from the interior, below.



An Emotional Response: The Universal Story Structure

freytagThis month The Masters Review focused on the short story in a way I’m very proud of. Our thesis was this: The Masters Review celebrates writing that works, not what is supposed to work, or taught to work, or what is strictly labeled as a story that “works.” This month we discuss stories that surprise us, from flash fiction, to literary science fiction, to magical realism, and back to the basic Freytag — we applaud the short story, and all the different things it has come to mean.

Ashley Farmer mentioned stories that live in her mind as both poems and narratives. Kevin Brockmeier expressed his hope that we might live in a literary world where labels like fantasy, science fiction, and genre fall away, and Aimee Bender spoke about the fantastic, how the unreal guides us toward a truer examination of our lives. Each of these interviews and discussions echoed a sentiment that inspires breaking from tradition. This week, we take a look at short story basics, more specifically dramatic structure, to acknowledge that while pushing boundaries moves writing forward, basic narrative elements tell powerful stories.

Freytag’s examination of short stories provides a clear geometry for dramatic structure. Most writers know the progression: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. This formula offers an effective strategy for a “good” story, and is present in many of our favorites. Most traditional stories follow this path in some way, eliciting an emotional response from the reader through the story’s progression. It is an important structure to recognize because it helps break down the elements of the story that move us. This structure breakdown shows us how the story works.

Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, has conducted research on story structure and found that stories following Freytag’s pyramid increase the empathetic response, and thus, the reader’s connection to the story. His findings are summarized well in this video: (see below) and speak to the power of storytelling. However, his research only compares stories with a dramatic arc to those that have none. His findings show Freytag’s story arc has the power to change brain chemistry by appealing to our emotions. However, it is my opinion that all effective stories achieve this regardless of structure. As Ashley Farmer said in her interview, “You only have someone’s attention for a few seconds, but if you hold that attention and care for it, you can connect so deeply with a reader in that moment.” A great piece of flash conveys emotion in a space where following traditional structure would be impossible, yet it carries the same power. In this way readers respond emotionally outside of traditional constructions.