Though direct in style and unforgiving in content, Hardy Jones’s Every Bitter Thing is a bit too one-note to be memorable. The narrator rarely infuses the story with emotion or passion, the characters are static, and for a novel that runs on paternal abuse and homosexual rape, it never really manages to dive below the surface to explore the resonance of such incidents. Still, Hardy Jones has the talent to see a reader through to the end. Every Bitter Thing is a quick, if unchallenging, read, and you certainly won’t feel cheated if you give it a free afternoon. It’s a novel that hints at better things from its author.
It’s the early 1980s, and Wesley Royal is a rather meek and tubby twelve-year-old in a house dominated by his beer-swilling, unrelentingly critical and bellicose father. When Wesley, Sr. sees his son toppled by some neighborhood kids, he decides it’s time for young Wesley to learn how to fight. From the next day on, the elder Wesley says, he’s going to hit his son every time they cross paths, and young Wesley must always be on his toes. It’s a trick, of course; seconds later, Wesley, Sr. backhands his son in the face.... more »
Pedro Ponce’s is the kind of writing that begs a second reading. The first time through Alien Autopsy (Cow Heavy Books, 2010), you might not know quite what to make of all of this: a teacher urging her students to applaud a shitting cow; a man bumping into another, seemingly better version of himself while cruising the aisles of a porn shop; an office worker plagued by a Christmastime Secret Satan (yes, Satan). There are eighteen stories in Alien Autopsy, none of them longer than a couple of pages, and the effect is dizzying. The stories go by so fast that they’re difficult to distinguish from each other, and after finishing the first time I was only able to remember one title—Alien Autopsy itself.
But the brevity of these stories is also their saving grace. It takes little time to read through the entire collection, and so it takes little time to read through it again. I urge a follow-up reading; although the collection is greater than the sum of its parts, a few of those parts really jump out the second time through.
“Creature Feature” for example, in which a boy’s weekly Saturday TV monster movie is always interrupted by a visiting aunt—until one... more »
Jim was kind enough to answer some questions about taking a look back at “The Damned Eleven.”
How do you feel about “The Damned Eleven” in reading it nearly five years after publication?
In rereading it, I was surprised at much of it and could hardly believe I really wrote it. Some parts of it I thought were brilliant–others seemed like they could use some polishing. But I was surprised at how well it read, and felt some pride in having written such a thing.
Would you change anything about the story?
I would sew up the end a little tighter, give some more thought to where the overall flow would end up taking the reader.
How has publication in Fringe aided your writing career?
Two ways — first, knowing that the readership is wide, and knowing that so many people have read my story, well that can only be good. Secondly, the validation you get when your work is accepted for publication gives you more faith in what you are doing and belief that you... more »
Four of Lesley Wheeler’s poems, including “The Book of Neurotransmitters,” appear in Fringe issue 24. Poetry editor Anna Lena Phillips interviewed Wheeler by email in November.
Your second full-length poetry collection, Heterotopia, won the Barrow Street Prize for 2010. It includes the sonnet sequence “The Calderstones,” which was part of your first chapbook as well. Did it act as a generative force for other poems in the book?
Writing that sonnet sequence was an interesting experience. I had just returned from three weeks in England, part of it spent on research for the collection. With my kids in summer camp, I had a window of a couple of weeks for intense writing. I wanted to try writing a crown and had recently read some collaborative sequences by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton that handled the repeated lines with a liberating looseness. As I went through my notes, I realized that the Calderstones would be a perfect central image for a circular form, so I mapped out a progression of topics and just started drafting like a demon—two or three sonnets a day. I generally revise heavily and repeatedly, but not this batch; these poems came together shockingly fast. I did revise them again... more »
Fringe: Tell us a bit about the story’s inception.
In a dark mood, I asked myself an unanswerable question: why do we long so much to destroy ourselves? To puzzle out that little koan, I wrote a few characters, and had them tell me why they wanted to do it. Why do you want to kill yourself? What do you gain from losing everything? Once they had explained it, I realized they were all talking basically about the same thing, and that they were conflicted over it. All that was left was to beat a sort of adequate narrative out of them, to help them tell other people about this thing that was so important to them and difficult for them. The beatings took a few years, but were apparently successful!
Fringe: There’s a strong mythological undertone here. How did that come about? How does it serve the story?
It came mostly from the characters: they all long to be important, to have meaningful lives. I guess that’s a pretty basic desire, but it’s the same desire of any self-destroyer. Achilles in The Iliad goes willingly to his death for the sake... more »
When I was about 17 or 18, I went to a house party somewhere in my neighbourhood. It would have been the same as every other house party I had been to before (familiar faces getting more drunk than was actually necessary to have a good time) except that this particular party still lingers with me for two quite different events that happened. The first was waking up the next morning in an unfamiliar garden, with a snail crawling across my face – a very good example of drinking more than was actually necessary. The second was hearing Linton Kwesi Johnson for the first time.
I vividly remember standing in the garden when a voice, so deep and full of power that I thought God was talking to me, came blaring out of the sound system’s speakers…
“…madness…madness…madness tight on the heads of the rebels…”
…then the drums and bass kicked in and I knew was hooked.
But first, let’s put things into a little perspective here. In eighties South Africa, we did not have the Internet, MTV or any other half decent source of information. So in order to find out more about something new, especially something that wasn’t mainstream or had been... more »
Fringe editor Heather Falconer answers a couple questions about Oulipo and the Vintage Fringe reprint of her essay, Ou-Li-what? What American writers might learn from the French.
What got you interested in OuLiPo?
I’ve always been interested with artists that experiment with form, and experimenting myself. The exercise of trying new things, breaking rules, and being creative outside of traditional confines can lead to surprising new ways of seeing the world. Oulipien writers take this to an entirely new level, often creating work that the mainstream might not get or want to spend brain energy in trying to figure out. The fact that a large group of people are willing to devote their time and energy to creating work that others may not ever praise or appreciate is really interesting. It brings into question the purpose of creating art — a particularly engaging question in an economically-obsessed culture.
Why is OuLiPo important as an experimental form?
We see so much formulaic writing out there in the popular literature and what amuses me about OuLiPo is how it takes ‘formula’ to another level. Instead of following a formulaic story structure, many OuLiPo writers apply mathematical formulas to their work. In the early days, trigonometric functions;... more »
Bill thinks literary blogs are filling an important void left by the cutbacks in traditional media, and claims... more »
Our friends at Chamber Four have come a long way since launching in January of 2009. In the past two years they’ve published hundreds of book reviews and weekly columns and special features, and their readership continues to grow. And what started as a site focusing on the merits and drawbacks of e-publishing has now put its money where its mouth is and released its very own fiction anthology.
The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology contains 25 of the best stories published on the Internet since 2009, chosen by the C4 Eds. It includes pieces from such journals and sites as PANK, AGNI, Boston Review, and Granta, and features writers like B.J. Hollars, Ron MacLean, Angie Lee, and the ubiquitous Steve Almond.
To provide additional insight into the stories, the C4 Eds are running an interview series with several of the writers from the Anthology. And here, co-founder Nico Vreeland discusses what the C4 staff learned during the publishing process.
Also, late last week the guys announced that they’re taking submissions for the first issue of their very own literary magazine.
Smells like some friendly competition is afoot. Or unfriendly, depending on how aggressive... more »
This past weekend I made my first annual visit to the fifteenth annual Texas Book Festival in Austin. I ran breathlessly from panel to panel through the Capitol Building. I sat ten feet away from the great Robert Stone, guffawed through a reading by Mr. James Hynes, admitted to myself that I’m totally smitten with Chimamanda Adichie. A few of my favorite writers, many interesting panels, free music, hundreds of books to browse through, hours wandering freely around the beautiful state Capitol. What’s not to love?
Well, I’m glad you asked. What’s not to love is a quote from the Texas Book Festival’s website (emphatic corporatese not my own):
The Texas Book Festival allows visitors to bring a maximum of two books that have not been purchased at the Festival. However, in order to have these books signed at least one book must be purchased from the Barnes & Noble book sales tent at the Festival. A receipt from the Barnes & Noble book sales tent must be presented at the book signing tent. Proceeds from book sales at the Festival allow us to keep the weekend event free to the public. Thank you for your support and understanding.
First of all, I’m amused at the presumption that I will toe the corporate... more »
I will never cease to marvel at the Internet. Not the whole ‘It’s just a bunch of wires, you dumb non-techie,’ part, if only because I refuse to believe that there isn’t some kind of Willie-Wonka-esque magic in the works there. More that there is an endless supply of crazes, sub-crazes, and exponentially-sub-crazes to appeal to anyone and everyone’s desires. My new favourite way to avoid the mountain of work which has already amassed even though I’m not a month into term blow off some steam is to watch me some typographic animation videos.
While I know that I am easily several millenia late to this party in Internet years, I just can’t contain my excitement. I love words and fonts, and seeing them in action makes me positively giddy. Close-up shots of a typewriter or a letter being written in some beautiful hand can save a film for me, and I am notorious for buying books simply because I like the font on the cover. It matters.
I’m intrigued by what we do to our bodies, what others do to our bodies, with and without permission, and what all that reveals about us. In particular, I’m fascinated by our urges to embellish the human body, to make art of it. Those of us who feel adrift, at the outside of things, also capture my imagination. This short work brings these personal obsessions together.
There’s more of me in here, too. I hate that others can be judgmental and hypocritical, hate that I can be judgmental and hypocritical. I’ve also worked for one too many sanctimonious perverts who misuse their power. Actually, one is too many. All that’s also in here.
However, I had none of this in mind when I set out to write this work. I had a girl in mind, a girl who covered her body in tattoos, who wanted to be free to make her art and to share it with the world. I love that even when I don’t know where I’m going in the work, I always arrive someplace where there’s someone waiting, whispering, gesturing. Where there are unexpected and yet inevitable... more »
Former Fringe contributor Molly Gaudry is the author of We Take Me Apart, published by Mud Luscious Press in 2010. Recently she and I chatted over email about anapest and enjambment and all that fun poetry stuff.
Q. We Take Me Apart was the first in MLP’s novel(la) series. Can you tell us a bit about its origins? My copy is a second edition; was there some reworking of it to fit J. A. Tyler’s concept for the series?
A. This is an interesting question. We might have to get JAT’s input. What I remember, though, about the manuscript’s origins is this: I had a car full of everything I owned and I drove it to Chicago for AWP. I guess that was February ‘09. After AWP, I drove to Philadelphia. It was on that long drive that I said to myself, aloud, over and over, “We take me apart. We take me apart.” And I kept thinking “Who is ‘we’?” And in Philadelphia, I accepted the key to the room I had rented and began to write this very long poem that was part found text (from Anatomy for the Artist), part prose, and ended up about ten pages, single spaced.
I was like, “What the... more »
The Short Review is more an online journal than blog. Each monthly issue reviews ten short story collections, and interviews the authors if possible. Collections may be new, older, or classic. Reviewers are short fiction writers themselves. The reviews are lengthy and rife with juicy excerpts and thoughtful impressions.
Interviews tend to draw from the same canned list of typical questions (Did you have a reader in mind when you write this collection, what are you reading now, how long did it take you to wrote these stories), but these simple questions often yield interesting, insightful responses from the authors, as the excerpt from an interview with Darlin’ Neal, author of Rattlesnakes & the Moon, from the October 2010 issue illustrates:
TSR: What does the word “story” mean to you?
DN: It means coming into a sense of the world. It means hearing my grandmother’s voice on the porch and... more »
It’s a brand new world out there every day, considering how quickly technology is advancing. One of the most universal of human dealings has been radically transformed by the electronic endeavors of man. Millions of people the world over have subscribed to one website or another, and by doing so, have forsaken traditional face-to-face interactions. Hedging your bets, one might say, is best before committing to an appointment which may prove successful. I speak of course, ladies and gents, of the pursuit of love.
I’ve always been a romantic at heart. I take great pride in not only my wooing skills, but my history as a partner attentive to his lady. My prodigious talents were often wasted on women that were either emotionally unattainable, or in a few cases, mentally unstable. Even after watching one of my finer choices in a girlfriend get arrested on my front lawn following her pitching an alarm clock at my head, I was undeterred.
One of the most prominent of weapons in my accoutrement was a ballpoint pen. There were few things I did better than craft a good love letter. The Internet was just becoming a tangible reality when I reached my teenage years in... more »
It was a rainy and gray night in New York last night, but The Bitter End, an old rock club on Bleecker Street, was packed by 7 o’clock. Some friends and I climbed to the very last seats in the place, a bench and two chairs crammed in the corner beside the stage. Our view was blocked by a large piano, but it wasn’t the view we had come for–it was the stories.
The Moth, an NYC-based nonprofit organization committed to the art of oral storytelling, holds its StorySLAMS every week in New York, with similar events in Chicago, LA, and Detroit. During these events audience members can sign up for what resembles a well-crafted open mic night–there are ten slots, during which you have five minutes to tell an engaging story to a packed room of strangers. Most nights, more than ten people sign up, so names are picked from a hat to determine who gets a chance to tell a story (this system also determines the order). Each story is judged on several categories–its narrative arc, how much the storyteller was able to engage the audience, and whether the story stayed within the length requirements. The judging is done by... more »
Some days, I can sit down in front of the laptop and stare at the blank screen until my retinas are aching. At other times, I will sit down and a whole article or story pours out. However, as an average, if I write 1,000 words of quality material in one sitting, I am happy. So if someone asked me to write a novel in six days, I would seriously consider their sanity. Seriously!
Yet that is exactly what one group of American authors is going to attempt.
From October 11-16, thirty-six Pacific Northwest authors are going to write a 60,000 word novel in a six-day writing marathon. And as if that isn’t going to be tough enough, they are going to do it live! Seattle7Writers and Richard Hugo House, as part of the Seattle Arts Crush festival, are organizing this groundbreaking event.
To keep followers up-to-date on the novel as it progresses, there will be large screens at Hugo House for the in-house audience. If you can‘t make it to Seattle for the event, the organizers have also set up live streaming and live chat online at www.thenovellive.org. And if the authors involved did not have enough to do, they will regularly... more »
Author Neil de la Flor sits down to talk with Fringe about his recently published piece, “Methuselah’s Voice Over,” and experimental writing in general. Neil’s first collection, Almost Dorothy, won the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry prize. He is also the co-author, with Maureen Seaton, of Sinead O’Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds (Firewheel Editions 2011), winner of the 2010 Sentence Book Award and he also co-authored, with Maureen Seaton and Kristine Snodgrass, Facial Geometry (NeoPepper Press). His literary work, both solo and collaborative, has appeared or in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hobart Pulp, Sentence, Pank, Prairie Schooner, Court Green and other fabulous journals. The work discussed here is in Fringe’s September (de)Classified section.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Neil. I guess my first question needs to be: Do you consider yourself an ‘experimental writer’, or more a writer who sometimes experiments?
I never think about it unless I’m asked. When I’m asked, I think the correct answer is yes, I’m an experimental writer. I’d love to jump on the “don’t label me” bandwagon but labels are cool. They give me one more thing to wear on my lapel. I wish I had a button that read, “Experimentalist, WTF?”. Now that I... more »
Sasha Fletcher is the author of when all our days are numbered marching bands will fill the streets & we will not hear them because we will be upstairs in the clouds, published in 2010 by Mud Luscious Press. Fletcher is the Assistant Editor at Gigantic and is currently in Columbia’s MFA program.
Recently he and I chatted over email.
Q. The cover of when all our days are numbered labels the book a “novel(la),” but it often reads more like linked poetry. It’s not a traditional narrative with traditional story progression, but there are recurring themes, and there is a definite build toward a conclusion. How would you classify this work? Are we reading abstract fiction, narrative poetry, or what? Or do you find classification irrelevant?
A. I view the book as one piece of writing rather than a series of linked parts. It flows from one page, one image or thought, to the next and then back in on itself. The book does tell a bit of a story, at least about a relationship and about dealing with the idea of getting carried away and the necessity in life for some sort of grounding.
In terms of classifying the book, the publisher is calling all of... more »
When writing is in your blood, it is hard to define a point at which you decide to become a writer. It is something that festers and grows in the back of your mind until it is so all consuming that you pick up a pen and release the pressure. For William Michaelian—novelist, short-story writer, artist, poet and self-proclaimed nut—thirteen was the point at which he “decided” to become a writer but as he states on his website, ‘My guess, is that the decision was made for me — at birth, or possibly even sooner.’
William grew up on a farm in Central California and later in life spent a good part of his life helping his father grow grapes, peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots. As it turned out, he quickly discovered that farming was pretty much like writing; ‘You keep planting on the assumption that someday what you plant will bear fruit. You take your chances with the weather and various market conditions. You hang in there, year in and year out, because it’s a wonderful way of life, and because you’re so deeply in debt you can’t think straight.’
‘what is rejected seduces,
what is expected fails
what is neglected grows,
what is... more »