Her conversation with Snežana Žabić and Margarita Meklina, two Wreckage of Reason II writers appeared in The Brooklyn Rail on July 13th.
“Wreckage of Reason II: Back to the Drawing Board is an anthology of contemporary experimental women’s writing. The anthology, as Leora Skolkin-Smith has written,
‘stands on its literary merits alone, but it also elicits questions that point far beyond its own physical presence in the publishing arena—questions primarily to do with the threatened future of experimental and literary writing itself, with the questionable health and well-being of our current literary culture and its openness or lack thereof to work that isn’t consumerist in intent.’
Andrea Scrima invited two of her co-authors in the anthology, Margarita Meklina and Snežana Žabić, to take part in a conversation about what experimental writing means today—beyond the marginalization the label inevitably leads to, both in terms of commercial viability and literary visibility…”
It seems to me that a creative writing teacher would do well to incorporate this text and all of this gorgeous supporting material into the upcoming year’s syllabus. Feminism. Consumerism. Experimentation. Marginalization. And don’t forget: Fun.
Nava Renek and Natalie Nuzzo (eds.) Wreckage of Reason II: Back to the Drawing Board
(Spuyten Duyvil Publishing, 2014)
No #AWP attendee can do a rundown of the event without talking about the goings-on outside of the conference center. Offsite, I enjoyed the company of crowds at The Loft party, had a terrible drink but was in good company at the Rain Taxi party, thoroughly enjoyed our successful Under the Gum Tree reading at Mason’s Barre (with at least 40 attendees!), and finished up with Phantom Drift’s fabulist reading. Phew! What a whirlwind. Can’t wait for LA 2016.
But now it’s time to get back down to earth, where I am working with some amazing writers doing revision.
Rebecca McClanahan, during panel S236: Narrative, Lyric, Hybrid: Crafting Essay Collections into Books, talked about the process of “deep and violent revision” that must happen for writers when they are designing a book. I noted that phrase, because it illuminates the pain and difficulty of the process of making something ready to go out and stand on its own in the world. (The panel also featured Renee D’Aoust, Peter Grandbois, Patrick Madden and Phillip Lopate, each of whom talked about how they assembled their collections.) Her phrase brought to mind being under the earth, where the roots of living things are.
In my capacity as editor, I know that working in our own pieces can sometimes feel like ditch-digging. Having an editor point out areas to be mined can feel like too much. I am always working towards making sure my writer-clients feel as little pain as possible during the process. To this end, we read other writers’ work and have conversations within the framework of those branches, listening to the rustle of the leaves/the language. And it is through the eager consumption of the sweet fruit other writers have borne that our own growth becomes less bitter.
Janna Marlies Maron, the Executive Editor/Publisher of the literary non-fiction and visual arts magazine Under the Gum Tree, and I (Senior Editor) attended and stopped by to chat with the many writers and publishers of creative non-fiction at #AWP15.
We attended panel F119: Do you Believe in Magic? Truth and Illusion in Creative Nonfiction, with Sy Safransky and Krista Bremer from The Sun, Stephen Elliot, Patricia Foster, and Lee Martin, each of whom brought his/her own way of looking at the issue of that invisible line between fiction and creative non-fiction. My takeaway from that panel? This genre is unique in its moral complexity. “Truth” is a personal matter; take any event and listen to five different participants’ versions of it, and you’ll know this to be a fact. We rely on a fallible memory to say what is the truth. We bring certain facts to the truth and we interrogate these facts in order to find our personal truth. This distinction is important, to me. Because a lot of what I see in the Gum Tree queue is marked by the writer’s inability to actually know what the story is beneath the story- they have put up “facts” of an event but failed to see their “truth.” They have that dislocation of emotion, have been unwilling to see what is really going on. And that examination and what happens when a writer realizes the truth of his or her experience is what I want to read about when I read #CNF.
But there are some things that a writer is not allowed to exaggerate, conflate, dramatize. And depending on the sub-genre of nonfiction, the contract the writer establishes with the reader looks different, has different rules. The reader expects these rules, however established, to be followed.
Along the same lines, I attended S119: The Bump and Grind of Meaning: Intuition and Formal Play in Hybrid Nonfiction, a panel assembled by the staff of Passages North, Northern Michigan University’s yearly lit mag. The contributor/panelists talked about textual play, an “interpretive funhouse.” Caleb Curtiss said, as writers, they have “done something with language to tell about something real.” It was non-fiction but not at all essay. In a highlight, Jenny Boully read “Totally,” her piece unravelling music videos. It wasn’t quite flash fiction, not quite prose poetry. What was it? This panel argued that it is okay not to quite know.
At Panel S286: The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but Your Speculations: The Use of Speculation and Other Imaginative Techniques in Creative Nonfiction, I was reminded of some important stuff, including the fact that to speculate means to examine, so much of the evening news is informed speculation, and we live in a state of constant speculation in order to live our lives. Any story a writer writes is created because whatever pre-existing version of the event the writer is writing about is somehow insufficient. This drives the narrator and it focuses the narrative. It is built on the speculation that there is something else to be learned from the story. This was the last panel of the conference, and I confess, I didn’t make it through all the way to the end.
The first year I attended the conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, I went as a writer. I was really focused on improving my own writing and hearing amazing authors read their work. That role for me has gradually morphed, and this year I identify more as an editor, and attended the conference as the Senior Editor of Under the Gum Tree #telltruestories. My attention was split between panels and readings that would promote and inspire the literary magazine and those that would help me support my freelance editing clients.
Man, it was a good mix.
At their annual pre-conference meeting, CLMP‘s Jeffrey Leppendorf and SPD‘s Brent Cunningham discussed their respective non-profit service orgs–here to support small presses. They also announced their Firecracker Award winners, which included our friends at Etruscan Press, publisher of Renee D’Aoust‘s Body of a Dancer and Peter Grandbois’Nahoonkara, two books I often use with my clients and refer back to again and again when I want to be moved by language.
Small presses are so important to today’s publishing landscape, and this was illustrated at panel R154: Small is the New Big: Working with Independent Presses to Build a Literary Career. Two agents from Folio Literary Management (Michelle Brower and Erin Harris), the executive editors of two mid-size presses (Coffee House’s Molly Fuller and Greywolf’s Ethan Nosowsky), and the executive editor of Harper Perennial (Cal Morgan) talked about the role of small presses. The big takeaways:
Some agents will shop your work to small presses if they believe they are cultivating the career of a writer at the beginning of his/her career arc, even though small presses don’t pay large (or any) advances.
A smaller press might be the best fit for your less commercial book because of the opportunity it provides an author to acquire cultural capital, as well as the small press ability to maximize the possible audience. You will be the big fish in their small pond rather than the other way around.
Small presses with good reputations are scouted for talent. Even the execs at the Big Five know that small presses have the most creative, most adventurous writing. They read Greywolf books. They read Coffee House Press books. They even read Nouvella, Rarebird, Semiotext.
Gotta love it.
University Presses are considered small presses, and quite a few panels at #AWP15 were inspired by University Press publications. Like this one:
Published by the University of Nebraska-Gender Programs, the anthology Being: What Makes a Man, was the catalyst for panel R274: Tender Moments: The Role of Tenderness in Men’s Narratives. Kevin Clark, Lee Martin, Dinty Moore and James Engelhart were assembled by Jill McCabe Johnson to have a conversation. No conclusions were drawn, other than the fact that there is a subtext of great tenderness in nearly all of the most admired writing by men. Even Hemingway, Richard Ford. Think about it. My takeaways:
Tenderness appears in the moment where the façade we create can’t stand any longer. It is woundedness. It is when the writer is open to his own pain and is able to transcend self-pity. It is when he is aware of other people, when he has empathy for the human conditions.
A good writer of any genre and of any gender will focus on language to avoid sentimentality, and as I believe it was Lee Martin said: “Earned sentiment is found in the furniture of the world.”
We were then young girls and our want was written on our skins. Between our legs and along our necks and wrists, our skin craved friction and more friction. We kissed calluses into the backs of our hands, murmuring comfort at the enflamed flesh, but still, our skin would not be satisfied.
Karen Brennan is the author of six books, most recently, poems, little dark (Four Way Books, 2014). A collection of fiction,Monsters, is forthcoming in 2016. A Professor Emerita from the University of Utah, she teaches at the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. She is also a contributor to Wreckage of Reason II. And she wrote this terrific little flash piece.
A good way to get to know writers sometimes is through the way the answer interview questions. Fiction writer (and a WoR II contributor) Melanie Page has been reviewing women prose writers on her site Grab the Lapels since the summer of 2013. In the interview she gave to HTML Giant last year she explains, “I started only choosing books by women after I reviewed a book that I thought was shallow and misogynistic (downright degrading, really) for one magazine. My review was so negative that the magazine shied away from publishing it, so I posted it on my Goodreads account and ventured out on my own.” Nowadays, she not only reviews, but also interviews authors. Check out these Q&A sessions withTsipi Keller and Laynie Browne.
Keep up with the Wreckage of Reason 2 blog tour here.
Wreckage of Reason 2 is an anthology of non-traditional stories by women writers. Many of us are unknown still; some of us well known in literary circles; one or two breaking away from the pack. Be on the cutting edge. Open your mind. Buy the book. An excellent choice for your Kindle.
The Wreckage of Reason II blog tour continues. The post Three Questions to Three Women Writers or Russians was retweeted this morning to 62,000 people via the #MondayBlogs. I guess that’s good. I haven’t started tweeting (despite my company name). I haven’t been convinced of the value of it for me at this time.
And during another stop on the tour, Alexandra Chasin reflects on Andrea Dworkin’s contributions to and advocacy of unconventional writing by women (and the conventions as constraints on thinking). I didn’t know, or had forgotten about, Dworkin’s stand on punctuation. The amazing thing is, I’ve been thinking about Dworkin a lot lately, considering re-reading her and others regarding the porn industry. (Why? Let’s just say I have a 14-year old son with internet access.) It always amazes me how just when I need something, it is so often brought to me by another woman writer.
Melanie is a graduate of the Notre Dame MFA program. She runs Grab the Lapels and collaborates with authors to create unique posts for virtual book tours.
“Metal Eye Drifter” is about rock n roll, at one level at least, and if you know me, you know I love this topic. In my job as Senior Editor at the creative non-fiction literary magazine Under the Gum Tree, I take a special interest in the department we call “Soundtrack,” and I love to work with the writers in this category to get to the bottom of the stories they want to tell. This is one of the reasons I was so excited to interview Melanie Page about her writing.
The way things go in May, of course, what with the culminating projects in academia and parenting responsibilities climaxing, etc., I never got around to meeting Melanie face to face over Google Chat or Skype as we planned on doing. But nevertheless, I found her answers to my questions posed via email to be fun to read. I hope you will too. I am very grateful for her taking time out of her busy schedule to have this “conversation” with me.
Robin Martin: “Metal Eye Drifter” is written in the second person point of view. You’ve written and published pieces in first person and third person as well, and seem to move easily among these points of view. What kind of conscious thought goes into deciding what point of view to write a particular story in? What do you think you gain in “Metal Eye Drifter” by inviting the reader in with this pronoun “you”? What is your favorite point of view to write in? What is your favorite point of view to read?
Melanie Page: A few years ago, I read a piece by Cris Mazza called “Too Much of Moi?” in The Writer’s Chronicle (Vol. 42. No. 2). She had polled numerous small presses, like Jaded Ibis and Chiasmus and found that nearly everyone is writing in first-person today. The article made it seem like first-person is selfish, and unless you have to write in first-person, you shouldn’t. It sort of confirmed my sense that young writers (yes, my generation) are using “I” because they really are writing about themselves, and since I’m on Facebook, I can frequently confirm my suspicions through networking. Of course writers include personal experiences in stories, but stepping into third-person can give a new writer the chance to explore what someone else might have done in a situation that the author really lived. There’s more room to imagine. Second-person POV gives the reader the sense that the character is a stand in for everyone. The only novel I can think of written entirely in second-person is Girl Imagined by Chance by Lance Olsen, and I’m surprised I don’t see it more often. If I’m discussing ideas that are important to me (even if they’re small ideas), I don’t see how I can feel alone—someone else must feel this way, too, and I want him/her to share the ride with me.
RM: “Metal Eye Drifter” seems to be written in conversation with Ted Nugent, whose quote opens the piece. Why Ted Nugent? He’s said some very reprehensible things (about women, about immigrants, etc.). Are you a political person, a political writer? Is this political/facetious writing part of what makes a work distinct from mainstream writing?
“Metal Eye Drifter” has absolutely nothing to do with Uncle Ted’s recent idiotic remarks, nor do I consider myself a political writer. In fact, I was disappointed that Ted Nugent wore a t-shirt that said, “DITCH THE BITCH, TED FOR GOV” when I saw him at a concert in Michigan. Somehow, though, I got over the stupid shirt and was just terribly excited. My love of the hard core rock personas began long ago, way before I even thought about politics. Metal was something you could get excited about because it was so powerful, and it would bring you and your friends together. Never before have I listened to Bob Dylan and thought, “Yeah! I rule!” Being around people who think they’re awesome (and it’s confirmed in the media) is contagious, especially if you feel weak inside. If you notice, my explanation of “Metal Eye Drifter” in the anthology is almost apologetic!
RM: In your brief notes that follow the piece in WORII, you mention your desire/drive to lose all things “wild/misogynistic.” I was taken with the way these two words were attached to one another, as if these two terms are somehow inseparable? What do you think makes wildness connect with misogyny in American culture? Without the album covers where a woman is trussed like a turkey on a platter, etc., do you think Rock-n-Roll would be as powerful? What is it with those images?
While Ted Nugent is notorious for womanizing (“Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” anyone?), a lot of metal bands aren’t. My favorite is Metallica, a group that doesn’t use women to promote their image. In fact, their fan base is mostly young men (and now middle-age dudes). When Dave Mustaine was in the group (circa ’81-’83), he confirmed that they didn’t want to write “chicky music” (music to attract women), but to “rule the world.” I suppose I think of wild meaning “irresponsible,” which without a doubt applied (they’re sober now) to Metallica. Rocking at the same time, though, are Van Halen and Motley Crue, groups that are really, seriously looking to get laid. Women are a huge part of the image of those bands; women want to be with them and men want to be them. I tend to have blinders on at times. Don’t care, lalala! Pretending misogyny doesn’t exist isn’t helpful, so it’s completely selfish and I realize that. In fact, I thought about throwing Motley Crue’s biography in the dumpster after reading some of it. As an adult, I can’t stand the high-level of awful treatment that band dishes out to women (who willingly accept it). As an adult, I also think I’m supposed to be responsible (hence wild/mysoginistic lumped together).
RM: The narrator in “Metal Eye Drifter” makes some fantastic and hilarious observations! On heavy metal: “the whole point of which is ruling the planet, fucking, and drinking yourself retarded.” On children: “little meat sacks.” On breeding out of cool: “She isn’t cool anymore. Booster seats, seat belts. Then again, neither are you. Cereal bowls that suction cup to the table.” (This last one is a beautiful juxtaposition of feelings and concrete images.) Here we are, we used to wear leather pants and slither through crowds of sex starved adolescents, and now we’re fucking middle aged or near to it. Or, worse, we missed our opportunity to wear leather pants and slither…etc., and now we are too old to do it and the cigarettes have left lines around our mouths, and leather in our décolletage. Oh…sorry, forgive my tangent; I’m reading too much into it perhaps? Will you talk some more about this narrator in “Metal Eye Drifter?” He is male, he is disillusioned, he is suicidal, he is not his father but he is suddenly just like his father somehow—inside an old man, looking out…
Thanks for seeing the humor in it, and I’m glad it struck a nerve with you, too! I wanted this story to make people say things like, “And remember this! And when we did this!” I don’t think you have to be in your 40s or 50s to feel like the narrator feels. When I was in high school, I had a Metallica shirt for every day of the week. Now I’m almost 30, and I feel sad, like I knew who I was then and don’t now. Things change around me and prompt changes in me. My husband and I don’t have kids, but many of those who rocked with me do, and I wonder, “What the hell happened to you people? You used to be cool!” Really, you could read this piece as being about a youth I miss that contained sporadic adventures like leaving on a road trip at 2am, and about watching others “sell out,” in a sense. The narrator in “Metal Eye Drifter” feels so unlike himself that he’s ready to let it all go. Instead, he gets to live in memories.
RM: Can you let me in on your writing process? How often/how religiously do you write? Do you use any formal exercises to come up with metaphor and images? With this last question, I’m thinking in particular of the opening line in your piece “The Crissy” that appeared in Paper Darts Issue 5: “Crissy’s hair is more beautiful than baby smiles.” How did that line come to you (do you remember)?
The imagination fairy occasionally feels kind enough to give me weird thoughts like comparing hair to baby smiles. Those honestly come out of nowhere I can locate, and frequently come out of my mouth without permission. It can make for an embarrassing life, though many people call it “cute.” As for my writing process? Imagine you have a crayon about an inch in length. It doesn’t have a wrapper on it. The crayon is your imagination. You use the crayon to color on a single piece of paper. The paper is your story. Since you are a passionate colorer, you press really, really hard! As you knew would happen, the crayon runs out fairly fast. When the crayon is gone, it’s all done. Sometimes the final result is, “Yay! Look at my story!” and sometimes the result is “Fuck, I ran out of crayon!” Crayons are difficult to locate.
RM: Why do you think “Metal Eye Drifter” is included in an anthology of experimental writing?
Possibly because it’s about a man and is nasty toward women, which people think means something when it comes from a woman. Possibly because the narrator gets to hang out in an eyeball.
Thanks so much for giving me this interview, Melanie! I look forward to rockin’ out with you in person one day.
“Eurydice 2.0” was a finalist for the 15th Annual Glass Woman Prize, and was shared with the Wreckage of Reason bloggers on our WORII Tumblr site on May 19. Here’s a quote from it and a link to it.
Step off, dude. I have no intention of coming back to you.
I’m happy where I am. I smoke cigarettes and opium for breakfast. I copulate with men, women, animals, and sometimes even plants.
Lillian Ann Slugockihas created an award-winning body of work on women and sexuality, for performance and for print, including the tantalizingly titled The Erotica Project. Her piece, “Streetcar Deconstructed,” is part of the Wreckage of Reason II, published this spring by Spuyten Duyvil.