Category Archives: Journal

In Which It Turns Out I Have a Lot of Feelings About FTR and AWP

Here’s a story.

Several years ago, I received a free pass to AWP. The conference was being held in New York and because Sarah Lawrence was a sponsor, they had some passes to give away to students. I was delighted to have the chance to attend, and I rode the train into the city in my favorite red dress, loving trains, loving the city, loving the promise of belonging to a community of writers.

I was a senior in my last semester of college, trying to decide what to do with myself. I’d always assumed I would attend an MFA program straight out of college, but the previous fall, when it came time to apply, I started to feel how small my experience of the world had been up until then, started to think, Maybe I’ll wait. Around that same time, I’d remembered how much I loved fairy tales, and I decided to apply to a few graduate programs in folklore. It was impulsive, by my cautious standards. Folklore wasn’t something I’d seriously considered before — wasn’t even something I’d really known you could study. But I felt I’d been going down the same straight path for so long, I wanted to know what it would be like to go in another direction for a little while. I wanted to see where it would take me.

By the time I was going to AWP, I think I was still waiting for my acceptance letters, though I don’t quite remember. What I do remember is attending a searingly good panel on nonrealist fiction, with speakers who included Rikki Ducornet, Brian Evenson, Theodora Goss, Kelly Link, and Kate Bernheimer. I remember thinking, Yes! This is what I love! This is the kind of writing I want to do! Possibilities opened up. I felt galvanized.

The next day, I went to the Fairy Tale Review table and spoke to Kate Bernheimer, probably inarticulately, about being torn between studying fairy tales and writing them. I don’t remember what she said, exactly, but I know she told me, “Let me know how it goes.” A few months later, I did, earnestly updating her about the choice I was making between graduate programs. She emailed me back, wonderfully kind and encouraging. It wasn’t much, just a few lines, but it meant a lot to me. It felt like a fine, lovely thread, tying me back to that golden feeling I’d had on the train to AWP, of belonging to something, creatively speaking, bigger than my own words on the page.

Later that year, I moved to Bloomington, and spent two wonderful years studying folklore at Indiana University. I loved folklore, and I loved the people I studied with, but by the end of my time there, I’d realized I couldn’t see myself devoting my life to the scholarly study of folklore. The perspectives I’d encountered at IU had changed the way I thought about storytelling and literature, but I missed writing stories of my own. I’d taken a detour into folklore, and I wasn’t sorry I’d done it, but it was time to try to get back to the path I’d always known I wanted to take.

A year or two later, I started an MFA program at the University of Maryland. I met other writers who were interested in exactly the kind of unreal fiction I’d heard the panelists talking about back at AWP. I studied with professors who encouraged me to make my writing more strange and surprising, and helped me refine my work through craft and revision. I read some extraordinary, life-changing books, and I co-founded a literary magazine dedicated to writing with a fairy tale sense of the fantastic. Most importantly, I wrote a lot of stories, many of them fairy tales in one sense or another.

Now, after several more revisions, one of those stories has found its way into Fairy Tale Review, the same journal I’d marveled over at AWP in New York, that my MFA classmates and I talked about in admiring tones. The Ochre Issue, which includes my story “May Queen”, will be officially released at the AWP conference in Los Angeles. Next week, I’ll fly to LA for the conference, where I’ll be reunited with some of my friends from the Maryland MFA. I’m excited (and humbled) that my story will be there, in the company of work by people like Courtney Bird and Carmen Maria Machado and Karen Green, but more than that I can’t wait to experience that glimmering feeling of writerly companionship again. There’s a certain kind of pleasant symmetry in this — in how much has changed between my first AWP and my second. Last time, I was uncertain about which path to follow. This time, I still don’t know where the path will lead, or what will happen along the way, but I feel sure it’s the one I want to take.

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The Folkloresque

I’m happy to say I recently had an academic essay published in The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World, co-edited by my good friend Jeff and our former IU professor Michael Dylan Foster.

Jeff and I first started working on our essay in this volume, about how Harry Potter treats folklore, several years ago, and I was delighted to be invited to contribute to the book, especially in such good company.

If you’re interested in the intersection of folklore and pop culture, it’s worth checking out. It’s available from University Press of Colorado, or from Amazon.

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Shirley Jackson on Writing

The New Yorker recently posted the first of three essays on writing by Shirley Jackson, “Memory and Delusion,” from a forthcoming collection of Jackson’s work, Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings. My friend Vanessa shared the link on Facebook, and while the whole thing is well worth a read, I wanted to excerpt this passage, which feels especially relevant to my writing life of late:

I cannot find any patience for those people who believe that you start writing when you sit down at your desk and pick up your pen and finish writing when you put down your pen again; a writer is always writing, seeing everything through a thin mist of words, fitting swift little descriptions to everything he sees, always noticing. Just as I believe that a painter cannot sit down to his morning coffee without noticing what color it is, so a writer cannot see an odd little gesture without putting a verbal description to it, and ought never to let a moment go by undescribed.

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The Golden Key Issue 6: Hidden Things

I’m very proud to announce that The Golden Key released our sixth issue this week! The theme is “hidden things” and the issue features lots of great speculative fiction and poetry, including flash fiction selected by the wonderful Karin Tidbeck as part of TGK’s first flash fiction contest, as well as gorgeous illustrations by kAt Philbin. Do yourself a favor and go get your copy right now!

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Reading Recommendation: “Rest Stop,” Aimee Bender

Today I read:

Two things come to mind now, as I look back. First, I did not enjoy this sex outside, this sex with the tiny possibility of discovery; it did not, in any way, match my desires or my comfort level, and the second part is maybe that was the point. It was distracting enough, figuring out these details, who was where, what was visible, who might see us, what was covered, that neither of us had to pay much attention to the other person at all. Plus, I was nineteen, and preoccupied with what the girls on TV were doing and if I was doing such things equally well. I had a friend at the time who told me she practiced her moaning sounds in the car when driving, as a way to pass time while travelling the north-south freeways from San Diego to L.A. and back. I found it so depressing, when she told me that, picturing her groaning and rolling her head back while speeding beneath green exit signs as the radio went on about scandals in the political parties, but somehow I did not find it depressing when, under the umbrella needles of the fir, with those footsteps clip-clopping past, I played a reel in my own head about how adventurous a girlfriend I surely was, even though I barely remember anything physical, and I could sense my boyfriend checking off a list in his mind of places he’d done it, making both of us the kind of people who say they’ve been to Germany if they’ve had a layover at the Frankfurt airport.

— Aimee Bender, “Rest Stop

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Reading Recommendation: “If You Cannot Go To Sleep,” Emily Mitchell

Today I read:

The numbers move sluggishly through her head in single file, like people in a line at the post office or at the bank or at the discount supermarket where you can only pay with cash so the line is always long and she is always frustrated by the time she reaches the counter, and so, to compensate, she always tries to be extra- friendly to the cashier, to be sure to instruct him or her to have a nice day after she gets her change back, because it seems worse, somehow, to be a cashier in a discount supermarket than it would be to do the same job at a place that sold expensive gourmet foods, although when she thinks about this now, so late at night that she doesn’t even want to look at the clock to find out the time, she thinks, Why would it make a difference whether you ran a cash register at a place where people buy brie and figs and Ethiopian fair-trade coffee, instead of at a place where people buy Pampers and Wonder Bread?

— Emily Mitchell, “If You Cannot Go To Sleep

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Reading Recommendation: “Madeleine,” Amal El-Mohtar

In honor of yesterday’s Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality, today’s reading recommendation comes from Lightspeed‘s Queers Destroy Science Fiction! special issue:

Now: she is home, and leaning her head against her living room window at twilight, and something in the thrill of that blue and the cold of the glass against her scalp sends her tumbling —

— into her body at fourteen, looking into the blue deepening above the tree line near her home as if it were another country, longing for it, aware of the picture she makes as a young girl leaning her wondering head against a window while hungry for the future, for the distance, for the person she will grow to be — and starts to reach within her self, her future/present self, for a phrase that only her future/present self knows, to untangle herself from her past head. She has just about settled on Kristeva — abjection is above all ambiguity — when she feels, strangely, a tug on her field of vision, something at its periphery demanding attention. She looks away from the sky, looks down, at the street she grew up on, the street she knows like the inside of her mouth.

She sees a girl of about her own age, brown-skinned and dark-haired, grinning at her and waving.

She has never seen her before in her life.

— Amal El-Mohtar, “Madeleine

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