The question is a familiar one, full of angst and hand-wringing, one I often asked myself but never out loud: How do you do it? How do you become a writer?
There are more questions contained in this question—Where do you get your ideas? What should I write about? Where should I start?—and all these questions lead to the ultimate question: Is there a secret to this thing that I am not privy to?
Yes and no. Yes, there are secrets. It wouldn’t be an art if there were not. But no, they are not secrets you couldn’t be privy to. It only takes knowing who to ask and learning that the person to ask is ultimately yourself.chop! chop! read more!
“As with any book, my book had its own special fate—it was born by mistake,” claims Levan Berdzenishvili, in the opening chapter of Sacred Darkness. Levan wakes up in a hospital, sick and disoriented, with a high fever. He realizes he has some debts to pay before he can jaunt off to Hades. Levan is a specialist in Greek literature, so he doesn’t talk of “dying.” He refers to “my departure to Hades.”chop! chop! read more!
The Barefoot Woman opens with the author’s mother, Stefania, imparting knowledge to her daughters. “Often in the middle of one of those never-ending chores that fill a woman’s day,” Mukasonga writes, “(sweeping the yard, shelling and sorting beans, weeding the sorghum patch, tilling the soil, digging sweet potatoes, peeling and cooking bananas…), my mother would pause and call out to us.” Much of the book proceeds from this image: we learn the details of her mother’s life and rituals through her endless work and we learn the kinds of things passed down from a Tutsi mother to her daughter—one of only two of eight children to survive the 1994 Rwandan genocide.chop! chop! read more!
A Danger to Herself and Others is a wonderful, suspenseful read that does more than just tell a riveting story. The book opens the door to a larger narrative and seeks to cultivate compassion and understanding toward other, real-life stories just like Hannah’s.chop! chop! read more!
Would it be settling if I married him? If so, is it okay to settle, or should I hold out for some sort of great romance—which seems pretty silly to me at my age? And is there anything wrong with preferring your dog’s company to other people’s most of the time?chop! chop! read more!
Andrea Blancas Beltran, associate editor of MIEL, experimental poet, and proud fronteriza, made her chapbook debut in July 2018 with the poetry collection Re-. In it, Beltran stitches together a brimming handful of nostalgic recollections, inviting the reader to ponder the role of memory, the eerie beauty of forgotten things, and depth of emotion that can be found in everyday life.chop! chop! read more!
Panic Years, Daniel Difranco’s debut novel, is a hyper realistic account of a band on tour. Told from the perspective of laconic Paul, Panic Years follows indie bandmates Paul, Laney, Gooch, Jeff and later Drix across the country’s dive bars and clubs. “I’d joined Qualia because they were a good band with a shit-ton of underground buzz,” Paul muses on page five, setting the band’s intention for the rest of the tour: build Qualia’s indie fame to a record deal, or some serious label recognition.chop! chop! read more!
Almost anyone who has taken a writing class has encountered the sacrosanct dictum: Show; don’t tell. The late Wayne C. Booth, Professor Emeritus of the University of Chicago led me to question this doctrine in his influential book, The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961). I like books about rhetoric, so when I came across the book at my local Barnes and Noble, the title hooked me. Professor Booth is a warm and clear-eyed guide. And while he occasionally feels compelled to cut through thickets of scholarly debate, he always manages to keep his focus on the rhetorical devices that make fiction work.chop! chop! read more!
Narrator is brief and quirky, rich and absurd, metatextual and extremely simple. It’s a walking narrative (in reality, a stalking narrative), which means it depends upon the motion of the narrator in order to go anywhere in particular. However, this book’s range is only within the mind; Aron’s and G.’s movements throughout Reykjavik are completely uninteresting, encompassing mostly pubs and shops of little consequence. But G.’s thoughts circle neurotically around his family, his failures, and Aron’s ex-girlfriend, Sara, for whom G. pined. In this way, and others, the vertical dimensions of the book are much more compelling than its movements through horizontal space.chop! chop! read more!
“College people like getting greens with soil still on the stems. It makes them feel real in a world made mostly of plastic and propane.” This is what the first narrator, a 13-year-old Alabaman girl with a rotten tooth, tells the reader in Genevieve Hudson’s debut collection of short stories, Pretend We Live Here. This type of humor and keen observation peppers the entire collection of fifteen stories.chop! chop! read more!
DRAWING A BLANK
A Visual Narrative
by Emily Steinberg
Pipe bombs to 14 in the mail.
11 Slaughtered at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
Kroger grocery, 2 dead.
Hounds of hell unleashed
But Beto might win over Cruz!
and Javanka are still in the White House.
Civil War 2.0?
Election on Tuesday.
I can’t look.
Holding my breath.
So we had a Blue Ripple.
100 women elected to congress!
Next day, insane post-election presser.
Acosta banned, press pass pulled.
Sessions forced to resign.
Who the hell is Whitaker?
Then, Thousand Oaks shooting.
Then, California burns.
And then, Florida recount.
Then, more house wins!
Then, in France, no-show at cemetery due to rain?
Veterans Day, no Arlington visit.
And Saudis get a pass?
Have you no decency, sir?
The state of the union is fragile.
The ridiculous dissatisfaction with good fortune
begins in shade, when every bit of luck pops up
like a harlequin jammed in a jack-in-the-box,
and the hue of the lip is wrong wrong wrong—
ignoring for the moment the creepy leer of clowns,
or the gut twist borne of a springed lurch, or
the clatter of the trap click and clack when it opens—
and though the arms of the clown spill forth
It’s twilight on the fifth floor of New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a weak light seeps from the underside of the plastic-lined blackout curtains. It is growing dark against his wishes, yet Jacob Silbergeld no longer has the voice to catch the attention of a passing nurse who could adjust the transitioning of light he has hated for most of his life. Twilight is when slippery things happen, when one can be led by the hand to unwanted places. Twilight is when buildings surge in the skyline and become otherworldly, a time when one loses control. Jacob had fought against its demons for years with distractions of all sorts: films, friends, or when all else failed, a good book and a single malt scotch, but he is no longer in control of his environment, and the coming of night frightens him. He brushes his left hand over the blanket in search of the call button.chop! chop! read more!
I realize I do not wish to fall to the bottom of a well. With no one
to hear my screams (and screams are all we hear). Light is a pinhole.
Dark days, kept on a catheter, a transfusion of blood, poured into beakers,
baked on a Bunsen – I purge the present from the protoplasm.
No one bothered
to tip me
back into my own image.
Now, I’ve got
one eye seeing
forever thru an extra
lens of margin,
the moon’s side inside
of the book’s binding.
THE TOWER IN OUR CITY is always visible, no matter where we are, it doesn’t even matter what we’re looking at. Tapered at the tip, lifting up without lifting off like the gathering before the spurt, smooth on the surface—smooth and clear as an idea you don’t even need to think about because everyone has the same idea. It is never out of position, never in the wrong place, it’s about the most accurate thing there is. Not attached to anything—a tower isn’t a leash or a collar. Not showing off—the tower isn’t an ornament or a loose translation. When something happens we turn to the tower, we point to the tower as if this is the real reason, asking the tower what are we supposed to do? What is going to happen to us? What have you done to us? Rising straight up into the sky the tower doesn’t waver or swing like a pendulum, never moves to one side or the other, as if it has an idea, or bends at the waist as if it has a different idea, or leans toward us in sympathy—it’s the kind of stability we are attached to and depend on and are also tired of at the same time.chop! chop! read more!
TERMS AND CONDITIONS by Heather Holmes one month I am in philadelphia reading the Andrew Durbin book that describes this club The Spectrum, and the next month I am at The Spectrum watching women flog one another in an affectless way. that’s sort of how it is in new york, I guess, I say to someone later, ha ha, to read something is to conjure it. this is no safeguard against emptiness I wonder at length whether writing always has to stake out a new and special way of seeing. I just wanted to talk about how bored they looked even as the leather began to break skin . I plant the hyssop. I wait it out. I think about how far we are into this century and still I know three women named Geraldine, which G. #2 described to me as a man’s name suffixed diminutively. all three are … chop! chop! read more!
This was his third story,
the one after the one about dinosaurs
turning to glue and the ship trapped in a raindrop
sputtering back to life.
The kindergarten teacher did not
understand, but the boy knew
how it had to be. Mouse machines. Ralph.
perched on spindles of the branching spring
the wren with conspicuous brow, the buff sparrow with its
white appetite, ravishing the seed, the tweet-tweet-tweet of hunger
The apocalypse goes to Stonehenge during the summer solstice
and sings Joni Mitchell’s Blue while tripping on shrooms
The apocalypse is a teenager
The apocalypse is three billion years old
The apocalypse blows perfect smoke rings with its chipped lips
you can’t hold your man you can’t
hit a jet going six hundred miles per hour
with a .50 calibre machine gun
the second week in Junechop! chop! read more!
For a time I felt harmonious and whole,
if you know what I mean. Ringing bells alone
could make a Christmas and when I climbed
the red rungs of the fire tower to survey the tree line
INSPIRED TO SEE Paintings by Giovanni Casadei I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. Since the age of four I have been exposed to art, thanks to my Uncle Roberto, who religiously picked me up every Sunday morning to bring me to a museum to contemplate art. At the age of fourteen, I bought my first oil painting set with my savings, and I painted on my own for the next eight years. From 1978 to 1980, I studied at the Scuola Libera del Nudo (Free School for Drawing and Painting sponsored by the Academy of Fine Arts of Rome) under the instruction of the Armenian artist, Alfonso Avanessian. From 1980 to 1981, I was enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome, then from 1981 to 1983, studied further under Alfonso Avanessian, during which I experimented with drawing, oil pastels, dry pastels, tempera, watercolor, acrylic, and oil … chop! chop! read more!
He was standing outside the double doors of the restaurant, sweating underneath his blazer. He was exactly on time. He saw a girl walking towards him, a close approximation of the one whose picture he had on his phone. He waved to her. She didn’t wave back.
She waved back. Amelia. She was wearing a puff-sleeved pink fur coat, cropped at the waist. He could tell by the sheen of it—his ex-wife had been fond of mink—that it was faux. She trotted up to him and kissed his cheeks in quick succession without having to tiptoe.chop! chop! read more!
LEO RISING by Anna Dorn The first thing I do when I wake up is open Evie’s Twitter. I’ve been doing this every morning since she left about a month ago. If one of my patients did this, I’d roll my eyes. But I can’t help it. Evie won’t answer my texts or calls. This is the only way I can hear her voice. @LeoRising has five new Tweets. (I always thought astrology was nonsense, but Evie treated it with a religious reverence. The rising sign, she told me, is our surface self, our outward appearance. And Leo is the best, she said, and apparently I am one too). I always look at her profile picture first. In it, she’s narrowing her eyes at the camera in a way that never fails to excite me. The look says: I’m smarter than you. It’s the precise face I fell in love … chop! chop! read more!
Guilt, it has always seemed to Roger, is visceral. It takes up residence inside the body, burrowing or maybe perching there, as much a part of you as your bones or blood or lungs. You sense it waiting even when no one else can see it, even when you stop obsessing and the days and nights slip past on their conveyor belts.
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My not-yet-stepdaughter sprawled on the couch, laptop open. Annabella was 12, her long hair parted straight down the middle. That evening I stayed with her for the first time while her father went to a work event. It seemed more normal than I’d imagined, just another evening at home. I read a magazine while she did homework.chop! chop! read more!
Buddy is a good friend but will be an even better Marine. He is open to following directions. He will die face down in Pleiku, far away from his dreams, alone. But today, Buddy is twelve and entitled to his share of dreams. After all, most nightmares are reserved for adults. Buddy’s stepdad had a job for us.
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SEAN’S ROOM by Blake London Steam from the shower moves in columns to the ceiling. I’m holding Sean’s hand, and his eyes close with the bathroom door—we twine and twist into sheets of flesh. Sean said the comedown is the hardest, but I’m still electric, can hear a crooning in the static of my fingers on his spine. It’s a slow dance with small movements, and the glow in my bloodstream says sway, so we make the steam vibrate in the small space. My fingers smooth water from the divots of his waist. The lazy warmth of him runs down my legs, floods the pale stucco floor. His curves, his hardness, his breath on my neck all feel ancient and half-remembered, and here I am, touching him for the first time again. We let the water run down the drain, dry off with a shared towel, and crawl under the … chop! chop! read more!
He’s a grotesque in primary colors, as much David Cronenberg as Clark Kent. The cartoons and the movies and the coloring books—they usually forget that. The idea of Spider-Man is, at its core, revolting. When it is time to suit up, Superman bears his classically handsome mug. Batman, Captain America, and Green Lantern, at the very least, leave their chiseled jaws exposed. With Spider-Man, everything hides beneath his spandex. Should you be saved by him—hung up in his gangly, yet muscular arms as he swings you off to safety—you’d look into the face of your hero, and there’d be no reassuring grin or playful wink, but, instead, two pupil-less eyelets, teardrop-shaped and alien, staring hugely as if frozen in shock. It would take all you could muster not to scream.chop! chop! read more!
I receive a text from a friend.
Since preschool, our girls have been kindred spirits. They are on the brink of young adulthood, buds pressing through tee-shirts, splotches of pink and red in a of constellation across their hairlines, limbs long and gangly.chop! chop! read more!
Christmas morning two years ago. Cold and snowless. My father hauled a leather instrument case through the front door and set it at my feet. Next to its handle was a little gold plaque, its logo embossed in fine script. Martin & Co., Est. 1833. Up close, the case smelled like his car: a mixture of coffee, Red Bull, and sweat. I unfastened its buckles and pulled the top open. Inside was a new guitar. A particularly beautiful one, smaller than a dreadnought. Black, gourd-shaped mahogany body with ivory binding along its waist and edges. Cream-colored, vintage-style tuning pegs, pearlescent fret inlays.chop! chop! read more!
The dissection, in simple terms, is a search. Imagine searching your house for a pair of socks. Now, imagine searching your specimen—for our purposes, the body—and this time, the body is your house, and its secret is a pair of socks, misplaced somewhere in the body for you to unearth.chop! chop! read more!
Over dinner the Brazilian painter says she doesn’t believe in time, or maybe she says she’s skeptical about the measuring of time—I can’t be certain as we meet haltingly between languages. We are painters and photographers and musicians and one writer, me, in a crumbling Catalonian farmhouse at the foot of a mountain that looks like a pile of noses.chop! chop! read more!
Like you’re supposed to hate winter, with its cold and mountains of snow and how slip-walking on ice is a bitch and all that shit. Honestly, I love it. Honestly, I’d move to Alaska or the Arctic Circle or the South Pole if anyone would let me. In another life, I’d beg to be a penguin. Or a polar bear, except they’re going extinct.chop! chop! read more!
Instead of getting on the highway, Jake starts to drive deep into the woods, past the Savage Funeral Home and out 147, past Iona’s Country Bar. I can tell by now that this so-called spontaneous road-trip has been meticulously planned. I think, Iona’s in there, so is Lucky, so is Fran. I give a quick squeeze to my red rubber stress-ball. Jake’s got his box-cutter handy, for just in case we get into an accident and need it to free ourselves from our seatbelts.chop! chop! read more!
A girl at a house show expresses surprise and delight that I was from the Philippines. Her academic concentration is in environmental studies. She talks to me about conservation pursuits for American students, on the rivers and shorelines. I say, ha ha, yeah, we could use the help. Too glib: she thinks I mean it, or she just thinks I’m mean. Two years from that moment I write tongue-in-cheek poems about my mother, who waded in those rivers simply to scratch the red welts leeches left on her skin. How when she visits home now the tap water makes her stomach curdle.chop! chop! read more!
On a rainy morning in October my son erased me during craft time at the library. We made a wind chime out of old spoons and gray yarn and colored beads in green and purple and orange and a jar lid with pre-drilled holes. The pencils were there to sign up for mommy/baby yoga the following day. A new three-year-old, Milo no longer qualified for mommy/baby yoga, but he still helped himself to a pencil. Ignoring the pointy end, Milo scrubbed the eraser over the ring finger of my left hand until the finger disappeared. Using my other hand to help the mother next to me attach the final string to her and her daughter’s wind chime, I didn’t notice until it was too late.chop! chop! read more!
Every night, after a long day spent creating the universe, God removes his talents from inside His chest, like a handful of featherless baby birds, glossy with blood, and lays them on the bedside nightstand before turning out the light. “He’s a genius,” everyone says. “What He’s done with the universe, it’s just great. Can’t wait to see what His next project will be.”chop! chop! read more!
Mary counts the ships. Rodney has just broken her heart.
“You’re like the ocean,” he points to the blue water carpet. “You will ebb and flow, you’ll see.”
There are five ships. A mother duck ship and four little ducklets. Last night, the radio talked of an oil spill.
“I hope those are rescue ships.” she says, “for the poor oily birds.”chop! chop! read more!
The Females was my first encounter with the late writer Wolfgang Hilbig, who grew up in East Germany and was allowed to move to the West in the mid-80s. He died in 2007 and was buried in Berlin. Isabel Fargo Cole has been translating his work for twenty years now. She started working to gain Hilbig an English-speaking audience before his death, and The Females, from Two Lines Press, is her sixth Hilbig work.chop! chop! read more!
Part of the pleasure in following an author, as I have followed Claire Fuller from her first novel to her latest, Bitter Orange, is coming to recognize her voice, even without a title page. Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons introduced me to Fuller’s eerie, ironically rendered English countryside of dark forests and haunted seaside villages, and to her characters held captive by lies. From novel to novel I’ve admired how she uses intelligent but naïve narrators to withhold information from the reader, sustaining unnerving suspense while signaling dissonance beneath the well-mannered surface. At this point, I’ll eagerly read anything she writes. And Bitter Orange is her best book yet.chop! chop! read more!
Lisa Appignanesi’s latest book comes at a time in which most of us regularly feel beside ourselves in what she describes as an “everyday madness.” She devotes herself to describing this mundane madness, something which could be called trauma but is experienced by almost everyone, in three manifestations.chop! chop! read more!
The first piece I ever published was a personal essay on workplace sexual harassment. The title alone— “Sexy or Sexual Harassment?”—made my intent clear. I was using my writing as a means of interrogating my own experiences. Of working out for myself what these experiences meant.chop! chop! read more!
I’m a recent college graduate with mad STEM skills. I just started my first full-time job last June. My question is: should I quit it to go work on a political campaign until the election? I feel strongly about the candidate and even more strongly about the fate of the country. The job is unpaid, but my role will be important—and I think my skills could really help. Despite the fact that my parents are furious at the very thought of my quitting my job, the fact is that I am very employable, and could maybe even get my old job back, even though they are so pissed off at me they have refused to give me a leave of absence.chop! chop! read more!
“If books don’t get published, they don’t live,” argues Marian Schwartz, the prolific and award-winning translator of over seventy Russian works. Thanks to Schwartz, significant 20th and 21st century Russian books have been brought to life, including work by Nina Berberova, Polina Dashkova, Mikhail Shishkin, and now Leonid Yuzefovich.
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Thank goodness Magela Baudoin’s first book to be translated in English, Sleeping Dragons, is so short. The fifteen stories in this collection (adding up to only 140 pages) are so precise, bursting with such potency, that to increase the collection to 200 or 250 pages would just about kill the average reader. Nearly all the stories are perfectly formed, energetic little spheres—like new tennis balls, popping with their own elasticity the moment they drop out of the canister—and only so many of these spheres can hit a reader between the eyes before she must stop, dazed. The overall impression is of a writer with years of craftsmanship already behind her, ready to don the halo of South American literary fame.chop! chop! read more!
Excellent writing is often lauded for its ability to transport and disembody the reader, to enrapture so completely that its audience floats along the sentence and forgets their place in the room. Meghan McClure’s Portrait of a Body in Wreckages does not do this, instead, much of its excellence is found in its proficiency to embody the reader, to address them in their own physicality, and move along the level of the cell as well as the sentence.chop! chop! read more!
Chaya Bhuvaneswar is part of a unique legacy of writer-physicians—Nawal El Saadawi, William Carlos Williams, Anton Chekhov, to name a few—and the unexpected harmony of these pursuits is showcased throughout her collection White Dancing Elephants, winner of the 2017 Dzanc Short Story Collection Prize. Written with a straightforward, refreshingly uncluttered voice, these stories center on the urgent human desire to heal and be healed.chop! chop! read more!
Ada Limón is the author of several poetry books, including the National Book Award finalist Bright Dead Things, which was named one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of the Year by the New York Times. This year Limón released her fifth book, The Carrying, to wide acclaim, including being named a Best Book of Fall 2018 by Buzzfeed. Since the release of The Carrying, Limón has been traveling extensively for poetry events but was able to take some time out for Cleaver to discuss the new book and aspects of craft in her poetry. She lives in Lexington Kentucky.chop! chop! read more!