Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Eli Cranor Wins Novel Contest

Congratulations to former GR contributor Eli Cranor, whose novel Don’t Know Tough is the winner of the Peter Lovesey First Crime Novel Contest.

“Don’t Know Tough,” Eli Cranor’s short story of the same name, won the 2017 Robert Watson Literary Prize and appeared in The Greensboro Review 103.

Cranor’s work was selected from more than two hundred entrants by a panel of Soho Press editors and mystery novelist Peter Lovesey. Don’t Know Tough will be published by Soho Crime in Spring 2022.

Peter Lovesey will present the First Novel Award to Eli Cranor on Friday, December 4, at a virtual 50th Anniversary Gala hosted by Murder by the Book, the Houston independent bookstore. The 50th Anniversary Gala begins at 6:00 pm CST. Event details can be found here:

Why We Chose It: “The Fair” by Will Hearn

By Evan Fackler, Fiction Editor

When Nic, the African-American narrator of Will Hearn’s story “The Fair,” travels to Neshoba County to meet his girlfriend’s all-white family for the first time, his interactions are shadowed by the general history of race in the American South, as well as the specific history of the murder of several Civil Rights activists in the area during the Civil Rights Movement. Meanwhile, Nic’s own upbringing in Louisiana and his knowledge of (and love for) the Creole language (as opposed to his girlfriend’s continental French) come to mark him in complex ways as a body differently situated within the cultural and historical space of The Fair. 

In prose both strikingly clear and richly evocative, “The Fair” is both deeply personal and profoundly political. It’s a story that explores not only how the histories we share end up coloring the specific ways we relate to one another across various sites of difference, it also explores the central irony of this legacy: that we are rarely ever actually present for those historical moments that give context to our most intimate interactions. The pervasive but unsettling disembodiedness of this shared history is suggested by Nic’s experience of the faira place where he goes throughout the story without ever being able to fully recall it.

This is complex and interesting work, and a prime example of what I search for when I’m reading through submissions for The Greensboro Review: stories that locate a shared political and cultural history within the minutiae of daily, intimate life.

Will Hearn’s “The Fair” appears in our new Spring 2020 Issue 107.


Evan Fackler is an MFA candidate in fiction at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he lives with his wife and their cat, Zadie. His reviews and interviews can be found at Entropy Magazine and storySouth.

West of Other: An Interview with Brendan Egan

Brendan Egan’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Yemassee, Threepenny Review, Witness, and other places. A native Connecticuter, he has worked as a lobster shucker, ice cream truck driver, expert chino folder, and door-to-door knife salesman. He lives in west Texas, where he teaches at Midland College and attempts to keep a garden. Egan’s story “War Rugs” won the Robert Watson Literary Prize and appears in The Greensboro Review 107.

EVAN FACKLER: First of all, Brendan, congratulations on winning the Robert Watson Literary Prize in fiction for “War Rugs.” It’s a tremendous story, ambitious and affecting both in terms of imagination and formal experimentation, which is something that drew my co-editor Patricia and I to it early on in the reading period. Have you written stories like this before?

BRENDAN EGAN: Thank you so much! I’m really honored by the recognition and so happy to see the story in Greensboro Review.

I’ve always been excited about both form and imaginative literature. Most of my stories splice threads of mythology and folklore into more or less realistic lives, and this splicing often calls attention to the formal moves that shape the narrative. But I think “War Rugs” is the first story where I’ve directly mixed genres in just this way—inserting pieces of scripts into fiction. I studied playwriting and screenwriting before writing fiction, so I often think of scenes in those terms, but the idea of actually incorporating these genres into prose probably came from reading Vi Khi Nao’s A Fish in Exile and George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, which use similar techniques, though I think to slightly different effects.

EF: There’s a great deal of fun to “War Rugs”—this sense of an entire social world embedded in the language being deployed, for instance (buttonheads versus dogfaces, Oriental versus Occidental). But this is also a story that’s taking on some pretty serious issues. Cultural identity, exile, war, prejudice. I don’t want to ask the vulgar question “where’d you get this idea?” but I am wondering if there were particular issues or events you were thinking about while you were writing?

BE: The concept of a story about magazine crews literally showed up at my door multiple times over, say, a three-year span. They weren’t selling the magazines so much as the good feeling that comes from contributing to a school fundraiser or a GoFundMe or buying a pair of Toms. Talking to these kids got me thinking about the way that personal hardship has increasingly become this sort of commodity in and of itself.

Kind of in counterpoint to this, I was trying to work out this “Death of the West”-type paranoia that has come into the mainstream through Alt-Right politics. As a blatant example, a couple months ago, the draft of an executive order was leaked from the Trump administration titled “Making Federal Buildings Great Again.” It says things like, “Federal architecture should once again inspire respect instead of bewilderment or repugnance” by sticking to the tradition of Classical principals. Really, I’ve been more bewildered and impugned by how Doric columns are still the fascist’s binkie of choice.

Of course, the bugaboo of these same paranoiacs is the migrant. Though the refugees and asylum seekers we talk about in our United States are typically coming from other places in the world, the populations that most inspired the characterization Cynocephali in the story are Afghans who have been displaced in the succession of U.S. involved wars for the last forty years. But I don’t see these characters as a direct representation of any one group from the real world as much as a representation of the lasting misunderstanding between “East” and “West” that goes back at least as far as Ctesias’s own account of the territory east of Persia.

EF: Okay. Cynocephali are mentioned by Ctesias in the Indica, which answers the question the Classics professor we recruited to help us with the Greek in the epigraph asked. (For the record, that question was: “Where in the #@$*! did you come across the Cynocephali?”) So let me pivot a little and say that for the month or so after first reading “War Rugs” in the “slush” pile (which sounds like a dirty word as I write it—maybe we should call it the “mine” or something because it’s where the gold comes from) Patricia and I went down an internet rabbit hole of “Dog Face” songs, which ends up being its own sub-genre. Phish. The Eels. Some guy called Ryan Dawson who has an entire album called “Dog-Face Girl”… maybe there are more. I guess what I’m saying is that if you were a guest on my favorite NPR show, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, and I was filling in for Peter Sagal, I would say, “We’ve invited you here today, Brendan, to play a game we’re calling…” and then Bill Kurtis would say, in that mellifluous voice of his, “Eenie meenie miny moe, catch a dog face by his toe,” or something like that, and then I’d ask you trivia about The Eels.

But really, why Cynocephali?

BE: Is it too weird to say that I’m so glad you, too, have become a little obsessed?

So, in describing what he called India, Ctesias introduced a number of concepts of “natural history” to the Western imagination.  Some are accurate: parrots, falcon-assisted hunting, Indian elephants. Others are not: unicorns, manticores, river serpents, various magical wells and springs.

I’ve written some stories about a bunch of these, but the Cynocephali have always been the invention of his that most captured my fascination. For like two-thousand years, they were used as a literary authenticator for Europeans traveling in the East. Alexander claims to have captured them, Marco Polo describes their supposed settlements, and Columbus writes that he was told rumors of them in present day Haiti. St. Augustine uses them as a kind of inquiry into the definition of a human soul. The irony is that as early as the first century BC, Ctesias was thought of as a rube who presented all these second-hand yarns as fact (I’m pretty sure he was just a trickster).

In popular culture, the unicorn persists, the manticore persists, but dog-headedness kind of explodes from the middle-ages on, being applied to all kinds of outgroups and raising all kinds of questions about human dignity. Anyway, the insistence on “I saw the Cynocephali” serves as this acute example of a Classical text surviving despite itself and introducing a fundamental “othering” that we still tussle with today.

EF: Something that’s really consistent and lovely here is the way Zylina’s sensory experience of the world imbues the narrative. I’m guessing most of your stories are about us regular “button heads” and our boringly dulled senses. What was it like to write in close-third from Zylina’s perspective? Were there challenges to writing in her point-of-view?

BE: It was a lot of fun trying to imagine how a person with a dog’s hearing and smell paired with a human mind would experience the world. Particularly in moments of emotional intensity, I attempted to focus description on these senses because they are primary to canid anatomy, taking precedence over the visual sense that usually takes the lead in “buttonhead” perception.

The real challenge to writing from Zylina’s perspective was honoring the refugee experience that I haven’t had any personal access to. I wanted to avoid clichés of immigrant kid’s lives while maintaining the reality of aspirational parents, cultural ignorance in their adopted homeland, and the baggage of geopolitics that they are expected to represent. I don’t think I would have attempted this without the relative freedom of the mythopoeic space opened up by Ctesias’s inventions in the Indica.

EF: You’ve mentioned work by Ctesias and Vi Khi Nao. Were there other writers or works you thought about while you were writing “War Rugs”? In particular, I’m thinking about what you just said about trying to honor the refugee experience as a person who doesn’t have that experience. This is also a bigger question about writing across difference and representing the experience of others, I guess. How did you approach that challenge for “War Rugs”? Were there things or motifs you were conscious of trying to avoid?

BE: Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Barthelme’s story “Paraguay,” some stories from Jim Crace’s Continent, some from Helen Oyeyemi’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours, are a few of the pieces that I’ve been thinking about, particularly the way they handle slippery ideas regarding the way the West frames place and culture.

In order to get more insight on the life of migrants from Central Asia and the Subcontinent, I’ve read mostly reportage, but some of Jamil Jan Kochai’s stories and non-fiction writing have given me some particular insights on Afghan-American kids to draw from.

Things I wanted to avoid in Zylina’s story were religious extremism, helplessness, and the inability to adapt to youth culture. Media depictions of refugees often focus on the sensational and the pitiful, flattening people into endure-ers of suffering rather than full actors in their own right. For me, the best way to approach a character so unlike myself was to stay grounded in the more mundane motives that make up our shared humanity and guide most of our decision-making on a moment-by-moment basis. Zylina is a teenager. She wants love, fun, friends, independence—these aren’t culturally bound desires; they’re human ones.

EF: The ancient Greek thing runs throughout here, certainly we see it in terms of character names (Themestius, Zylina, etc.) and the Cynocephali themselves, but it’s also woven into the fabric of the story. Some early conversations I remember having with you were about formatting, since the story includes various sorts of scripts and, in an early version, several fonts and even a recipe. What Patricia and I hadn’t put together early on, though, was that the ending script is actually a Socratic Dialogue. You had to cue us in on that. Are there other nods toward Ancient Greek texts or sources that might otherwise escape the casual reader’s notice?

BE: The only specific text that I had in mind was Ctesias’s, but throughout the story, I see Zylina’s adventures as inquiries into virtue ethics of the kind that preoccupied Classical Greek philosophers. She’s realizing that like all of us, she lives in a world that’s short on justice (despite high rhetoric), but she’s trying hard to figure out what it means to live a good life.

EF: Lastly, we’re corresponding in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic—which would certainly be affecting Zylina’s door-to-door sales if the action in “War Rugs” was happening now. How are you and your family holding up? Do you think we’re going to see a lot of quarantine stories pop up over the next year-or-so, in the pages of The New Yorker maybe?

BE: Shockingly, I’ve gotten two door-to-door pitches in the last week. One for an exterminator and another for solar panels. The sales people stood back a respectful six feet from the house, but still!

My wife, Stacy, and I are merely keeping two children under two years old alive. In whatever time we have left, we are teaching courses online, pecking at writing and related projects, and maybe squeezing in an episode of Devs before bed. My social-distancing book stack is just three deep for right now: my wife’s revised novel manuscript, and two by Jim Crace, Quarantine and The Pesthouse. I don’t have great confidence that I’ll get through all of them any time soon.

I suppose that some people are writing their pandemic stories as we speak. There’s a temptation for literature to keep pace with the hot-take media cycle, but I’m lukewarm on that at best. I think it takes time to titrate these events and pull something valuable from them. But then I’m writing about characters introduced in around 400 BC, so what do I know?


Evan Fackler is an MFA candidate in fiction at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he lives with his wife and their cat, Zadie. His reviews and interviews can be found at Entropy Magazine and storySouth.

Announcing the annual Robert Watson Literary Awards

We’re very pleased to announce this year’s Robert Watson Literary Prize Winners:

Brendan Egan, for his story, “War Rugs

Emily Nason, for her poem, “Sertraline


Read their work in full in the Spring 2020 issue , which also features new stories and poems from Helen Marie Casey, Janine Certo, Lee Anne Gallaway-Mitchell, Will Hearn, Daniel Liebert, Robert Garner McBrearty, Elisabeth Murawski, Maxine Patroni, David Roderick, Cathy Rose, Neil Serven, and Alice Turski.

Editor Emeritus Feature: A Conversation with Sarah Bailey & Anna Blake Keeley

The debut issue of quip literary review is now available online. Cofounders/coeditors Sarah Bailey and Anna Blake Keeley (formerly of The Greensboro Review staff) discuss how they got started, what sets quip apart, and what they hope to do next.


GR: What other publications did you have in mind as you launched quip literary review–which lit mags or other platforms influenced how you shaped your own creation?

We had several other publications in mind when creating quip. We were both big fans of Tin House (RIP) and I think that influenced some of quip in terms of the kinds of work we like to read, how we want to create something that has an aesthetic, and that feels special when you read it. And of course, working together on The Greensboro Review taught us so much about running and editing a journal.

GR: How would you describe the quip aesthetic and approach? What type of decisions did you have to make around medium, images, content, appearance, etc.? What sets you apart from other publications?

I think the word that best sums us up is millennial. This not only applies to our aesthetic and audience, but almost every decision we end up making. What does it mean to be of this generation? What are the ways our audience likes to communicate and interact? Where is our time best spent?

We wanted a clean, easy-to-read look but with specifically millennial elements (notice the pink color and font choices.) Our medium is the website, which makes it fairly accessible. We don’t have a paywall and or subscriptions. We just want as many people to read quip as possible. We’re trying to find ways to bring down submission costs to make submitting more accessible as well, and we’re brainstorming ways to pay contributors. It’s a challenge but we’re committed to it.

We made decisions on every single aspect of this magazine, seen and unseen. From the amount of margin space on the PDF issues (we like room for notes and thumbs!) to the way the dropdown menus are organized to the way we format certain words, we thought about everything.

As far as what sets us apart, I think the feedback we’ve had from authors is how collaborative we are compared to other mags. We want to make sure the stories reflect their intent and be as great as they can be. We’re also one of the few online magazines with print capability. We have our stories formatted in two different ways—on webpages and in a downloadable PDF. This PDF allows the issue to be read on other devices, with or without internet access, and it can be printed in a more traditional and easy-to-read format should someone choose to. It prevents lots of extra printing on our end, but can still give readers the tactile experience if wanted.

GR: What does your behind-the-scenes work as editors look like? How do you tend to divide the work, and how do you juggle quip tasks with your other non-lit mag jobs/responsibilities?

I’m not going to lie, it’s tough! Lit magazines are a ton of work, even small ones like ours. Just when you think you have a handle on the workload, something else comes up or there’s one element you didn’t think about that’s suddenly a problem. Anna Blake and I both work full time marketing jobs, which take up a lot of our time. Unfortunately, quip isn’t a profitable endeavor, so we’re really in it for the love of stories and editing. We divide the work pretty evenly. AB tackles most of our social media and I handle website posting and any coding we need. We both read each story that comes in and vote through Submittable and we both edit each story. We start by splitting up the stories, then making our suggestions, then switching and reviewing and editing the other stories, before sending off to the authors. It’s a really collaborative process from all sides.

GR: How long did it take from first conception of quip to the fall 2019 issue? What did you ultimately need to get this first issue of quip off the ground (e.g., in terms of any physical resources, connections, your own skills/experience/emotional bandwidth)?

It took us a little over a year and a half, I think, from conception to publication. We had the idea during the final semester at UNCG, and then we both had hectic summers moving and starting new jobs, but by the fall of 2018 we were pretty committed to starting it. So we had to make a plan and come up with a name and buy a domain and decide on a content management system. We knew printing wasn’t going to be a possibility just because of cost—we aren’t independently wealthy or tied to an institution, so it’s difficult to start a print magazine without a lot of capital up front.

There are a lot of small infrastructural decisions that you have to make before you can even begin accepting submissions. Which is why it took us so long to get the issue out. We wanted to make sure it was professional and authors felt comfortable submitting their work to us. New lit magazines start up every day and last an issue or fail before launch. We see it constantly on social media.

GR: What do you hope to do in future issues of quip?

I think the first thing we’re looking to do is to start paying contributors. We want to do it without pulling more from our own pockets—the magazine needs to be relatively self-sustaining to a certain degree. But stories are valuable and we want to show authors appreciate their work. So we’re brainstorming a few different ideas.

GR: What advice would you share with those interested in starting a lit mag or other publication of their own?

Don’t start a magazine with people you’re friends with unless you’re also of similar editorial minds! There are tons of friends whose opinions we respect, whose work we admire, and whom we would never want to run a lit magazine with. You have to both want the same kinds of work and see similar fixes within stories and have the same editorial mission. You’re not always going to agree on everything, or someone will miss something that the other will catch, but there’s such an element of trust that you have to have or the magazine just won’t work.

I’d also say, get some of your own work published first. It’s so helpful to know what it’s like on the other side, but publishing also provides you with several different approaches to the process. How much developmental editing do you want to do? What kinds of publication agreements are out there? How often should you be in communication with authors? How do you want to inform them of acceptance? There are so many different ways to move through the process, and just knowing about the ways other literary magazines do things can give you invaluable perspective.

Happy debut issue to quip

The first issue of quip literary review, created by two former editors of The Greensboro Review, is now live. Congratulations to Sarah Bailey and Anna Blake Keeley, quip founding editors! Check out the fall 2019 issue, featuring stories by Ali Wilding, Emily McIntyre, Nicholas Plasmati, and Julia Naman: 

Happy Pub Day to Anthony Varallo

All of us at The Greensboro Review congratulate Anthony Varallo, former GR contributor, on the publication of his novel, The Lines (University of Iowa Press, August 2019). Set in the summer of 1979, when America was running out of gas, The Lines tells the story of a family of four—the mother, the father, the girl, and the boy—in the first months of a marital separation.

Happy pub day!

“A darkly cutting investigation of dysfunction in which the kids, more often than not, are way sharper than the parents.”—Kirkus starred review


Why We Chose It: “Violation” by Sharon Solwitz

By Richard Moriarty, Fiction Editor

What we loved about Sharon Solwitz’s “Violation” (in our Spring Issue 105) when we first encountered the story was how seamlessly it alternates between two very different perspectives while maintaining a consistent point of view. Attempting this style of narration comes with plenty of challenges: it’s hard enough to capture all the complexities of just one character’s perspective as a story unfolds. Sydney is a high school student recently bereaved of her younger sister; McCann is a police officer who carries the guilt of failing to prevent a shooting while on duty at the school where he worked. The events of the story elucidate the struggles of these two very different characters; they also manage to depict the common ground between them. The fine balance of character summary and present action in this story creates this sense of a similarity in experience between the characters. Sydney cannot listen to her friend describing her own familial difficulties without becoming wrapped up in her own: the narration allows us to feel her regret for not being able to treat her sister better while she was still alive. McCann is unable to so much as sit down by himself for a meal at home without his thoughts drifting back to the day he was taking his lunch break when the shooter entered the school’s library; we can feel his remorse because of the way his memories follow him throughout the story.

“Violation” is the work of an author who knows her characters so thoroughly that she can move around in time—stepping back into the past or throttling ahead into the future—to provide an insightful detail at just the right moment in a scene so it deepens our understanding of her characters without distracting us from the moment at hand. From our first read of the story, we were convinced the series of events that unfold was the right sequence needed to render its characters as close to life-like as possible. After encountering characters as richly detailed as Sydney and McCann, we decided to accept the story right away.


Richard Moriarty just finished his second year in the MFA program at UNC Greensboro. He’s originally from Kansas City. He went to University of Miami (the Florida one) for undergrad, where he studied advertising. He’s working on a collection of stories tentatively titled River Runners. Books currently on his nightstand: The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington, Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and Run the Red Lights by Ed Skoog.