Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

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.

“Potential for miracles, catastrophe, and everyday amazement”: An Interview with Sarah Heying

Sarah Heying has fiction, poetry, and nonfiction in Broken Pencil, The Chariton Review, Ellipsis, Kestrel, and online at Bitch. She is currently working toward her PhD at the University of Mississippi. Heying’s new story, “The Chair Kickers’ Tale,” received the Robert Watson Literary Prize and appears in the Greensboro Review 105.

Rose Himber Howse: Your story begins with a fable of sorts, which (along with the title and your use of archaic syntax in certain moments) sets up the expectation that we are reading a fairy tale. I loved the juxtaposition of that mood with the dialogue, which is hyper-realist and modern, and the general content, which I’d describe, probably badly, as being mostly concerned with delineating the minutiae of manual labor and of generally getting by in the world. The fact that I found this contrast so jarring led me to interrogate my own assumptions about which spheres I associate with the possibility of wonder and which I don’t, which was uncomfortable in a productive way. What relationship do these two supposed opposites—the magical and the mundane—have for you?

Sarah Heying: I think you described it perfectly. I recently read this fantastic book, The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh. In it, he talks about how the word “improbable” is not the opposite of “probable,” but instead an inflection upon it. He argues that the modern novel sought to distinguish itself from literature of the fantastical or unbelievable by hiding exceptional moments under fillers of specific detail—sort of this representational scene-building that rationalizes the world to a place of few surprises.

Many of us grow up reading literature full of surprises, but then we’re encouraged to “grow out of it” in favor of more serious, realistic literature that’s supposedly more representative of the way we supposedly live. But life constantly surprises me, scares me, awes me, confuses me, and then I write a story to try to understand that sense my wonder a bit better, and I try to do so without rationalizing it into a manageable box of certainty. Storytelling, for me, is not a purely representational art. It’s an exploratory art full of potential for miracles, catastrophe, and everyday amazement.

RHH: “The Chair Kickers’ Tale” doesn’t really have any women in it, which I didn’t question at all on first read. Statistically, it seems accurate in a story about five people who do tough physical labor and one big boss. But in chatting with you during your acceptance phone call, you mentioned that you actually worked as a Chair Kicker in a coliseum. Given that you experienced this as a woman, I’m curious how you ended up with the model for the story that you did: a portrayal of male brotherhood that feels so evocative in how it encompasses both crassness and tenderness.

SH: When I stepped into that job at the Coliseum, I was immediately and frequently reminded that I had entered a men’s space and that hiring me was a bit of an experiment. During my first month, one of my main duties was to check all of the mouse traps and dispose of their little dead bodies because they thought that job needed “a woman’s attention to detail.” Then they started letting me put up the pipe and drape and apply the linens and table skirts, and then, after at least a month, they let me start setting up chairs and building stages, basketball floors, etc. While I was working there I also took a part time job selling beauty products, so I had to switch between these two extremely gendered spheres on a daily basis. It was a very formative to my own gender identity as a lil’ baby butch lesbian to feel both a part of and apart from both of these spaces.

I actually started the first draft of this story while I was still working at the Coliseum, and from the beginning, it didn’t include any women. Though many of the original characters I wrote didn’t make the final cut, Benny was always there as sort of an outsider figure. I feared that if I had made Benny a woman—even a butch lesbian woman—it would be too easy to read his outsider status as some kind of essentialized gender difference rather than as a difference in expression of masculinity.

RHH: We all believe we’d never sell out our friends for money and perks, and yet when most of us are put to the test—well, the world we’re living in is a pretty clear indication of what can happen. I think political fiction is totally vital and also teeming with potential missteps: the possibility for being didactic, condescending, etc. These are all pitfalls that we thought you avoided gracefully in the story, which despite its literal simplicity arcs toward a real moral complexity. Do you conceptualize your work as political? What are the consequences of doing so?

SH: Well thank you for the compliment! This story became more political as I continued to work with it because I’ve become less and less hesitant about directly addressing structures of power (state and otherwise) that attempt to govern every single aspect of our lives. I don’t think it’s possible to write literature that isn’t political—some politics are just less visible because they’re more readily accepted as facts of life. While I’m of the belief that the best literature embraces nuance, I also feel that it’s dangerous to try to hide from the forces and institutions that attempt to beat the nuance out of us.

RHH: One of my former professors loved to talk about the imitative fallacy, and I think you avoid it expertly here, in that the story delineates monotony without being monotonous. You also eschew the opposite extreme, romanticizing physical labor. I think your innovative use of the first person collective is key here, and for me as a reader, the most effective part of this point of view choice is, paradoxically, when the story abandons it. Phil’s trip to the boss’s office represents a fragmentation that’s sad and inevitable, and when the collective voice resumes, it’s forever fractured. Is this aligned with what your intentions were for the point of view? And I also wonder how you think the present tense, which tends to get a bad rap, factors in here.

SH: Oh Lord, I feel so thankful for everyone who suffered through and offered feedback on my bloated, monotonous early drafts. It took me a really, really long time to develop this first person plural to where it is now. It’s such a demanding POV that can quickly grow tiresome for readers, and in many of my earlier drafts it was much more of a “royal we” than a true collective voice. But it was so important to me to get it as close to right as possible to convey the double-edged sword of collectivity—the way a “we” can be inclusive and empowering, or, just as easily, exclusive and controlling. And the present tense seemed like the only way to write this story about people who are boxed into a particular moment that feels immediate yet also repetitive. I imagine most of these guys as breaking from the collective-present at the end of the work day when they leave the Coliseum behind, but jumping right back into it at the start of a new shift. If I’d narrated in past tense, I’d have taken the crew out of the self-enclosed loop that’s so fundamental to the setting and the story. When Phil breaks from this loop for a moment, the “we” fractures, but it doesn’t crumble—it corrects itself and jumps back into rhythm, leaving Phil behind. My hope is that it’s not clear to readers whether this is a good or a bad thing.

 

Rose Himber Howse is a recent graduate of the MFA program in fiction at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she served as fiction editor of The Greensboro Review. Her first published work of fiction is forthcoming from Sonora Review. Before graduate school, she taught reading to teenagers and adults.

Congratulations to the winners of our Robert Watson Literary Prizes

We’re very pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Robert Watson Literary Prizes, including a cash prize of $1,000 for the best short story and poem published in our spring issue. This year’s awards go to:

Sarah Heying, for the story, “The Chair Kickers’ Tale

All of us at The Greensboro Review are proud to showcase the work of these talented writers!

The reading period for the next Robert Watson Literary Prizes is open now through September 15. Please visit Submittable to send us your work.

Spring 2019 / Issue 105

Happy Pub Day to Kristen Arnett

Happy Pub Day to GR contributor Kristen Arnett! In 2016, Arnett’s story, “Roseate’s Book of Penmanship,” was an Honorable Mention for the Greensboro Review Robert Watson Literary Prize. We can’t wait to read her first novel, Mostly Dead Things, out today from Tin House Books and called “irresistible” and “a cabinet of wonders” in this recent New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/books/review-mostly-dead-things-kristen-arnett.htm.

Another Happy Pub Day to Jacob Appel

Congratulations to Jacob M. Appel, GR contributor and former winner of the Robert Watson Literary Prize for fiction, on the pub day of his latest novel, Surrendering Appomattox (C&R Press, June 2019).

“Combining mystery, intrigue, and satire, Appel’s novel is a warning about how far our society has fallen down the rabbit hole of fake news and alternative facts.”
—Robert Repino, author of Morte

Interview with Richard Moriarty, Fiction Editor

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.

Evan Fackler: You’re a wizard at the compact ten-page story, and yet we’ve chatted before about your admiration for The Art of Fielding, a novel that does for baseball what Moby Dick did for whaling. Do you have any interest in writing—I’m not going to say a “novel” but let’s just say, “a longer work of fictional prose narrative”?

Richard Moriarty: Haha, I appreciate that! I have to admit, though, I’ve gotten a little self-conscious about my difficulties with writing anything longer than ten pages. But it may just be that the stories I’ve been working on are better suited for the shorter form. I loved The Art of Fielding, and I think I read it at just the right time, a time when I was still very much obsessed with baseball and just starting to get interested in writing fiction of my own. It’s a great novel, but yeah, I don’t know if I would recommend it to someone who doesn’t already watch and admire baseball.

To be honest, it’s hard for me to imagine myself writing a novel. While Chad Harbach’s book got me really thinking about trying to write, I didn’t actually start doing the thing writers must do—making writing part of their daily routine—until I fell in love with short stories. I loved how funny Lorrie Moore’s stories were, how weird George Saunders’s were, how Elizabeth McCracken’s stories could offer all the complexities that I expected from novels. Maybe my approach will change as I develop as a writer, but for now I’m solely focused on writing short stories as well as I can.

EF: What are some of the most frustrating correspondences you’ve handled for the GR? I mean, things writers submitting to magazines or corresponding with editors should avoid doing?

RM: I think we were really lucky over the past year to work with writers who weren’t just excellent short story writers but also great people to embark on the editorial process with. I’m sure I tested multiple authors’ patience with all sorts of requests: delete a comma here and add an em dash there, cut a well-written description of setting because of a repetition, write a new sentence that adds greater clarity about a character’s past. The only thing that irritated me was when an author would overlook or misinterpret a step in the back-and-forth communication of the editorial process. It’s a lengthy affair and sometimes a complex one—with multiple rounds of editorial suggestions for a given story after we’ve accepted it—so it’s understandable for an author to miss one component of it. All this is to say that every journal’s process is different and it’s important to keep that in mind when working with editors on your story.

EF: Every semester GR editors put out a call for volunteers for something called “Bartlebying.” What the heck is that?

RM: Good ol’ proofreading! We partner up and read each story out loud to one another, many times over. After three or four hours of this, my mind is pretty much useless and it’s time for lunch and/or a nap. That said, I’ve found Bartlebying to be very useful for us. I’m always surprised at how many copy-editing changes come to light during this process.

EF: Do you have any absolute favorite stories you’ve gotten to publish?

RM: Dang, that’s a tough question. We accepted nine stories over the past year and I really do love each one. Some things that jump out at me as I look back are: the way Nick Brown’s “A Fundraiser” reveals another quirky detail each time I re-read it; the intricacies of character in Sharon Solwitz’s “Violation”; Sarah Heying’s risk-taking in “The Chair Kickers’ Tale” with regards to voice and narrative structure.

EF: FAQ – Is The Greensboro Review only for previously published writers?

RM: One of my main goals as an editor is to look beyond the author’s experience level and solely evaluate the quality of the story in front of me. We’ve published debut fiction as well as work from past contributors to Best American Short Stories. I think that’s something really cool about the short story—every single submission presents something new and has the chance to surprise us, delight us, or haunt us for weeks after reading it.

 

Evan Fackler is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can find him on Twitter @evanchilli

Happy Pub Day to Khanh Ha

Congratulations to contributor Khanh Ha on the publication of his latest novel, Mrs. Rossi’s Dream (The Permanent Press, 2019). Ha won the Greensboro Review Robert Watson Literary Prize in fiction for “Heartbreak Grass,” a short story adapted from the book.

Mrs. Rossi’s Dream has already won pre-publication awards and been a finalist for the 2016 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction (Sarabande Books), 2016 Many Voices Project (New Rivers Press), and 2016 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction (Prairie Schooner).

Robert Watson Literary Prize

Interview with Rose Himber Howse, Fiction Editor

Rose Himber Howse is a current MFA candidate in fiction at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her nonfiction and interviews have been featured on Dead Darlings, GrubStreet Boston’s site for novelists. She is currently at work on her first novel, The Stones They Broke, a queer Appalachian story. Before pursuing her MFA, she taught high school English and adult literacy.

Evan Fackler: Rose, you’re one of two fiction editors at The Greensboro Review. Do you and Richard [Moriarty, the other editor] usually agree on which stories to publish? 

Rose Himber Howse: Generally, yes. Looking at our respective styles as writers, you wouldn’t expect there to be as much overlap in our preferences as there is, and I like to think that’s testament to our general open-mindedness when it comes to a story’s right to dictate its own terms.

We can sometimes be attracted to different things when we’re reading the slush pile, but in these situations, we often make a pretty effective case to the other person for a story that they might have overlooked. It’s funny, actually–occasionally one of us will be championing a story the other has doubts about, and the next day the roles will reverse because we’ve done such a good job convincing each other.

Ultimately, stories with a strong voice tend to stand out for both of us. He’s more of a minimalist, which tends to be a good editorial predilection, and he always appreciates sharp dialogue whereas I can have a tin ear. I’m probably pickier about surprise–I hate when I can predict the next thing that will happen in a story.

EF: When you’re reading through fiction submissions, are there particular things you’re looking for? Specific characteristics or strengths you want to see in a piece for The Greensboro Review?

RHH: People always say that you should read a journal before submitting to get a feel for its style. And while I certainly hope submitters will read The Greensboro Review, I think that the beauty of a journal run by MFA students is that the editors change regularly, which means that personal preferences don’t limit the aesthetic of the journal.

The most obvious form that this sort of bias can take relates to a journal’s orientation toward experimental work, and I can confidently say that The Greensboro Review doesn’t come down on either side of this. If psychological realism and a traditional plot structure aren’t the best way to tell a story, that’s great; if they are, that’s fine too.

Our editorial process is intensive and collaborative. Having conversations with writers about how to edit in service of their vision is my favorite part of the job. Because we do subscribe to this particular process, we’re more willing than some magazines to take a story that might be imperfect yet more memorable and unique than a different, “cleaner” story. When I’m at home chopping onions or something and I find myself still thinking about a character, that’s usually a very strong indicator that I’m going to advocate for that submission.

EF: If you could give some blanket advice to writers based on your experience on the editorial side of things, what would that advice be?

RHH: Put a story in your story! It sounds really obvious, I know. But the most common reason I stop reading is that the opening feels bloated with exposition. That doesn’t mean that the first page needs a high-speed car chase–just that it needs to establish momentum for the story in the present. While it can be realistic for a character to have had a wounding event earlier in life that informs the present action, I’d rather learn about this through its impact on the present than through a frontloading of summary.

Every now and then, there’s a story with a compelling premise, but language that doesn’t excite or invigorate; however, the inverse is much more common: sentences that are stronger individually than the narrative that they make up.

Not that we’re looking for stories that read like action movies.  One of my favorite pieces in the last issue, “The Stone Lawn,” is about the interaction between an elderly man and his neighbor over lawn maintenance. It’s very quiet and very interior, and it does make use of flashback. But there’s an incredibly strong sense of underlying tension, and so it really moves.

EF: FAQ: Should I send my erotica to The Greensboro Review

RHH: Probably not. But never say never? Sex and sensuality are great if they’re in service of a narrative arc. Just please, if you are a man and your protagonist is a woman, don’t have her describe herself the way a catcaller might describe her (i.e.: “I looked down at my bodacious rack”). This has been weirdly common lately!

EF: Last question: let’s say you’re trapped on a desert island by Sycorax, Caliban’s bad-ass witch mother, and the only way off is through a literary barter. What novel or short story collection would you entice Sycorax with in exchange for safe passage off the island?

RHH: This won’t be news to anyone, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. While I think that magical writing doesn’t necessarily need to have a purpose beyond magic itself (for me, enchantment is enough of a reason to read) her collection really taught me how fabulism can be used to delineate emotional truths. I’m thinking in particular of the story “Real Women Have Bodies,” in which women are becoming invisible and nobody cares. It’s almost too obvious, but there’s nothing obvious about the artistry with which it’s executed.

So much of both the horror and the beauty in the collection are inextricable from Machado’s exploration of what it means to be a woman–often a queer woman–in the world. And I’m amazed at the book’s ability to hold those two forces (horror and beauty) in the same hand, acknowledging that they feed each other as much they negate each other. I think Sycorax would agree.

 

Evan Fackler is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. You can find him on Twitter @evanchilli