Episodia 2.10: Writing About Other People

Photo by Josef Steufer

Photo by Josef Steufer

I spent the past few years writing a memoir about a secret I kept throughout my adolescence, and the book is set to debut next Tuesday. When I was ten years old, a beloved piano teacher in my small hometown was accused of sexually assaulting his young female students. Much of the town couldn’t believe that a pillar of our community would commit such a crime, and many of the adults I knew as a child threw their lots in with him instead of the girls who dared tell the truth about what he’d done. As you might imagine, this caused me and many of my girlhood friends a swell of hurt we buried deep in our hearts—both those who spoke out against the piano teacher, and those who, like me, did not.

Mine is a story about a perpetrator, his victims, and a town full of people who chose sides. All of them are portrayed in the memoir, and most of them are still living. As I wrote the book, I felt the weight of portraying flesh-and-blood humans on the page. I wanted to get it right. I wanted to tell the truth. I wanted to uphold their dignity, when appropriate. And I often wondered—is that even possible?

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: Why Lena Dunham’s New Book is Worth $3.5 Million

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena DunhamWhen I talk to a new potential client, one of the things we go over is potential advances. Most nonfiction writers get between $25,000 and $75,000; fiction writers, a fraction of that. Everyone who gets more than that did something remarkable to get there.

During this conversation, many writers have joked to me that they’re hoping for Lena Dunham money. Dunham, the driving force behind the show Girls on HBO, received a reported $3.5 million dollars for her book, Not That Kind of Girl. The advance made headlines, and so did the proposal, which was leaked and linked to all over the internet.

The book could fairly be called “hotly anticipated,” and with the book releasing today, the reviews have started pouring in. Those reviews are generally positive, if not overwhelming. And for the publisher, they do something important: They are all written by people who had assumed that the book would be a cultural phenomenon. Because that’s what Random House paid millions of dollars for–a cultural phenomenon. Continue reading

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Experiments in Perspective

Albrecht Durer.

Albrecht Durer

A crucial lesson I learned early on in my attempts at writing fiction is that every character is you–and not you. Characters have parts of you inside of them because you wrote them. But they are still not you. Chris Abani once said in a workshop that readers will always wonder if your characters are you–even if your main character is a Chihuahua. There’s not much to do about this wondering except write the characters you want to write with complexity and empathy. Continue reading

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New Ploughshares Solo: “Found Wanting: A Memoir of Misreading” by Robert Howard

Howard-SoloCoverWe are proud to announce the publication of our newest Ploughshares solo, “Found Wanting: A Memoir of Misreading,” by Robert Howard. The Ploughshares Solos series allows us to first publish longer stories and essays in an affordable digital format, then in our annual Ploughshares Solos Omnibus Collection. For more information and some great reading material, check out our previously published Solos. Check in every month from August to May for new reading material!

About “Found Wanting: A Memoir of Misreading”

When Robert Howard is assigned James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in his Catholic high school, his teacher, a Jesuit priest, announces, “Other people may read about it, but you are LIVING it!” Not surprisingly, the young Howard, growing up in 1970s Detroit, feels an intense identification with Joyce’s protagonist, Stephen Dedalus. Although separated by an ocean and almost a century, they share troubled family lives along with a tormented relationship with faith and sexual desire. After re-reading Portrait in middle age, Howard looks at his two very different responses to the novel, and what he noticed and didn’t notice when he was young. “Found Wanting” is part literary memoir, part reappraisal of a literary classic, and part skeptical look at the idea of art as a pathway to personal transformation.

This Solo is available on Kindle for $2.99. Continue reading

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Lit GIFs: The Giver (and why I haven’t seen the movie)

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Let’s talk about The GiverThe Giver is a wonderful book by Lois Lowry. Many of us probably read it for school.

Recently it was made into a movie, which I refuse to see because why in the world is Jonas cast as a teenager? He’s supposed to be twelve, people.

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Literary Boroughs: Mexico City, Mexico

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Located in the Anahuac valley of Mexico, the Mexico City metropolitan area is home to about twenty-three million people or about two-thirds of the entire population of Canada. And in many ways, Mexico (as it’s commonly referred to by its residents—seldom “Mexico City”) is almost like a country all it’s own within the limits of the Distrito Federal and the rest of the country at large. Today, it makes up twenty percent of the entire Mexican economy and were it its own country, it would be ranked the fifth largest economy in Latin America. Mexico City is huge, messy, and full of incredible energy and people who keep the traditions of the former Tenochtitlan—founded by the Aztecs on lake Texcoco in 1325—alive. This despite (or, perhaps in spite of) the sacking of the city during the siege of Tenochtitlan by the Spanish in 1521 and with it, the infrastructural reminders of most everything Aztec—temples, streets, even Lake Texcoco.

Today, Mexico City is an undeniable extension of its Mestizo heritage. Its food, its street names, and its neighborhoods all preserve the ancient traditions of its Amerindian past within the context of a former colonized city. And this is mostly what gives Mexico City its panache. The commonplace, the polite, the rude, the peculiar, and the downright bizarre all coexist peacefully here. Living in the DF, you can’t help but feel you’re moving through several eras at once.  And, oh yeah—there’s incredible literature everywhere. Continue reading

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: We’re Over-Reliant on the Bucket List

bucket list doneHaving long hated the term “bucket list,” and having nevertheless thought about making one for myself (#MomentsOfWeakness), I was a complete sucker for Rebecca Mead’s recent New Yorker essay in which she questions its merits. In “Kicking the Bucket List,”  Mead asks whether such a list actually helps us carpe diem-ize our otherwise thoughtless lives, arguing that it can instead turn sought-after moments into mere items to check off: more things “to be got through”–so we can say “DONE” and move on. Continue reading

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Indy Spotlight: Hobblebush Books

hobblebushtypecaseHobblebush Books, founded in 1991 by author, editor and publisher Sidney Hall, Jr., is a small press in southern New Hampshire known best for its Granite State Poetry Series and its eclectic list of prose titles. While its poetry series only publishes authors who live in or have a strong connection to New Hampshire—most recent titles are the dark and playful Talismans by Maudelle Driskell and Falling Ashes by James Fowler, a collection primarily of haiku and haibun on “war and love and the rest”—prose offerings are slightly more wide-ranging.

For prose at Hobblebush you’ll find Poor Richard’s Lament, a fascinating novel by Tom PRL_DJFitzgerald exploring the what-if scenario of Benjamin Franklin plunked into the twenty-first century; you’ll discover Creating the Peaceable Classroom by Sandy Bothmer, a wellness guide for educators, parents and students; and finally, you can pick from an assortment of memoirs that take you anywhere from the top of Mount Washington to the ports of New Orleans and Nova Scotia to the plains of East Africa.

For the Ploughshares blog, Sidney Hall, Jr. discusses Hobblebush’s mission, acquisitions, and its increasing public presence in the region (let’s just say they have a reputation for throwing great readings).

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I Have To Tell You

Cover of I Have To Tell YouI Have To Tell You
Victoria Hetherington
0s&1s, 2014
69,000 words
$6.00

Buy: ebook

While reading Victoria Hetherington’s novel, I Have To Tell You, I occasionally found myself wanting to shake one or two of the characters for a host of self-destructive behaviors and dysfunctional relationships. And just as my frustration rose, inevitably one of Hetherington’s precisely crafted sentences would render her characters so vulnerable and relateable that I found myself willing if not to forgive, then to understand their infidelities, obsessions and shortcomings. This pattern in my reading experience is a powerful testament to Hetherington’s ability to create immensely engaging characters and shine kindness on the less admirable sides of our natures. Continue reading

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Private Tutor to the Stars: On THE HOOPS WHISPERER by Idan Ravin

Even this man needs a tutor for the subject he knows best.

Even this man needs a tutor for the subject he knows best.

The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Heads of Basketball’s Best Players
Idan Ravin
Gotham Books, 2014
246 pages

Buy: book | ebook

As a national champion during his only year of college, as the third overall pick in the NBA draft, and as a recipient, this summer, of a five-year, $124 million contract from the New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony has spent his entire adult life playing elite basketball, and under the brightest lights of public scrutiny. Anthony has averaged at least 20 points scored per game in each of his eleven NBA seasons and has already earned an estimated $135.8 million in team salary, with untold millions more coming from endorsements and additional investments. Carmelo Anthony’s life couldn’t be more different than yours and mine if he were living on a different planet. Continue reading

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