This review was contributed by Nathan McNamara.
Figures for an Apocalypse
Publishing Genius Press, August 2013
Edward Mullany, author of Figures for an Apocalypse, describes himself as a writer who creates short things that sometimes have “story” in them and sometimes don’t. His prose pieces—running from a few words to a few pages long—rarely accumulate traditional narrative sense or follow any sort of plot arc; rather, they succeed in the places where they stop unexpectedly, or focus on the wrong things in pivotal moments.
As the MFA vs. NYC book launches, as Emily Gould’s essay from said book makes the rounds, and as the bookternet explodes over the latest publishing controversy, I can’t help but be bored by the whole school vs. experience argument. I mean, forget all that. We’ve been arguing that one to death for eons. What really pops out to me in Gould’s essay is the financial hole she eventually found herself in—being somewhat familiar with financial holes myself.
Full disclosure: I never went to grad school, and have always been happy with where my autodidacticism has gotten me. I happen to learn more effectively by diving into experiences with only a moderate level of preparedness vs. sitting in a classroom and taking notes.
Still, I believe that no matter which path you take as a writer, you will sometimes feel like a success, you will sometimes feel like a failure, and you will always have to work hard to maintain self-sufficiency.
With that being said, here are my own tips for avoiding homelessness and starvation as a writer, influenced heavily by my own experiences. Continue reading
The ‘Writers and Their Pets’ series began with my own desire to celebrate my dog Sally, and since then I have also invited other writers to share with the rest of us the details of their lives with beloved pets. Today, please enjoy this essay by Nancy Welch.
You can also submit your own essay to the series. Read our guidelines here.
—Ladette Randolph, Editor-in-Chief
For years I cruised the websites of shelters and rescues. Established and well-trained. Mannerly. Mature. Such were the dogs—staid companions, their elderly owners bound for assisted living—that I tried to tempt my husband into meeting.
“No,” my husband said. “No dogs.”
His answer never varied, not in fifteen years. So why did I persist? For the same reason children press for ponies or mini-bikes few are likely to receive. Each time I tried to initiate a “What about this one?” conversation, I experienced the thrill of longing, my SEEKING system (as animal-welfare advocate Temple Grandin might put it) pleasurably engaged. When I asked him to look at a flop-eared pup with enormous paws, I expected him to snort. I thought he might alter his answer: “You’ve got to be kidding.” Instead, lingering over the website photo, he said, “Maybe …” Continue reading
Justin Kaplan, award-winning biographer, editor, and friend of Ploughshares, passed away on March 2 at the age of 88. Kaplan guest edited the 1984 issue of Ploughshares with his wife Anne Bernays. In their introduction to this issue, Kaplan and Bernays wrote “More and more, biography and memoir writing has come to be considered, by readers as well as writers, a branch of literature rather than history, an experimental venture rather than a matter of dutiful record.”
Kaplan’s biographies embodied this theory of experimentation, eschewing chronological order for a more organic movement through the subject’s life. His book Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain (1966) won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography and the National Book Award in Arts and Letters. He followed up with Lincoln Steffens: A Biography (1974), and his book Walt Whitman: A Life (1980) won a second national book award. The New York Times article following his death quotes Kaplan on the subject of his biographies (Newsweek interview, 1980): “I’m drawn to people whose lives have a certain mystery — mysteries that aren’t going to be solved, that are too sacred to be solved.”
In the 1980s, Kaplan became the General Editor of Barlett’s and edited the seventeenth edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. He changed the edition to include quotes by Woody Allen, Kermit the Frog, and Archie Leach. Kaplan and Bernays commented on their approach to humor in their introduction to Ploughshares: “humor is too often deliberately left out of so-called ‘serious’ fiction, the writer mistakenly assuming that to inject humor is to demean art.”
Kaplan collaborated with his wife Anne Bernays not only for their issue of Ploughshares, but also to write two books: Back Then: Two Lives in 1950s New York (2002) and The Language of Names (1997). Listen to an interview with Kaplan and Bernays on NPR.
Kaplan’s work as both a writer and an editor helped shape the future of biographies and the literary world. We are honored that he contributed his keen editorial eye and love of humor to Ploughshares.
Because I love transparency and being generally helpful to writers, or because I am a masochist, I let writers query me by Twitter. It says in my bio that if you can squeeze your pitch into three tweets I’ll respond. I’ll admit I have a few stock responses, but on probably every tenth pitch, I tell them to go ahead and send the manuscript.
This sounds really generous, but of those that get through I also have a set of subsequent stock responses I give after reading the first three pages. Usually there’s too much exposition, a plot clearly heading nowhere, or a main character making utterly predictable choices.
I have taken on one client from Twitter, though, a fiction writer, and it was because by the end of the third page I knew this would be a great book. It sounds crazy when you think about it: agents and editors want you to write an entire novel before submitting it, but they’ll make their decision based on the first few hundred words.
The most interesting thing I’ve read in the last two weeks spends a good amount of time on the importance of openings—it’s an interview with the Vice-President of Grove Atlantic, Elisabeth Schmitz. She covers a lot of really fascinating ground, but perhaps most usefully she talks about the difference between the novels she rushes to sign up and the ones that get tossed in the reject pile.
“Eavesdropping” by Vittorio Reggianini
Source: Wikimedia Commons
It’s not polite to eavesdrop. But how many gold nuggets of dialogue have you overheard in your life? I always feel at a loss when I don’t have a notebook and pen in my purse to jot down ideas and strangers’ intriguing utterances.
Recently, in a restaurant in Seattle, I heard a man say to a woman, “Well, that’s my shipwreck story. Do you know my belly dancer?” And, once, at the Bargello in Florence, I was so charmed by a conversation between a British woman and her tween granddaughter about Donatello’s David, I found myself lurking by the statue pretending to take in all its details until they’d wandered away, then dashed off to a discreet corner to jot down as much as I could remember: Continue reading
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
Until thirteen unwelcome dwarves and a wizard came and took him away on an equally unwelcome adventure.
The 2014 Ploughshares Emerging Writer’s Contest is now open! We will be accepting submissions from March 1 (today!) to May 15, and you can submit via our online submission manager.
The contest will recognize work by an emerging writer in each of three genres: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. One winner in each genre will receive $1,000 and publication in Ploughshares. We consider you “emerging” if you haven’t published or self-published a book.
For more information and to submit, visit our website.
Over the years, Ploughshares has helped launch the careers of great writers like Edward P. Jones, Sue Miller, Mona Simpson, Tim O’Brien, and others. We were thrilled to publish last year’s winners. You can read their winning entries online:
Timothy Schaffert’s latest novel, The Swan Gondola, is a rollicking adventure set during the Omaha World’s Fair of 1898, and starring a romantic and rapscallion cast of vaudevillians, actresses, snake oil salesman, and all around ne’er-do-wells. Inspired in part by The Wizard of Oz, Schaffert’s tale is jam-packed with so much drama, intrigue, and delight that you will finish the book begging for more.
Here, as an exclusive to Ploughshares, Timothy shares further tales of The Swan Gondola, from the weird to the wonderful.
Q: The Swan Gondola has all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster: action, mystery, romance, and the all-important super-cool period costumes. Who should direct the movie adaptation, and why? Michael Bay or Baz Luhrmann?
A: I think they should both do competing versions. Bay hasn’t done a period film since “Pearl Harbor,” and “The Swan Gondola” would be an opportunity for him to show his softer side while also incorporating his digital expertise in recreating the Fair, and the streets of 1890s Omaha. And the book seems to fit nicely in Luhrmann’s oeuvre, with its fireworks, burlesque theaters, runaway horses, grand mansions and less-grand tenements and garrets. He seems particularly interested in the tensions between the haves and have-nots. And both Bay and Luhrmann could do it in 3D. They have my blessing.
Posted in Ploughshares Bloggers
Tagged Baz Luhrmann, L. Frank Baum, Michael Bay, Nebraska, Omaha, Omaha Trans Mississippi & International Exposition, Omaha World's Fair, The Swan Gondola, The Wizard of Oz, Timothy Schaffert, University of Nebraska-Lincoln