A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain

This review was contributed by Nathan McNamara

18114114A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain
Adrianne Harun
Penguin Books, February 2014
272 pages
$16.00

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As many as forty young aboriginal women have gone missing since 1960 from the Highway of Tears in northern British Columbia. Many of them were found dead, and their murders and disappearances remain unsolved. This is the real-life context for Adrianne Harun’s first novel, A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain.

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Writing Lessons: Amy Mackin

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Amy Mackin, a candidate in the Communications program at Curry College. —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

justamy_medIn my late thirties, I decided I wanted to write for publication. (I had always written, just not for public consumption.) To begin this endeavor, I started writing a young adult novel—a coming-of-age story featuring a fourteen-year-old protagonist. The process quickly consumed me and forced me to examine my own upbringing and teen years in a way I had never done before, leading to the realization that some of those experiences had negatively impacted me for years after.

For a pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps native New Englander, this wasn’t easy to admit. I was of the camp that says, “Toughen up. We’ve all been through it. We all survived.” Only the truth was, we all didn’t. There were kids who retreated into drugs and alcohol to dull the pain, and never reemerged. Some resorted to violence to place themselves at the top of the social hierarchy. Others, labeled too sensitive, too thin-skinned, took their own lives.

My son falls into that sensitive, thin-skinned category. I had been working on my teen novel for a couple of years when he began to get off the school bus without a word, storm to his room, and slam the door behind him. When I asked what was wrong, he shouted, “I hate my life!”Continue Reading

Writing Lessons: Andrew Jason Valencia

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Andrew Jason Valencia, an MFA candidate at the University of South Carolina. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AValenciaWrites —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

photoOf all the adjustments I had to make when I enrolled in an MFA program, coming to terms with depression was the most confusing. For those of us who study fiction, it’s easy to fall into the habit of viewing life in terms of epiphanies, of measuring our personal growth according to moments of clarity or transcendence, when suddenly we feel that something major has changed, and that the change will be permanent. Or, as the character Bonaparte puts it in Frank O’Connor’s story “Guest of the Nation”: “And anything that happened to me afterwards, I never felt the same about again.”

The problem with depression is that the condition often presents itself as a total absence of feeling, good or bad—so that even if you find yourself in a moment when things suddenly seem clear, it’s unlikely that your brain will register the experience accordingly.

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: Why Louie Is Like Great Literature

Tasha Golden is on vacation from the blog this week, so covering for her on the Round-Down today is the writer Gila Lyons. Gila’s work has appeared in Salon, The Millions, The Morning News, Tablet, The Forward, The NY Press, The Faster Times, The Berkshire Review, and other publications. She lives in Boston, where she writes and teaches writing. —Andrew Ladd, blog editor

By Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ewer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ewer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Critics and journalists love to proclaim Louis C.K. the best comedian alive. They have much to say about his sharp wisdom and existential dilemmas—but few have discussed the relevance of his work to writers. Yet the fourth season of Louie, which began last month, has much in common with today’s great writing.

At times Louie is like a Lydia Davis collection, full of odd-shaped stories of varying sizes—some full-length episodes, some tiny three-minute segments. At other times it’s like the punchy vulgar version of Kathleen Norris’ Dakota, whose stand-alone narrative chapters are punctuated with poetic “weather reports,” as Louis’s plot-driven episodes are book-ended with stand-up bits. The material of some episodes are mundane like Evan Connell’s glimpses-of-life novel, Mrs. Bridge—Louis lying in bed eating ice cream watching the news, Louis picking up his daughters from school; some are surrealistic and Kafka-esque—Louis, riding the bus alone on New Year’s Eve, comes face to face with the woman he’s been missing, and as they begin their smiley hellos blood pours from her nose and she dies. Louie is in turns microfiction, magic realism, Avant-garde, lyric essay, short story, and poem. He is Aimee Bender, John D’Agata, Raymond Carver, Samuel Beckett, Lorrie Moore.

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Writing Lessons: Sarah Sherman

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Sarah Sherman, an MFA candidate at The College of Saint Rose. —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

64440_10202770643213471_1562209064_nBefore speaking to us, he sat comfortably in the middle of the room with his shoes off and his eyes closed. I imagined him praying to Buddha, asking for a warm and welcoming group of students—which, luckily, we were. The class was Advanced Creative Nonfiction, led by a visiting writer, Sparrow. Some of us had Googled him, read about how he picketed The New Yorker, laughed at his old, hippie appearance. But still we didn’t know quite what to expect.

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: Three Things Writers Can Learn From Solange and Jay Z

Between Jill Abramson’s indecorous firing and Amazon’s ongoing vendetta against Hachette, the publishing world gave me a lot of potential topics for the Ploughshares Round-Down this week, which I’m covering for Tasha Golden while she takes some well-earned time off. And yet there’s another, completely non-publishing-related story that I feel compelled to discuss instead, about which I have seen more tweets and Facebook updates and blog entries recently than almost anything else.

I’m talking, of course, about Solange Knowles.

49962842By now, the story has been hashed and re-hashed enough that I’m sure you know the basic outline. Solange, whose sister, Beyoncé Knowles, is married to Jay Z, attacked the latter in an elevator last week as all three of them were leaving a swanky party in Manhattan. Leaked video of the altercation soon prompted a storm of speculation, both online and in print. What could have provoked Solange to lash out like that? Whither such vitriol?

We’ll likely never know the answer, of course—but amongst all our feverish attempts to uncover the truth this past week, there’s a lot we can learn about writing good fiction.Continue Reading

Writing Lessons: Steve Lewis

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Steve Lewis, a faculty member at the Sarah Lawrence Writing Institute. You can visit Steve’s website at www.stevelewiswriter.com—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

steve_lewis_014-320

Back in the 80s I’d sometimes find, in my battered rural mailbox, pressed between SASEs from Harper’s or The Atlantic, manila envelopes stuffed with short stories written by my sister’s son Pete, my brother’s son Jake, and my sister-in law’s daughter Isabel.

As I read those ripped notebook pages speckled with whiteout, I happily assumed the pose of the kindly uncle professional writer, enthusiastically pointing out moments of real resonance—and gently, ever so gently, making one or two standard issue suggestions about showing not telling.

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Writing Lessons: Emily Maloney

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Emily Maloney, a student in the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh. You can follow her on Twitter @emilyfmaloney—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

emily_bridge_photoI registered for my final required workshop last fall. Up until that point, I had mixed feelings about my MFA program. I felt disconnected. I loved teaching but it took so much energy, and I never seemed to have time to write. Enter final required workshop.

There were six of us (seven if you count the professor), including one student from another discipline altogether. I hadn’t been the best about writing regularly. I prided myself as someone who wrote when I had deadlines. Have to turn in an essay for workshop? Fine, I’ll write something and send it in. Need to submit something for a contest? Maybe I’ll revise that thing I wrote last year. I had something of a routine before graduate school, mostly structured by my job and my commute, but the acres of free time I had accumulated since leaving made me procrastinate.

The official class met once a week, like many workshops do. But what our professor suggested we do before we did anything else, seven days a week, was show up to a coffeehouse close to where most of us lived. Starting at 6:30 a.m., you could show up and write. If you missed a day, that was fine. It was like a yoga class, or a dojo (our professor used to teach Judo, so this analogy made sense).Continue Reading

Writing Lessons: Sandy Pool

In our Writing Lessons series, writers and writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Sandy Pool, a student in the Ph.D. Creative Writing program at the University of Calgary. You can follow her on Twitter @sandypools—Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

IMGP4022-2 copy 2Do you find poems impenetrable? Do you cry easily? Are you overcome with grief at inopportune moments? Do not despair.  I have borrowed from my good friend and colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, to illustrate how easy it is to confront the difficult poem, and move on with your rich and fulfilling life!*

Confronting the difficult poem can be easily broken down into five distinct stages, as illustrated below:

1. DENIAL

“This can’t be happening to me.  I can’t be forced to read this crappy Yeats guy.”

Student uses denial as a temporary defense. Denial can be conscious or unconscious refusal to read poem. Student may insist on ice cream, or Chuck Palahniuk. Denial is a defense mechanism and some students can become locked in this stage.**

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Writers Do It Best: Justin Brouckaert

In the ‘Writers Do It Best’ series, contributors reflect on how their education and experiences as writers have uniquely prepared them for their lives outside the writing world. Today, we hear from Justin Brouckaert, a James Dickey Fellow in Fiction at the University of South Carolina. You can follow Justin on Twitter @JJBrouckaert.

justinbrouckaertI was playing basketball with friends from the English department a few months ago when someone observed that I seemed to be a mid-range player—a bit of a rarity in pick-up ball. I hadn’t thought of it before—I’d never made an effort to be any particular type of player—but of course he was right: I’m no sharpshooter, and I don’t make my living driving the lane, either. I’m a mid-range guy—the last of a dying breed.

Like writing, basketball is intuitive for me, but embarrassingly enough, I rarely know the fundamentals. And when I do, I have a difficult time putting a name to them. I survive by wearing down more poorly conditioned defenders. My abnormally high shot makes me tough to block. I bank shots from angles no one should attempt, and my best move is a flailing 360-degree fadeaway J that usually comes off the wrong foot.

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