Escalating Conflict

Adriaen Brouwer (circa 1605/1606–1638) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Adriaen Brouwer (circa 1605/1606–1638) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In fiction, only trouble is interesting. For the conflict averse, instilling a story with juicy conflict may take some practice. Someone who has read many drafts of many of my short stories once dubbed me “Anca Did She Forget the Conflict Szilagyi”–a moniker that has become helpful as I work on second and third drafts of stories. As is often the case in learning something, I was aware, theoretically, that I had this problem. But how to proceed? Continue reading

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Writers with Responsibilities: Ode to the Late Bloomers

julia-child-0908-05Julia Child didn’t start cooking until she was close to forty and I didn’t either. For me it wasn’t the Le Cordon Blue School, but a need to finally be heard. I found my voice after my fourth child was born. I stopped telling tales at the bus stop and started to write them down. And now here I am embracing the fifty mark and still wondering, Will I make it as a writer? But I have made it. I am a writer. I live in the world differently, listening and looking for stories. Writing saved me from the drudgery of the suburbs and the sometimes overwhelming loss of self that motherhood can bring. Continue reading

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Say Anything: A Case for Dialogue

Recently I was reading the prose section of an online literary magazine’s fall issue when I could not overcome a nagging sense that something was lacking. The stories themselves were well-written; the style was cohesive with the magazine’s tone; the narratives were engaging. Yet it somehow felt incomplete. As I scrolled through the stories again, it finally hit me–dialogue. None of the stories contained a stitch of dialogue. Certainly there were references to it and summaries of conversations. Actual dialogue, however, was nowhere to be seen. Continue reading

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Literary Boroughs #56: Tucson, Arizona

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive. The series originally ran on our blog from May 2012 until April 2013. Please enjoy the 56th post on Tucson, Arizona, by Adrienne Celt. —Ellen Duffer, Ploughshares Managing Editor Tucson, Arizona Only sixty miles north of the US/Mexico border, Tucson is a city of cultural intersection. This is a place where you can just as easily end up living in a luxury condo or an adobe courtyard building from the 1800s; where you can get a hand-mixed cocktail to follow your Sonorant hotdog (i.e. a hotdog wrapped in mesquite-smoked bacon, grilled, and topped with onions, tomatoes, mayonnaise, jalapeños, and roasted chiles); and where you can ride a horse, attend a world-class literary festival, and visit a Spanish Catholic mission–all in the same day. Despite its size (around 525,000 people), Tucson has an undiscovered, frontier feeling, with a passel of young people starting businesses, artists filling up coffee shops and decorating streetlamps, and a popular downtown parade dedicated to the Mexican Day of the Dead. Boasting warm winters, a low cost of living, and a hypnotically strange landscape, Tucson has a lot to offer creative minds. Continue reading

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The Ploughshares Round-Down: Stop Fearing the Business of Writing

don't fear biz Last week, Guernica published an interview with art critic Ben Davis, which begins with Davis questioning the premise that “the central tension of the art empire is that between creativity and money.” Davis says there can obviously be tension between what sells and what an artist wants to express, but he argues that money also funds innovative creative work. “If things were as simple as the equation ‘success = corruption,’” he states, “then you wouldn’t need [art] criticism.”

The same misguided equation has long haunted the writing world. It’s with trepidation and/or resignation that writers dip their toes into Literary Business, and it’s often with suspicion that readers observe the marketing tactics of writers we love. Why? Mainly because we’ve been told for ages that financial success implies selling out, and that any desire to make money from literature (or even to amass readers!) is indicative of having devalued Lit for the sake of consumerist advancement. We assume that “business”–a fast-paced, bottom-line-focused enterprise–is fundamentally opposed to the slow-paced, journey-is-the-destination mentality required of deep reading and serious literary engagement.

Fortunately, none of this is necessarily true. Continue reading

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Why I’m One Bad—But Well-Read—Feminist

Book Review-Bad FeministIt’s been a long time since I’ve felt like an adequate representation of “feminist.”

When I married my husband a little over seven years ago, I barely waited a month before giving notice at my full-time job so I could give full-time freelancing a try. Since then, I’ve slowly become ever more comfortable (sometimes too comfortable, I feel) with being almost completely supported by my husband. He pays all the big bills. He always treats when we go out to eat. I’m on his health insurance plan and his car insurance plan. Heck, I’m surprised they even bothered putting my name on the deed for our house.

I dance around the kitchen to songs with terribly misogynistic lyrics. I balk at squishing bugs, leaving this loathsome task to the man of the house. I get excited about things like color-coordinated scented candles and pinch bowls. Most recently, when I gave birth to my now three-month-old daughter, I became a corny cliche by admitting to my loved ones that, suddenly, it seemed as if nothing else mattered. Not my yoga teaching. Not my writing and editing work. Not even my dream to someday publish a book. Continue reading

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Capsule Reviews: Murakami, Burton, and More

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

9780385352109_custom-0f3fbbdbb53bd816cb906ed2438061ba089645f8-s99-c85In literary locales from Tokyo to London, Murakami’s latest novel was heralded with the hype of a summer blockbuster. In Japan alone, a million copies were sold within five weeks of the book’s publication in 2013—and following its English language release last month, Tsukuru topped both the Nielsen and New York Times bestseller lists. Massive sales aside, Murakami’s latest work could hardly have less in common with the prototypical summer bestseller. Tsukuru Tazaki is devoid of pulse-pounding thrills or even the frenetic surrealism pioneered in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. In their place, the author has penned a tale of existential quandaries, fathomless melancholy, and tremendous compassion for the spiritual turmoil of its protagonist.

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Percival Everett to Read at Emerson College

Everett, Percival NEW-1We are thrilled to announce that author and Ploughshares Fall 2014 guest editor Percival Everett will give a talk and reading at Emerson College on October 9.

Percival Everett, Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California, is the author of more than twenty books, including Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, Assumption, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, The Water Cure, Wounded, Erasure, and Glyph, and the receipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the PEN Center USA Award for Fiction.

The talk will take place at 4:00pm followed by a reading at 6:00pm in the Multipurpose Room at 150 Boylston Street (Piano Row), Emerson College, Boston, MA. Everett will be introduced at his reading by Emerson professor Jessica Treadway.

Jessica Treadway is the author of the forthcoming novel Lacy Eye (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, Spring 2015); Please Come Back To Me, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction (September 2010); the novel And Give You Peace (Graywolf Press, 2001); and the collection Absent Without Leave and Other Stories (Delphinium Books/Simon & Schuster, 1992).

After the reading Everett will be available to sign books. Copies of his books and the Fall 2014 issue of Ploughshares will be available for purchase. We look forward to seeing you there!

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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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