The Ploughshares Round Down: Short Stories as a Path to Literary Success

Throes of Creation by Leonid PasternakI’m going to let you in on a little secret about the submissions in my slush pile. When one comes in, the first thing I do–before I have even read the first sentence of the letter–is skim it for the name of a publication I recognize. If I don’t see one, I go back and start reading the pitch, looking for a reason to reject it.

The main thing I’m looking for in new clients is an existing following clamoring for a book from this writer. If the writer has a great idea, however, and understands what it means to be a professional writer, I might still be interested. That’s why I’m looking for the names of publications I like in the author’s bio. If you had twenty-five submissions to read, which one would you start with? I’ll be you’d start with the guy who’s written for Ploughshares and then move on to the staff writer from the Boston Globe, too.Continue Reading

WWTMD? (What Would Toni Morrison Do?)

Image courtesy of the Nobel Prize Foundation.

Toni Morrison. Image courtesy of the Nobel Prize Foundation.

Lately, during the sad, unproductive stretches of writing my first novel, I stare at an empty page and whisper, “What Would Toni Morrison Do?”

This is the closest I come to prayer. Please show me the way, I say to my favorite writers. Please give me the vision to see what I cannot. Unlike most deities, however, the motivations of my favorite writers are knowable. On YouTube, in magazine interviews, and in essays, my favorite writers relate their inspirations and their all-too-human faults. Sure, they hurl lightning bolts of excellence, but they also reveal the failures of the spark.

So, who better to guide me than Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of ten novels—including Beloved, one of the most acclaimed books of U.S. literature?

It doesn’t matter that all I have in common with Toni Morrison is my Ohio childhood; I’m not trying to be Toni Morrison. Instead, after teaching a “Major Authors: Toni Morrison” course, I’m trying to apply the lessons I’ve learned from her work, about narrative structure, knowledge, empathy, and community. Here’s how Toni Morrison guides me.Continue Reading

POC vs PLOT: The MFA, Chipotle Cups, and Narratives We Crave

la-ar-weigh-in-on-your-favorite-cosby-sweater--002By now it seems everyone’s read Junot Diaz’s MFA vs POC blog on the New Yorker website. Even my freshmen at Cornell these days say to me, “Dan, was it really like that?” Usually I just shrug in response. I was a notorious recluse in my MFA. I had a girlfriend—now fiancé—in New York City who I visited every other weekend, and during that time I was watching a lot of films and HBO GO, desperately trying to figure out how narrative worked.

Continue Reading

Burnt Memories: Reading Gabriel García Márquez in Texas

tumblr_m7z6x2aG9l1qlc0voo1_400It took every fiber of me not to rattle off a quick ditty about Gabo the night after he passed.  I tried, of course, but then where do you stop? Fifteen thousand words? Twenty? In this digital age you’re late even if only by a day, which seemed appropriate actually, because I’m a Texican—A Texas Mexican. And in true Texican fashion, I’m always late to the good things: Warby Parker glasses, Death Cab for Cutie (after they were cool circa 2004), hating LeBron James (only after the Heat beat the Spurs in the finals last year), and Gabo too—who was the only Latino I’d read by seventeen years old, when I decided I was going to be a writer.Continue Reading

Las Damas: The New Generation of Latina Writers

La-DamaA student of mine asked the other day if Latinos still wrote. He was dead serious. And by the reddening at the tops of his ears I could tell it was a completely sincere question, a bold one with all of the shame that fills the liminal space between a bold question and the professor’s answer.

Tongues were clucked, little exasperations were aired. One kid even went daaaaaaaaaang for a really long time. And I have to admit, at first even I was like daaaaaaaang, because this is a Chicana/o course that I’m teaching. But when I asked my student to unpack his question with me, I found out he really wanted to know Who are the new Latino writers? Like, the not old ones.

He literally said that—not old. And I laughed so hard. Not because it was a dumb question but because it was an incredibly astute one, a smart one, and I told him so. His ears still kept red but it opened a discussion not only about the state of Chicana/o Lit but about Latina/o Lit at large: What are Latinas/os writing about these days? And who are they and why don’t we know more about them yet? Where are they writing? What are the names of their books? Are they friends with Junot Diaz? THEY’RE NOT FRIENDS WITH JUNOT DIAZ?!

Freshmen have this incredible knack for asking these questions everyone is thinking about but nobody is really asking yet. And I love them for it. I’ve compiled this list of my favorite new(ish) Latina writers for them and also for anyone else who has dared to ask: who are the new voices of Latino writing?Continue Reading

How to Shake the Other Man

ShakeCoverFinal-e1360725958529

How to Shake the Other Man
Derek Palacio
Nouvella Books, May 2013
63 pages
$11.00

In his memoir Townie, the young Andre Dubus III describes his early years in northern Massachusetts, where as a young man he turned to boxing as a form of escape. Not just escape, actually; salvation. A way to cope with his fractured life and family. Something similar happens in How to Shake the Other Man, the new novella by Derek Palacio—whose work was also just selected, alongside former Ploughshares contributor Jamie Quatro, for the O. Henry Prize Stories 2013.

On page one of Palacio’s slender book, we’re thrown into the midst of a training bout with Javi, a former rent boy living in Queens. Boxing, we quickly learn, has provided a fairly literal escape from Javi’s life on the streets; out cruising one night, he picked up a local coffee stand magnate, Marcel, who quickly took him under his wing—insisting that he train to be a boxer under Marcel’s brother, Oscar, the owner of a local gym.

Continue Reading

From the Slush Pile: Don’t Leave Me Hanging

 

The_End_BookMonday morning, two days post-AWP, your 2013 Boston Tote Bag filled with literary swag: postcards, pins, temporary tattoos, and journals. You have a renewed energy. Yes, this is the year. You will submit—over and over again if necessary—and you will get published.

For those of you who have never been to AWP or have no idea what it is, it’s the nation’s largest literary conference, sponsored by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and this year it took place in Boston. (For all who attended, I hope you stopped by the Ploughshares booth and introduced yourself—and then raced home to polish up your entry for the Emerging Writers Contest.

Continue Reading

Literary Boroughs #54: Boston, MA (Part 1)

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 and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the fifty-fourth and final post on our hometown, Boston, Massachusetts, by the entire Ploughshares staff. Part One of this post will run today; Part Two will run later in the week; and, also later this week, look out for a bonus Boston Literary Borough walking tour by Emerson professor Megan Marshall. —Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

DSC_0037

When Boston was first settled back in the 1630s, it wasn’t much more than three hills on a tiny peninsula—Sentry Hill, Cotton Hill, and the charmingly (and aptly) named Mt. Whoredom. These three hills gave the city its original name, Trimountaine, but all that’s left of them these days is Sentry Hill (now Beacon Hill), and the street running along the east edge of the Common that takes its name from the original settlement’s: Tremont.

The other two hills, along the way, were leveled to make way for residential development, and to provide part of the landfill that now makes up the Back Bay. Indeed, thanks to aggressive land reclamation, by 1890 Boston had tripled in size. Walk down to the Charles Street edge of the Common and you’ll be standing on what was once the Boston waterfront; cross over to the Public Gardens and you’re being supported, in some small part, by the earth that was once Mt. Whoredom.Continue Reading

Roundup: All You Need is Love (and a Good Story)

As we launch a new blog format for the new year, we’re also looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009. Our roundups explore the archives and gather past posts around a certain theme to help you jump-start your week. This week we have posts on love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Well, on the fourteenth, but it’s never too early to start spreading the love, and great literature about love, for that matter. Everyone likes a good love story.

  • In her article, “Fleas Are for Lovers,” Ms. Lowe tells that “once upon a time the flea was also a popular emblem of erotic love.” Who knew?

adult male Oropsylla Montana flea

Love Park
Image 1, Image 2

Patience and Courage: Finding the Balance between Teaching and Writing

I can count the days: seventy-seven. This is a very long time to go without writing a single sentence that has nothing to do with confirming a meeting over email, reminding my husband via text message to add chocolate-covered pretzels to our grocery list, or scribbling on a pink Post-It, Ploughshares blog!!! It is no wonder that seventy-seven days ago is also around the time when I started my teaching job in Boston Public Schools. Five days a week I teach English Language Arts to one hundred seventh and eighth graders.

I have taught before; I have been a teacher for almost ten years in public schools, after-school programs, non-profits, and universities. So, theoretically, I should have known this was going to happen, this…drought. I should have known to accept the fact that I would have my personal essay manuscripts abandoned on the corner of my desk, folders labeled “story ideas” completely smothered by student work written in bubbly middle school handwriting—sometimes written in orange gel pen—and that my beloved laptop might gather dust (in addition to my dozens of drafts for essays and stories and oh yeah, my novel).

Continue Reading