Ecotone

Seven Questions for Rebecca Makkai

In Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today we welcome Rebecca Makkai to the blog. Her story “The Way You Hold Your Knife” first appeared in Ecotone and is now also in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade.

What books are open on your desk right now?

I don’t read at my desk (I sit here enough as it is) so nothing’s open right now except the New Yorker, and only because I was messaging a friend to add to our ongoing conversation about the way the New Yorker is so unflattering in its physical descriptions of its subjects. Seriously, don’t ever give a quote to them or they’ll say you look like an angry rabbit with crooked teeth.

Where did the idea for “The Way You Hold Your Knife,” your story in Astoria to Zion, come from?

I was still teaching an elementary Montessori class at the time, and two of my students had chosen to do a report on bogs, which quickly turned into a report on bog mummies. Then I remembered a college professor telling a story about her grad school roommate, an archeology student who didn’t want to be buried in a grave but left somewhere unusual so she could give someone “the joy of discovery.” I put those together—along with some scandalous rumors from my undergraduate days—and had the makings of a really strange story.

If you could change one thing about a classic work of literature, what would it be?

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On Location with Kevin Brockmeier

This week’s On Location comes from Ecotone contributor Kevin Brockmeier, whose story “The Year of Silence” appeared in Volume 3, Issue 1 back in 2007, and was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories 2008. Unfortunately, that issue was so popular it sold out, but you can find Brockmeier’s story and many more in the newly published Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon.

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Kevin Brockmeier writes:

Shorty Small’s, the restaurant pictured above, is located directly across from the elementary school in Little Rock where I was once enrolled, and has been for more than three decades. When we were kids, we thought of it as the most grown-up and dangerous of grown-up and dangerous places—“a wretched hive of scum and villainy,“ to borrow the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi. A shack! Where people drink beer! With a dilapidated truck marooned on a post out front! Whatever you do, we warned each other, if the soccer ball rolls across the street during recess, do not follow it there.

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On Location in the Cemetery of Pleasures with George Makana Clark

In this week’s On Location, George Makana Clark, whose epistolary story “The Wreckers” appears in Astoria to Zion, reveals the origin of a crypt he included in two stories.

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George Makana Clark writes:

I took this photo in the Cemetery of Pleasures in Lisbon. The metal sign wired to the wrought iron door reads Abandonado to denote that the crypt and those interned within have been forgotten by the living. This of course set me to wondering, and that wonder resulted in two stories set in the early nineteenth century. The crypt in the photo is mentioned briefly in “The Wreckers” and figures prominently in the companion piece titled “The Incomplete Priest,” also published in Ecotone.

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House Guest with Shawn Vestal: My Two Hats

In House Guest, we invite Ecotone and Lookout authors, cover artists, and editors from peer presses and magazines to get comfy and tell us what they’re currently working on, to discuss themes in their writing or unique publishing challenges, to answer the burning questions they always hoped a reader would ask. We kick things off with our first house guest, Shawn Vestal, whose stories have twice appeared in the pages of Ecotone. His story “Winter Elders” is reprinted in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade.

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My Two Hats

As a writer, I have a split personality: Jekyll the journalist, Hyde the inventor. Jekyll writes a newspaper column, and though he expresses his opinions, he is faithful to facts. Hyde writes fiction, and he cheats on facts with abandon, betrays and abuses them, comes sneaking home at daybreak, reeking of unfamiliar perfume.

People often ask me if I have a hard time moving between these two forms, and I never know how to answer—in part because I don’t have a hard time with it, and in part because I’m not exactly sure what type of a problem I’m expected to have with it.

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On Location with Lauren Groff

In our new department On Location, we feature photographs submitted by authors, artists, designers, and friends of Ecotone and Lookout, showcasing spaces that are meaningful to them, or that inspire their work—anything from a desk or bookshelves to a place they gather information. We’re pleased for Lauren Groff, whose beautiful story “Abundance” appears in Astoria to Zion, to kick off the series.

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Lauren Groff writes:

Ten years ago, my writing space had to be a separate room with a lockable door, chaise longue, bookshelf, and idea board. It had to be scrupulously neat. I refused to speak to anyone between waking and working; I’d brew a pot of coffee, lock the door, light a candle and meditate, then get started. If anyone had interrupted me, they’d have died a horrid death.

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Rick Bass and Stellarondo

Even though we’re now several weeks removed from AWP, I find myself mentioning Rick Bass and Stellarondo to anyone who will listen. Don’t get me wrong—I went to several inspiring panels, including A Shapeless Flame: The Nature of Poetry and Desire, and I especially enjoyed The Sun’s fortieth anniversary reading. But Rick Bass and Stellarondo presented something wholly different.

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image from prx.org

Because this was my first time experiencing AWP, and in an effort to narrow my choices, I gave myself the task of attempting to visit panels and readings of writers included in Lookout’s new anthology, Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade. I hoped this mission might help me more easily navigate the conference of 550 events and more than 2,000 presenters.

Which explains how I ended up sitting on the front row for this amazing collaboration of literature and music. I was introduced to the project when gathering items for Lookout’s weekly Lit News Roundup, and I had to hear it for myself.

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Friday Author Roundup

Happy Valentine’s Day! While most of us are romantics at heart, we’d just like to point out that we don’t need a special day show love for Lookout authors and Ecotone contributors. Fridays are dedicated author roundups but know this: we love you every day.

A few author happenings you might find interesting:

Lookout author Steve Almond explains the goodness of bad writing in his latest post for The Writer’s Notebook, AWP’s blog.

Astoria to Zion contributor Miha Mazzini’s Crumbs, the best-ever selling novel in Yugoslavia, is being republished. The Skinny speaks with him here about “navigating self-determination” and claims that this new publication “could prove more timely than ever.”

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Friday Author Roundup

The weekend is almost here and we know you have exciting plans. But first take a second to read our author roundup and impress your hot date with all the literary insider news.

Did you know that Astoria to Zion contributor Andrew Tonkovich is the weekly host of Bibliocracy on radio KPFK 90.7 FM, broadcasting out of Santa Monica, CA? Join him on Wednesday nights.

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Friday Author Roundup

A few rare snow days in Wilmington allowed us to catch up on reading this week. We’re back at it today, though, and it’s time to follow that author.

  • Aspen Times Weekly reviewed Brad Watson’s story collection Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives. “As all great writing should do, this series evokes a certain empathy for each of his characters and reminds us all that there is much more occurring underneath the surface with any one person than might be evident.”
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