Ecotone’s tagline is “reimagining place,” and we love work that brings us to a specific location, real or imagined. In this department, Save Your Place, we highlight our favorite descriptions of place from work we’ve published at Ecotone and Lookout.
This place is from “What Looks Like Mad Disorder: The Sarah Winchester House” by Joni Tevis in Ecotone 17.
“But for the kitchen, the Grand Ballroom, and the séance room, it’s hard to tell what most of the rooms were used for, and that’s not the only thing that gives the Winchester House a rickety, kaleidoscopic feeling. There are shallow cabinets an inch deep, and others large as generous rooms; one door opens onto a one-story drop, another onto slats instead of flooring. One staircase ends in a ceiling, and another forks into a Y, eleven steps up and seven steps down. Despite the fortune Sarah spent, the house feels temporary as a badly pitched tent.”
In Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today, we interview Steven Church, whose fiction “Exhibit #8: The Peach Pit Rodeo Half-Time Show (Temporarily Out of Order)” appeared in Ecotone Issue 5 (available to subscribers in the archive). He is the author of The Guinness Book of Me: a Memoir of Record, Theoretical Killings: Essays and Accidents, The Day After The Day After: My Atomic Angst, and Ultrasonic: Essays, and has published in Brevity, The Rumpus, AGNI, Colorado Review, and Creative Nonfiction, among others.
The Normal School is approaching its tenth year. As its co-founder and nonfiction editor, what has surprised you in your work there over the past decade?
Honestly, I’m often surprised it’s still alive and kicking. I mean, when we started the magazine we were ridiculously ambitious, but I’m not sure any of us could’ve imagined that, nearly ten years in, it would have the national reputation that it has, particularly in nonfiction. The best, most surprising thing, though, are the regular surprises I get as an editor. It’s just really fun to discover an essay in my “to read” pile that just blows me away; and I feel extremely lucky to get the opportunity to help shepherd the writing of others into the world.
Name a book you bought for its cover.
I don’t know if I bought it for its cover, but Nick Flynn’s first memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, with that title and the strikingly cool black and green first cover for the book, with the tree, really appealed to me. I still like looking at it. I’m still bummed they reissued it with a new title and cover.
Your fifth book of nonfiction, One with the Tiger: Sublime and Violent Encounters between Humans and Animals, comes out November 15. It explores the liminal space separating being human and being animal. What fascinates you about the distinction, or lack there of, between us?
I supposed one of the things that fascinates me about the distinction between human and animal is that, like genre in literature, it is both meaningless AND meaningful. It’s a boundary that shifts depending on the circumstances and our desires; and perhaps it’s a boundary that is drawn most sharply in moments of inter-species violence and savagery (also true with genre). Maybe the biggest difference between us is that humans have a more expansive morality, shaped by considerations beyond survival; and in these sublime moments of violence, that expansiveness collapses and we are faced with only one morality—the morality, or lack thereof, that a grizzly bear or a tiger lives by. The book takes the story of David Villalobos as a jumping off point for a consideration of what it means to not only court a violent interaction with an apex predator and the desire to “cross over,” but also what it means to obsess over these archetypal stories of savagery.
If you could adopt an animal you’ve encountered in literature, which one would you choose and why?
That’s a tough one, but I’d probably have to go with Frightful, the peregrine falcon from the novel, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, if only because of the nostalgic place that book holds in my heart. I loved the book as a kid and was inspired by it to live in the woods some day with my own pet falcon. It sounds silly, but I wasn’t alone. The protagonist of the novel, Sam Gribley, leaves his family home in NYC voluntarily and retreats to the woods in upstate New York to live off the land. Growing up in the 70s and the Reagan 80s, this kind of escape from the wider world seemed like a pretty good plan.
When do you feel most confident as a writer?
I mean, it’s nice to see your work in print. It feels good. But I’m not sure there’s a bigger rush of confidence or excitement than what I feel when I think I’ve nailed a great sentence. I’ve been known to fist-pump and whoop to myself when I get it right, when the words seem to do exactly as I want them to. These are often rare and fleeting moments, but I think they’re the reason I keep going.
You have a superpower: You can immediately give to every person on earth one piece of information. What is it?
I’m not sure that’s a superpower. It feels more like a curse . . . ONE piece of “information”? I’m waffling between a return to the existentialists (i.e. God is dead, radical subjectivity and freedom, etc.) or a return to 80s pop culture (i.e. primarily quotes from the movie, Red Dawn), both of which seem oddly relevant to our current political climate. So let’s go with a mash-up of the two: “God is dead, we’re all radically subjective humans responsible for making meaning and morality, and all that hate is gonna burn you up, even if does keep you warm inside. Wolverines!”
Coffee or Tea? Coffee, of course. Now, please.
Morning or night? Morning.
Typing or longhand? Sadly, typing now . . . but there was a time when all first drafts were longhand.
Earthquakes or hurricanes? Earthquakes.
Music or quiet? Music.
Highlight or underline? Underline.
Bookmark or dog-ear? Dog-ear (even if I scold my kids for doing it)
Steven Church is also the Founding Editor and Nonfiction Editor of The Normal School. If you’re not reading and submitting, get with it. This fantastic literary magazine, a staple on bookshelves for almost a decade, coming out of California State University at Fresno, where Steven teaches in the MFA program. In anticipation of his new book of nonfiction, One with the Tiger: Sublime and Violent Encounters between Humans and Animal, we tracked down Steven for a Seven Questions. One with the Tiger hits shelves Nov. 8, 2016.
Zeina Hashem Beck’s poems, “The Woman in Our House,” “Asmahan,” and “Listen” appear in Ecotone 21. In the piece below, Zeina tells us about the process of writing 3arabi Song, using a glossary of some of the Arabic words in the chapbook.
Writing 3arabi Song: A Glossary of Arabic Terms
Tarab: a kind of Arabic music. The word is also used to describe the emotional effect of this music on the listener, who is almost in a state of trance.
Tarab: When Mom began an Umm Kulthum song in the kitchen, Dad replied from the corridor. When my parents’ friends came over, everyone sang. The only video footage my parents have of me as a toddler is me singing in the middle of a living room, surrounded by clapping adults. This was Lebanon in the ’80s, during the civil war. Every day at lunch or dinner, Dad made the same joke about a line from a famous Abdel Halim song – a line about how time was coming to heal us.
Ya’aburnee: literally means “you bury me.” A term of endearment, often used by Arab mothers, expressing their desire to die before their children, rather than live without them. Can’t be translated in one word.
Ya’aburnee: Three summers ago, my cousin was shot dead on the street in Tripoli, Lebanon. My aunt sat in her living room, crying and singing about her asmar, her dark-skinned boy. That same summer, two Tripoli mosques were bombed. I don’t know how many people have buried loved ones in Syria, in Iraq, in Palestine. How to write the untranslatable?
3arabi: the Arabizi way of writing “Arabic.” Arabizi” comes from the combination of “Arabic” and “Englizi” (English); it uses numbers to represent sounds that are specifically Arabic, and has become well-known among Arabic speakers (especially online and in texting).
3arabi: One of the books we had in our house in Tripoli was a big, blue, French-Arabic/Arabic-French dictionary. It’s one of the earliest books I remember going through; I liked its thick cover, its smell, its thin pages, its weight. Looking back now, I find it interesting that, like me, it was bilingual. Like many Lebanese, I attended a French school then an American University. I feel I live in many languages, and so does 3arabi Song. But living in many languages means using the language of the colonizer, the Empire – do I forgive myself? And how do I break English to create a space for my 3arabi self inside it?
Ra7eel: departure | 3awda: returning
Ra7eel | 3awda: In one of the first stories I wrote as a little girl, I gave my character a very Western name: Grace. I remember struggling to come up with it because, in my little girl’s mind, I probably thought, Who names their characters Zeina or Ahmad? Who sets a story in Tripoli? One thing 3arabi Song says is, Oh for God’s sake, who the hell is Grace?
Bahr: the sea. Also means “meter” in Arabic poetry.
Bahr: The sea isn’t always merciful. Refugees keep drowning in the Mediterranean. And poetry seems simultaneously useles and powerful. But language is what I do, so I do it.
Habibi: my love.
Habibi: I lose count of how many times a day I use the word habibi. I lose count of Allah too.
Allahu Akbar: God is greater.
Allahu Akbar: These words didn’t use to invoke fear, or beheadings. When I visited the US for the first time last year, I wanted to read the poem “Adhan,” which contains the words Allahu Akbar. My husband worried some people in the audience might not get it, might be scared. He also worried some people in the Arab world might be offended. This is what happens when you live in the liminal. I read the poem.
Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her first collection, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her second collection, Louder than Hearts, has won the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in April 2017. She’s also the author of two chapbooks: 3arabi Song, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and There Was and How Much There Was, a 2016 smith|doorstop Laureate’s Choice, selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Forward Prize, and has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and The Rialto, among others. She lives in Dubai, where she has founded and runs PUNCH, a poetry and open mic collective. Zeina’s readings often have a strong performative quality, and she has participated in literary festivals in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
It was an especially exciting week at Lookout HQ with the launch of Clare Beams’s story collection, We Show What We Have Learned, on Tuesday. The Lookout team has been hard at work on this amazing book for quite some time, and it’s been fun to see it getting the attention it so deserves. Here are a few of the special places you can read more about it.
The story “All the Keys to All the Doors” was featured in Electric Literature‘s Recommended Reading this week, with a fantastic introduction from Megan Mayhew Bergman: “Upon reading her, you make it to the third or fourth paragraph and realize this is not the restrained narrative you expected, that there is a cutting strangeness and profundity afoot.”
Clare got a bunch of love in Pittsburgh, the town she calls home, including this interview in the Pittsburgh City Paper, this review in the Pittsburgh Tribune, and a packed release party at the White Whale Bookstore.
And if you haven’t heard by now, she also got love from O, The Oprah Magazine, where it was featured as one of “10 Titles to Pick Up Now.”
This coming week, Wilmington will host its own special launch party for Clare as part of Writers’ Week on Monday night. To read more about it–and the other fabulous writers coming to Wilmington including Mei Fong, Maurice Manning, and Chinelo Okparanta–check out this article from Encore.
Speaking of hometown love, Wilmington’s Salt Magazine did a fabulous profile on Lookout and Honey from the Lion, saying, “The care and adoration lavished on a Lookout book is obvious…. French flaps, beautiful graphic design, and tailored page layouts are the hallmarks of a book that someone cares about…. At Lookout, each book radiates that level of care.” And Parnassus Books created this roundup of “Small Presses: Little Gems With Big Impact,” calling out Lookout books by Clare Beams, Edith Pearlman, and Matthew Neill Null. (Thanks, you guys!)
There’s good news for other Lookout authors, too! Matthew Neill Null’s novel, Honey from the Lion, has been named a fiction finalist in the 2016 Massachusetts Book Awards from the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and has sold to Albin Michel for publication in France in 2018. Oui oui!
And Ben Miller, author of the memoir River Bend Chronicle, accepted the Cornell College Leadership & Service Award for “contributions to American literature.” Ben’s acceptance speech is funny and inspiring, and we’re so happy for him.
And there are book launches in the world of Ecotone contributors to boot! Melissa Range’s new poetry collection, Scriptorium, hit the shelves this month. Chosen by Tracy K. Smith for the 2015 National Poetry Series, it’s now available from Beacon Press.
This is the post that nearly launched a thousand books. We hope your reading all the great new literature you can handle–thanks for checking out ours!
Clare Beams’s debut collection, We Show What We Have Learned, hit the shelves this week, and we’re looking forward to her launch party as part of UNCW’s Writers’ Week, Halloween night in Wilmington, Lookout’s hometown. The stories are rich with haunting imagery, and we thought it might be fun to imagine Clare’s characters out trick-or-treating. Here’s what you’ll need to bring her characters to life in your neighborhood.
A Corset — “Hourglass”
Ingénues at a boarding school who bind themselves to their headmaster’s version of perfection. “From within it, she produced a hollow stiff shell, trailing long tentacular laces…There was a flourish in her wrists as she held it out to me. A new form, right in her hands, ready for the taking.”
A Wedding Dress — “The Drop”
A bride glimpses her husband’s past when she wears his World War II parachute as a gown. “The dress wasn’t bad looking, in Emma’s opinion. It didn’t look much like a parachute unless you had your eyes peeled for the resemblance. The white of it dazzled, as white does. Mrs. Bolland had given it pretty sleeves with points at the wrists, a drop waist that made Lily look streamlined and almost elegant, like something turned on a lathe. Also, a fetching neckline, dipping to a V, just low enough, framing the collarbone.”
Depression-era Bathing Costumes — “The Saltwater Cure”
As Amanda Nelson recaps, in Bookriot, in this story “a teenaged boy becomes infatuated with an older woman at the fraudulent health spa run by his mother.” “She was swimming slowly, straight away from him. No bathing cap today: her wet hair was a dark indiscriminate color, like the head of a seal. Rob blundered into the marsh as fast as he could; he hoped to be covered before she noticed the skinniness of his arms and legs…”
Plague Doctor — “Ailments”
In this story, as the starred Kirkus review reads: a young woman becomes obsessed with her sister’s husband, a doctor, during London’s Great Plague. Dr. Creswell’s wife mends his plague-doctor’s coat and his sister-in-law explores the bird-mask he wears, “a clumsy homemade thing of stained and stiff brown leather. Its eyes were a dull red glass, one webbed in small cracks. Down the beak ran a line of stitches. A mouth sewn closed, but smiling slyly.”
Whatever you decide to dress as, everyone at Lookout wishes you happy haunting and safe trick-or-treating!
(Images courtesy Library of Congress.)
Clare at her first signing at the Women’s National Book Association-Greater Philly Chapter “Meet the Authors” event last week at Towne Book Center and Café
Lookout’s newest author, Clare Beams, is heading to North Carolina next week in support of her debut collection, We Show What We Have Learned. Her book tour, which includes not only readings but also writing workshops at middle- and high-schools, is funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.
Beams’s tour marks Lookout’s second collaboration with South Arts—the first was with Honey from the Lion author Matthew Neill Null last fall—and provides opportunities to extend her audience to include students and younger readers, and to offer more meaningful and sustained engagement in Lookout’s home state.
Educational presentations will include a class on short story endings at the NC Writers’ Network Conference in Raleigh, a presentation at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, and a practical workshop on the importance of teaching writing for aspiring K-12 educators as part of UNCW’s Writers’ Week. Beams will also offer writing workshops to students at North Mecklenburg High School in Huntersville and Roland-Grise Middle School in Wilmington, through the Department of Creative Writing’s longstanding Writers in Action outreach program.
The UNCW community, including Lookout Books’ faculty and student staff, will celebrate Beams’s book launch on October 31 (Halloween!) at 7 p.m. in conjunction with its annual Writer’s Week (full schedule here). Later that week, Beams will also give readings at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, Main Street Books in Greensboro, and Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, where she will be joined by author April Ayers Lawson for a discussion about their highly anticipated debut collections. Listen for her on WUNC’s The State of Things with Frank Stasio on Friday, Nov. 4.
Her full tour schedule, including readings in Boston, Falmouth, and Washington, D.C., can be found on her website. And if you’re in Pittsburgh, you won’t want to miss Clare’s hometown book launch, Tuesday, October 25, 7 p.m., at the new White Whale Bookstore.