Content Tagged ‘Ben Stroud’

House Guest with Ben Stroud: Wrestling with History

In House Guest, we invite Ecotone and Lookout authors, cover artists, and editors from peer presses and magazines to tell us what they’re working on, to discuss themes in their writing or unique publishing challenges, to answer the burning questions they always hoped a reader would ask.

Ben Stroud’s story “Traitor of Zion,” is reprinted in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade.

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One of the great difficulties in writing fiction that deals with history is figuring out where to depart from the historical record in favor of invention. In some ways, this can be the biggest problem in such a story. I had this struggle with “Traitor of Zion.” I can’t remember when I first heard about the branch of Mormons that settled on Bear Island in the far north of Lake Michigan. But once I did, I tucked it away as an idea for a story. I was drawn to the distance of the place, and the audacity of the enterprise: to build a new settlement in this remote, incredibly difficult-to-get-to island. In my writing I’m often driven by a sense of adventure. I want the story to be a journey for the reader, but also for me. This seemed like solid material.

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Lit News Roundup

As always in our weekly Lit News, we round up the headlines and vital discussions in literature and publishing arts, and also announce Lookout and Ecotone author kudos.

Emma Straub suggestedTen Books To Read If You’re Not Traveling This Summer” for Publishers Weekly and included at #3 Arcadia by Lauren Groff, who has a story in Astoria to Zion.

More than dudes in tights or self-indulgent autobiography: at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Anne Elizabeth Moore considers journalistic nonfiction comics from California, Iceland, and Japan.

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Ben Miller, author of last year’s debut memoir in essays, River Bend Chronicle, has been selected as one of Radcliffe’s 2014–15 fellows and will have a year at Harvard’s institute for advanced study to shape a manuscript extending his investigation of the urban Midwest. Congratulations, Ben!

Last night at One Story’s annual Literary Debutante Ball in Brooklyn, two Ecotone contributors made their book debuts. Congrats to Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans, and Ben Stroud, author of Byzantium. We hope you both did it up last night! 

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Introducing “The Traitor of Zion” by Ben Stroud

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Many of us who loved to read when we were very young, who read everything we could get our hands on starting in elementary school, at some point had a historical fiction phase. For me, this took the form of devouring books by Ann Rinaldi, Scott O’Dell, the Dear America series, even (gulp) the American Girl Dolls books. This seems natural to me in the way that the popularity of fantasy and science fiction do—what could be better than discovering, along with characters and their fates, entire worlds?

What I think we forget as we grow up is how truly weird the past can be. But fortunately, we readers have Ben Stroud to remind us. In his story “The Traitor of Zion,” idealistic settlers overlap with whiskey smugglers on an island utopia in Lake Michigan. But to give that summary, spoiler free though it is, grossly undersells this story—not for nothing did it first appear in Ecotone’s Sex and Death issue.

Stroud’s layers of story are immersing. There’s a charlatan, as you may have suspected, but throughout the story the characters’ moralities are overturned—fathers acknowledge failings to their daughters, lovers fail in atonement, and enemies become new brothers. The characters are driven by desires not different from our own—a twenty-three-year-old works a dead end job during the day and drinks away his nights, all while wishing for some greater purpose. Stroud’s characters long for love, purity and grace, and struggle between the pulls of the sacred and the profane, the safety of home and the call of adventure.

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