The Lookout Books team is thrilled to introduce our next book, We Show What We Have Learned, a debut story collection from author Clare Beams. As imaginative and compelling as they are emotionally complex, these nine exquisitely unsettling stories blend the fantastic, the historic, and the literary to capture the true strangeness of what it means to be human.
Already some of our favorite writers are loving the book. Caitlin Horrocks says, “Clare Beams is a magician, and each of these stories is a muscular, artful haunting.” Change-Rae Lee says, “In gorgeous prose that thrills, instructs, and thoroughly inspires, Clare Beams obliterates the ‘dividing line between possibilities and impossibilities,’ showing how our passions can rule with reality-bending magic.”
From bewildering assemblies in school auditoriums to the murky waters of a Depression-era health resort, Beams’s landscapes are tinged with otherworldliness, and her characters’ desires stretch the limits of reality to delight, surprise, and provoke: Ingénues at a boarding school bind themselves to their headmaster’s vision of perfection; a nineteenth-century landscape architect embarks on his first major project, but finds the terrain of class and power intractable; a bride glimpses her husband’s past when she wears his World War II parachute as a gown; and a teacher comes undone in front of her astonished fifth graders.
Four of these nine stories take place in schools. “I began to see the common themes and threads that tie these stories together,” Clare said. “Their concern with the shaping of selves has a lot to do with my time in the classroom.” These are complex characters, and their vulnerabilities are made manifest in all their messy beauty. From the mercurial space between girlhood and adulthood to a matriarch coming to terms with her legacy, these stories show us women grappling with power and legacy, prompting Joyce Carol Oates to call Clare “a female/feminist voice for the twenty-first century.”
This gorgeous cover, designed by Lookout publisher and art director Emily Smith, features art from Andrea Wan. We think it’s the perfect complement to Clare’s rare and capacious imagination. Find more of Andrea’s work on her website.
We can’t wait to share the full collection with you on October 25. These stories appear in Ecotone, One Story, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading and are forthcoming in the Common and online at the Kenyon Review this summer. In the meantime, we hope you’ll head to Clare’s brand-new website designed by the Lookout student staff, where you can read more about her and pre-order a copy of the book. And like her Facebook page and follow her @clarebeams on Twitter, too!
Going to AWP this week? We’ll be taking pre-orders at table 919 at the bookfair and giving out these beautiful bookmarks.
We’re so excited to welcome Clare to the Lookout family!
Honey from the Lion tours the land from whence it came this week! If you’re in the great state of West Virginia, consider joining Matt at any of the following events. Full details are on his website.
3 p.m., Sunday, January 17, 2016, HUNTINGTON, WV, Empire Books & News
6 p.m., Monday, January 18, 2016, CHARLESTON, WV, Kanawha County Public Library
noon, Tuesday, January 19, 2016, WHEELING, WV, Lunch with Books, Ohio County Public Library
6 p.m., Tuesday, January 19, 2016, MORGANTOWN, WV, Black Bear Reading Series
Ecotone and Lookout wish you and yours the happiest 2016!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The air is filled with best-of lists, Pushcart nominations, and NEA grants! And magic, of course: in the form of Christmas music, too many cookies, and implausible stories we tell our children. In honor of how fiction enriches our lives, this week’s roundup has a list of years-end honors received by Lookout authors and Ecotone contributors who tell us tall tales.
We’ll start with a heavy hitter: the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books features Lookout author Edith Pearlman, and Ecotone contributor Lauren Groff. And we love this list from NPR Books which features Groff again, of course, and contributors Claire Vaye Watson, Toni Tipton-Martin, and Jim Shepard among a slew of other really fantastic choices.
We’re grateful to Jodi Paloni who curated a list of the year’s top short stories for the Quivering Pen’s Best of the Year Short Stories. Melissa Pritchard’s “Carnation Milk Palace” from Ecotone joins stories by fellow Ecotone contributors Ann Beattie, Bill Roorbach, and lots of other greats.
The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded their fall fellowships for creative writers, and we’re so happy for Ecotone contributor Vedran Husic.
Speaking of Santa Claus, Ecotone contributor Clare Beams has a post up on the Ploughshares blog on historical fiction. She says, “The past I want to read and write about is always the kind alive enough to frighten.” Which is why we love her writing so. And perhaps the holidays, too. Is the idea of a man coming down your chimney not more than a little bit frightening?
Thanks, as always, for reading. We’ll be back with roundup in the new year. In the meantime, here’s hoping your season is filled with the best-of everything! Including stories.
If you love fiction as much as we do, we’ve got a fantastic holiday deal for you! Astoria to Zion features twenty-six of our favorite stories from the first decade of Ecotone from writers including Lauren Groff, Brad Watson, Edith Pearlman, Rick Bass, and Rebecca Makkai. Use code HOLIDAY15 at checkout to get a copy for only $10! (It retails for $18.95, so this is a huge deal, guys.)
To entice you further, here’s more about one of the stories, “Horse People” by Cary Holladay, from Ecotone fiction editor Ryan Kaune. You can find introductions to many of the other stories on the blog here.
Introducing “Horse People”
At AWP in Seattle, I had the distinct pleasure of not only attending the book release party for Astoria to Zion, but also hearing Cary Holladay read and talk about a selection from her short story, “Horse People,” which is included in this wonderful anthology. Long after the party, I was still unable to shake a few especially poignant remarks from Holladay’s speech—in particular, her mentioning that silence is part of every family story, and that we all have to do the work of interrogating the past. Of course, she was more eloquent than I’m able to render here on the page, but what she said really spoke to me. It hit home.
We all come from somewhere, from some place that is ours and ours alone, no matter how many others share a similar geography. And just as that place often shapes who we are and who we will become, the complicated mixture of family and history does as well. I come from a long line of talkers and tellers of tall tales, but I knew at a young age that I was not one of them. Instead, I’m a listener, an observer. And so is Barrett Fenton, the character whose progression we follow in “Horse People.” It isn’t until much later in his life that Barrett begins to mull over the events of his childhood and to question the truth of them, to try to understand the ways in which the silences surrounding those events, the facts left out or untold, shaped his understanding of place, of people, and of himself.
“Horse People” begins with Barrett accompanying his father on a trip on horseback, to fetch a young man named Phillip so that he may reside with the Fenton family as their live-in cook. When Barrett and his father arrive at Phillip’s house, they’re confronted with the tragic situation of Phillip’s father, who lies on a heap of clothing in the corner, apparently dying from a poisonous spider bite. As the story progresses, we begin to pick up clues about larger issues taking shape within the family—for instance, Barrett’s mother’s affair with another man, and the quiet assumption on the part of the Fenton brothers that Phillip is gay. It is only in his later years, long after his wife has died and his children have grown and had families of their own, that Barrett finally chooses to ponder the mysterious events in his childhood and to finally reconcile his past—“feeling how impossible it was to tell the truth of an event, to know the truth of another person’s life.” He wonders about the mysterious silences that surround his mother and father, their relationship, his mother’s affair, and finally, Phillip. The story ends with Barrett looking deep within his past, within himself, realizing that he can’t remember a crucial part of the story of Phillip’s father. It is this missing piece, possibly more than any other gap in his memory, that causes him the most distress.
“Horse People” is a leisurely, seemingly straightforward story about a particular boy and his family, but it asks more from us than a surface-level reading. It asks us to reconsider the truths that have shaped our collective understanding of culture, class, race, and sexuality. It asks us to stare down our past and wonder at the blank spaces in the narrative.
—Ryan Kaune, Ecotone fiction editor
This fall the Lookout team headed to the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Discovery Show to talk up our titles and to highlight our debut novel, Honey from the Lion, to hundreds of smart and enthusiastic bibliophiles. After allowing them first dibs on all the galleys (of course!), we couldn’t help nabbing a few for ourselves. In this special SIBA edition of What We’re Reading, Lookout staff members share the new books that caught their eye.
I’m reading Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, which just came out (October 20) from Harper Perennial. I listen to the podcast and enjoy the part-Lovecraft, part-Scooby Doo, and part-psychological thriller world that they’ve created. Books are easier for me to digest than podcasts, because I’m a visual learner. So I’m excited to see how I interact with Night Vale as a reader rather than as a listener.
—Megan Ellis, MFA candidate and Lookout intern
While wandering the trade show floor, I was able to get my hands on a galley of Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson, due out in January 2016 from Harper. I met Sari at the AWP conference last spring, so I was thrilled to find her new novel about a young ballerina coming of age in 1970s NYC. Sari was a Provincetown Fine Arts Center fellow, keeping good company with Lookout’s novelist, Matthew Neill Null, who now coordinates the writing program there. “She’s one of ours,” Matt said when he saw me holding the book. Girl Through Glass no doubt marks the beginning of her bright career.
—Bethany Tap, MFA candidate and Lookout intern
I first read about Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dover (FSG) on Kirkus’ list of books that shouldn’t be overlooked this fall, full as it is of new books from literary heavy hitters. The description of the book’s ten stories—each told from an animal’s point of view, during human conflict, spanning the last century, and connected somehow to a writer—was so strange, so audacious, that it rose above the other books on the list and took up lodging in my head. In a lesser writer’s hands, the stories could feel gimmicky, sentimental, overwrought. But the reviews I read said otherwise, and I wanted to see the concept pulled off. When I noticed its stunning cover at SIBA, it absolutely sealed the deal. I wasn’t going home without it.
—Beth Staples, Associate Editor of Lookout Books
Ecotone’s tagline is “reimagining place,” and we love work that brings us to a specific location, real or imagined. In this new department, Save Your Place, we’ll highlight our favorite descriptions of place from work we’ve published at Ecotone and Lookout.
This place is from Chaz Reetz-Laiolo’s story, “Animals” from Ecotone 15.
“Morning. Already ninety-six degrees. The far and staggered blue mountains wavered in the distance. The palm fronds had yellowed, even browned at the tips. The shadow of one of the Air Force jets tumbled crazed across the land and was gone. And none of them seemed to notice, save for Peter. The rest of them with flies walking delicately on their body hair. It was a sort of drunkenness they were into. They wondered aloud if the concrete between the roof tiles had always looked so cruddy. If the black cross on the tower was Episcopalian or Dominican. When was the last time that the bell tolled. It would have surprised them that there was anything beyond the crooked driveway that looked now like a river in drought.”
Honey from the Lion, Lookout’s debut novel, takes places in the West Virginia Alleghenies at the turn of the century, and tells the story of how the logging boom changed the landscape—and the lives of a group of people there—forever. In honor of the book, this edition of Making a List details some facts you might not know about West Virginia from one of its own, Lookout Intern Isabelle Shepherd.
#1: Origin of the term “redneck”
The first use of “redneck” appears in the seventeenth century, springing from the Scottish Covenanters, a Presbyterian independence movement. At the time, King Charles I attempted to bring Scotland’s Presbyterian church under his control; in response, the Scottish Presbyterians signed the National Covenant in 1638. The document, signed in blood, declared their allegiance to their religion over the King of England. To symbolize this oath, the Covenanters wore blood-red bandannas around their necks. Eventually, these “rednecks” immigrated to the American colonies and spread down to the Southern states.
Later, wealthy Southern plantation owners may have used the term to distinguish themselves from the poor, and so bestowed the name upon those white field laborers whose necks were turned red with sunburn.
And finally, the coal mining unions appropriated the term. Between 1912 and 1936, strikers in West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and western Pennsylvania between 1912 and 1936 wore red bandannas to distinguish themselves as union men. The informal garment was a symbol of unity meant to cross racial divisions between white, black, and immigrant miners.
#2: Pepperoni rolls are a legacy of Italian immigrants
Those who are raised in West Virginia become quite puzzled once they venture out of the state’s boundaries. Where is the staple food—delicious dough wrapped around pepperoni and mozzarella? They can be dipped in marinara, but West Virginians love them just as well plain. And they can be found everywhere—high school bake sales, roadside convenience stores, donut shops, grocers, and even bars.Continue Reading
I am drawn to any place near a large body of water—the Pacific coast or the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador; the coral atolls of the Marshall Islands; the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada; Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin; the Mississippi River all the way from the headwaters to the Gulf. A kind of subliminal pressure pushes down on my soul when I spend too long away—like right now, when I am living in a city apartment building that’s surrounded by cement—and it happens so slowly that it’s almost unnoticeable at first. But as soon as I get near the water again, I realize how much less I had been in its absence. It might be clichéd or romanticized to think of this circumstance as stemming from some intrinsic biospiritual need, but I can’t explain it any other way.
Tegan Nia Swanson is a graduate of the MFA Program in Creative Writing & Environment Program at Iowa State University, where she was the 2011 Pearl Hogrefe Fellow. Her fiction appears in Ecotone, Bellingham Review, Connu, and in the Black Earth Institute’s About Place Journal. Her novel-in-artifacts Things We Found When the Water Went Down won the 2014 Horatio Nelson Award for Fiction, and is forthcoming from Black Balloon Publishing/Catapult Co.