Content Tagged ‘fiction’

What We’re Reading: First-Year MFA Student Edition

Having survived the first few jam-packed weeks of grad school, the first-year MFA candidates are already looking back on August with a nostalgic glow, remembering a different era when they could read purely for pleasure. We asked two fiction students, one nonfiction student, and one poetry student to discuss the books that they were reading and re-reading as they started the MFA program, the ones that made them excited and inspired, and the ones that perhaps they’ll pick back up in December.

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I’ve been working my way through a small pile of pastoral literature as research for a piece I’m working on. All were set before 1950 and I wanted to add something more contemporary to the mix. I picked up Evie Wyld’s All The Birds Singing and found a realistic, harsh, yet beautiful rendering of surviving on a farm. The story traverses landscapes, from a small British Island to the Australian Desert, connecting place to the narrator’s personal history. It’s a story that doesn’t shy away from cruel or vulgar situations. Instead, it embraces them and pinpoints the beauty that can be found there.

—Suzzanna Matthews-Amanzio, MFA candidate in fiction


A particularly bookish friend told me I must read Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers, so off to the bookstore I went. The setup to this 114-page novel is fairly straightforward: a recently-widowed father and his two young sons are visited by a shape-shifting, mischief-loving Crow (the titular “thing with feathers”), who takes up roost in their London home while they grieve. What isn’t straightforward is how Porter chooses to tell his tale, mixing poetry, prose, play, and essay, cycling frequently between the viewpoints of the father, his boys, and the crow. It’s a bizarre and deeply beautiful book, and left me wondering how a happily married, thirty-something, first-time novelist can so masterfully capture what it’s like to be ensnared in such crippling grief. But also: where was this voice and what will it say next?

—Jeff Oloizia, MFA candidate in fiction


I’m reading A Field Guide to Getting Lost, a book that first intrigued me as a fan (read: President of the fan club) of Rebecca Solnit, but also caught my attention for its title, posing as a type of manual for losing oneself. Solnit seems to peer so deeply into moments that feel undiscovered, or unnoticed, or simply ambiguous in their beautiful, human complexity, that she actually gives these ideas a type of directional clarity. But the way in which she muses on the idea of being lost itself allows her readers to lose themselves with her, to feel a comfort in what we don’t know or have yet to discover, and to rejoice in where we arrive together as the exploration unfolds. And we trust her as our guide because she so eloquently blends her personal narratives with cultural and historical examples, finding nuance and meaning in our shared human experience. This book feels important not only for the strength of her craft, but for the value in what we can take from it, as writers and thinkers, delving into uncharted territories of our own.

—Nicholl Paratore, MFA candidate in nonfiction


This summer I reacquainted myself with Larry Levis through The Widening Spell of the Leaves. The title is an effective metaphor for the way his best work operates, beginning in scene and then expanding imagistically outward and ever-outward to include politics, place, and history. Like the visual trope of the molecule that expands into a galaxy that expands into a molecule as the perspective widens its scope, the poem eventually leads us back into a single moment, with all new layers and resonances. Instead of a poet’s usual sonic tricks and repeated symbols to create patterns, Levis creates rhythm from scenes and images in precise, journalistic writing that recalls Carver’s “Cathedral” and Didion’s Salvador.

—Elliot Smith, MFA candidate in poetry

Lookout’s Next Title!

We Show What We Have Learned final coverYou may have heard the news by now, but we wanted to do an official announcement here on the blog: we’re thrilled to broadcast the details about Lookout’s next book, the debut story collection, We Show What We Have Learned, by Clare Beams. The stories blend the fantastic, the historic, and the literary, and capture the true strangeness of being human. 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.

Clare’s editor here at Lookout, Beth Staples, published the title story from the collection years ago during her time at Hayden’s Ferry Review, and was even more excited to work with Clare on a newer story for Ecotone, called “Granna.” The success of that relationship, and the Ecotone/Lookout team’s enthusiasm for Clare’s work, led to the acquisition of this fabulous collection. And now, after many months of editing, publicizing, designing, and planning, we’re all so excited for October 25, when the book will make its way to readers.

We’re not the only ones excited. In a starred review Kirkus calls the collection, “A richly imagined and impeccably crafted debut.” Publishers Weekly adds, “Beams is an expert at providing odd and surprising details that make her stories come alive, and the result is a powerful collection about what we need from others and, in turn, what we can offer others of ourselves.” And Amanda Nelson of Book Riot says, “These stories are angry and odd, and I loved them.” Head to Clare’s website to read all the love, including quotes from Joyce Carol Oates, Chang-Rae Lee, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Mary Laura Philpott of Parnassus Books, and Rachel Richardson of Hub City Writers Project.

We’ll be giving all of the details about Clare’s tour and reading schedule shortly, but you can have a look at what’s planned so far here. We’re also so excited that Clare will be here in Wilmington as part of UNCW’s Writers’ Week.

And you don’t have to wait until October 25 to find your copy–you can preorder the collection now. We hope it will delight, challenge, and surprise you in all the best ways.

Announcing Lookout’s New Title!

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.

Clare Beams website

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.

Clare Beams bookmark for Beth postFour 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!

Matthew Neill Null’s West Virginia Tour

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.

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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

News Roundup

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.

Huge thanks to the good folks at At Length for their Pushcart nomination of “Where Judges Walk,” part of Matthew Neill Null’s novel from Lookout, Honey from the Lion.

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.

Introducing “Horse People” by Cary Holladay—and a holiday discount on Astoria to Zion

AstoriatoZion3DforLookoutweb_000If 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

What We’re Reading: the SIBA Edition

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.

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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

Save Your Place: Beyond the Crooked Driveway

Ecotone15_Cover-325x480Ecotone’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.”