“What is the moment, anyway? How can I understand what a moment is if it is not frozen on my internet screen for posterity? But on the other hand, how can I understand it if it is frozen on my screen for posterity?”—
It’s crazy to think back on the life cycle of this story. The summer of 2009…that means it took five years for me to get from the nugget of an idea about a guy and the weather to this piece that now lives on the Joyland Magazine website.
I wanted to document this as a reminder to my future self, for when I’m feeling bleak about my novels or whatever it is I’m working on. Everything starts as shit. Everything. There were so many times I believed the story was unsalvageable. So many times I thought I was giving up on it for good.
I was never certain I would be able to mold the piece into what it was meant to be. But somehow I did it. And now you can actually read the thing. Unreal.
One short story, five years. But in these five years I’ve learned so much. Who knows how long it’ll take me to get one of my novels through that same cycle? But now that I can look back and clearly see the path that I took in order to finish that story, I don’t care. The amount of time doesn’t matter. There’s a lot to reshape. A lot more growth to be had. I’m calm and I’m ready.
“It’s also an answer to an old question: should you write for yourself or for an audience? The answer is “for an audience”. But not to impress them. The idea is to help them discern something you know they’d be able to see, if only they were looking in the right place. Happily, this also makes writing easier. “We never feel any difficulty when we are pointing out something directly perceptible to somebody next to us,” Turner and Thomas say. “We are built for this.” Understood this way, writing isn’t a performance, a confrontation or a matter of ramming information into someone else’s brain. It’s the writer and reader, side by side, scanning the landscape. The reader wants to see; your job is to do the pointing.”—This column will change your life: how to think about writing | Life and style | The Guardian
“The Memory Garden is the tale of Nan, an amateur witch who has helped women “in trouble” in the past — we all know what that means — and of her foundling child Bey, who may have nascent supernatural abilities. Nan harbors a particularly dark secret from her girlhood, a loss which led to her choice of profession. On a weekend reunion with Nan’s childhood friends, in which they gather for a “flower feast” — literally, a feast based around floral ingredients and flavors — and exchange reminiscences that turn into accusations, the truth emerges. The novel’s plot is formed into what Rickert describes as a “spiral” structure, slowly unfurling itself. Oh, and there are ghosts around Nan’s house, who pop in and out to aid the unfurling.”—
It’s no surprise that women on both ends of the modesty spectrum — who might be ideologically opposed in many ways — would be encouraged to focus on their bodies as a way to influence the outcome of a conflict abroad, or shore up a sense of national character on the “home front.” It’s the way of war.
So what is the solution? xoJane writer Sarah Seltzer suggests: “A writing workshop should always begin with this addition to the rules: ‘If you approach a word, a phrase, an idea or a cultural reference that is unfamiliar to you, it’s your job as a reader to figure it out from context or look it up.’ … The reader’s unschooled ignorance becomes the burden, not the writer’s ‘exotic’ references.” I wonder. Even as an instructor, I have had the experience of having to tread carefully around race.
"When Defending Your Writing Becomes Defending Yourself"—NPR Code Switch, July 20, 2014
“If I had a staff of even one person, or could tolerate a small amphetamine habit, or entertain the possibility of weekly blood transfusions, or had been married to Vera Nabokov, or had a housespouse of even minimal abilities, a literary life would be easier to bring about. (In my mind I see all your male readers rolling their eyes. But your female ones—what is that? Are they nodding in agreement? Are their fists in the air?)”—Lorrie Moore on the Difficulties of Constructing a Writing Life | Longreads
“Don’t think about how your characters sound, but how they see. Watch the world through their eyes—study the extraordinary and the mundane through their particular perspective. Walk around the block with them, stroll the rooms they live in, figure out what objects on the cluttered dining room table they would inevitably stare at the longest, and then learn why.”—5 Writing Tips: Dinaw Mengestu
“This is the point in such blogposts at which I usually begin drawing some kind of lesson from what I’ve described. And if there is one here, it’s this: I am emphatically not an example of someone who first was too busy with her kids to write, and then finally wasn’t too busy with her kids to write; so wrote. I am an example of someone who was a complete self-sabotaging head case, blocked, miserable, wasting days, years, despairing, depressed, mistreating the people around me, mistreating myself, certain that in old age I would feel a regret so keen that I feared that emotion more than I feared eventual death.”—Before I Wrote: A Collage Of Former Selves | Beyond The Margins On self-sabotage and writing, by Robin Black. Very intense and important read for me.
J.E. Reich is a young writer who—in my humble opinion—produces work that combines soul and erudition, wide-ranging imagination and fearlessly unadorned reality.
We met in Ehud Havazelet’s workshop at the Yiddish Book Center, and since we’ve both returned to NYC to try and live authentic writing lives she’s become a mentee and mentor, social media buddy, Jewish daughter stand-in (are you packing a sweater J.E? Pack a sweater!) and inspiration.
Don’t miss her stunning story “London, 1973” in the latest issue of fwriction : review.
So J.E., I have read, with pleasure, the opening of your novel To Build A New World, which takes place in the present day, but this excerpt takes us back in time to a new voice and perspective, Emil’s. How do you get yourself in his headspace?
Well, I have a strange headspace to begin with, so that partly aids it, I suppose. I would say that there are two halves of this process. Part of it has to do with a voice that I can hear in my head, and then transcribing it on the page. Sometimes I read aloud to myself to get the nuance and cadence of voice just so, to get it to sound as authentic as possible. And the second half is just constant tinkering with the way it reads on the page. For instance, Emil is more of a rambler, so his sentences will obviously be longer, riddled with commas and pauses. Mischa, the narrator at the beginning of the novel in the present day, is an approximation of the way we speak now. A little curter, and a little more lost. So basically, what I’m trying to say is that a large portion of my novel-writing time is spent talking to myself like an old Jewish European man.
“A lot of my political writing is really outrage driven. Something will happen, like the Supreme Court decision yesterday, and I’ll write an immediate blog post explaining why I think it’s terrible, and that will happen over the course of three hours. And then sometimes it will take me two years to write a short story. Because of who I am there’s always sort of a somewhat feminist lens. The last short story I had published was written from the perspective of a pretty misogynist guy and I made him sympathetic, I think, or I was trying to. But even playing around with that comes from my feminism and looking at gender and how it plays into our relationships.”—
The Sisterhood’s Sarah Seltzer conducted a Q A with one of the two Jewish feminists who set up the feminist-phone-intervention hotline, which is soon to go open-source so it can be used internationally. She refers to herself as a “Bronx-born Latina activist researching the history of the US radical press, especially the Yiddish anarchist newspapers” and is thrilled with the response her project is getting. “I hope that this rather modest project will offer another simple option for talking back to the sexism of everyday life,” she said.
“Others, though, push back against the idea that pleasures should be ranked. At xoJane, Sarah Seltzer writes: “My 12-year-old Nancy Drew self and my 12-year-old Jane Austen self are the same person, the same aggressive reader. “I mostly read to be challenged and moved. But sometimes I just read to be transported. Depending on the day, the hour, I want to laugh, think, or cry, or find out what the kids today are up to. Often I want to learn a narrative technique I can use for my own short stories.” Critics, she argued, should judge young-adult and other genre books on their own merits, not against works of literary fiction: “How satisfying are they? How much fun? How badly will I want to stay up all night, sucked into a vortex, reading like I’m 12 and Nancy Drew’s life is hanging in the balance?”—Defending ‘Guilty Pleasures’ - NYTimes.com
““You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” - James Baldwin”—Tiferet Journal
The rise of the independent workforce is reshaping the life-work balance for thousands of Americans and altering the relationship many others have with their employers. Its emergence marks one more change in the often one-dimensional work model that existed for much of the postwar era, in which people toiled loyally for one firm for 40 years, then took a pension and retired to Tampa or Tucson.
In today’s work world, people shift jobs and careers at the click of a mouse. Now comes the independent economy, which takes the culture of flexibility one step further – with some people working on their own terms, others scrambling for whatever short-term gigs they can find, and virtually all missing out on traditional company-provided dental plans and 401(k)s.
“Obvious Child is an “abortion rom-com” the same way that Knocked Up, Juno, and Waitress are pregnancy rom-coms. An unplanned pregnancy is a plot catalyst, and the abortion, rather than a birth, is the denouement that brings all the characters together in a satisfying way.”—'Obvious Child' Changes the Rom-Com Game
“Anti-Sweatshop Agitator: During my final summer in high school I interned for a public interest group, with a focus on the career-enhancing skill of harassing Nike for its labor abuses. My troupe of fellow interns flyered, hung up posters and took part in e”—
“We entered the dinner space, a carpeted ballroom with chandeliers the size of cars, and sat down at round tables. The emcee announced, “together for the first time, Mrs. and Mrs. Banker McBankface.” Well that’s what Grace and I heard. She squeezed my arm under the tablecloth while her face shone above it.”—
“I will admit, and I am not proud of this, I almost gave up — not on writing, but on the idea that I would find a publisher for my debut novel, An Untamed State. The manuscript had been making the rounds for some time and the feedback was mostly positive but not positive enough in that frustrating way that makes you think, If you think so highly of the writing, why don’t you just buy the damn book? Publishing is confusing.”—
“Her arms were strong and tan but she had aged in a major way. I’m talking crow’s feet at thirty; not a normal sight for someone in my line of work. I remembered that Abby had mentione Grace’s kid being sick, or somehow “not right” and it keeping Grace from coming back to the city. At the time I may have responded with a zinger like: “is it the kid, or is she worried about a wolf in the chicken coop?” and Abby may have snorted with laughter and then clasped her hands in put-on piety and said, “seriously, Jesse. It’s so hard on her.” “Jesse.” Grace tilted her cheek for me to kiss; her almond-shaped brown eyes, more deep-set and sad than they once were, sparkled at me, as if we were in on some conspiracy. She moved her head to indicate the event space, and rolled her eyes. “I know,” I said. “I know.” Our smirks were mirrors.”—Sarah Seltzer’s short story “Giving Grace Away” – Flavorwire My story won an honorable mention! Please read it and let me know what you think.
“My reaction was, ‘Oh, no, not again’,” said Sarah Marian Seltzer, 31, who wrote one such retort, “Dear Shailene Woodley,” for the website the Hairpin. “There is this pattern of celebrities immediately saying, ‘No, I’m not a feminist, I love men,’ and there’s not a chance for a follow-up learning experience for anyone.”—
“Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer—he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. Delay is instinctive with him. He waits for the surge (of emotion? of strength? of courage?) that will carry him along. I have no warm-up exercises, other than to take an occasional drink. I am apt to let something simmer for a while in my mind before trying to put it into words. I walk around, straightening pictures on the wall, rugs on the floor—as though not until everything in the world was lined up and perfectly true could anybody reasonably expect me to set a word down on paper.”—E.B. White on Delay | diverge
A few of the more stand-alone sections have been published, although they’re all still evolving as part of the whole. “Disorder” is Rina’s sister Kat’s tale, and a key emotional anchor for the novel. “Empty Nest” tells the story of Sharon’s friend Laine’s marriage crumbling during Rina’s last days. It features a phone call between Sharon and Laine that calls back to “After the Bar-Mitzvah.” “In the Desert” and “Balcony” explore the impact of Rina’s death on her friends, as seen through their significant others’ eyes. All these are only five out of 16 or more chapters.
I envision the manuscript as a novel with a black hole at the center, like a donut hole: the hole is Rina’s consciousness. The structure is a way of considering, and evoking the way we think about someone after we’ve lost him or her. We see the departed one through an overlapping, shifting collection of all the memories shared by those who knew that person–but all the stories are colored by subjectivity and ego.
“When Deborah Jiang Stein was a young woman, already smarting from feelings of being an outsider as a multiracial adoptee in her intellectual Jewish family, she discovered the documents that revealed the truth about her background: She had been born in prison, to a heroin-addicted mother. After years of lashing out at her adoptive family — “every molecule in me is packed with rage” — she plummeted into her own addiction and self-destructive behavior. Finally she went on a searing journey to find out the truth about her early years of life. All this is chronicled beautifully in Jiang Stein’s memoir, “Prison Baby,” published by Beacon Press.She corresponded with the Forward’s Sarah Seltzer about parental patience, family secrets, Jewish values and why she thinks that more Jewish groups should get involved with prison reform efforts”—Born Behind Bars – The Sisterhood – Forward.com