Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Quick and The Dead: A Review by Matthew Salesses

This is the fourteenth of a many-part series written by the staff and editors of Fringe Magazine, who will be reviewing books from the Pool as part of the 25 Books Project

"Thoughts are infusorial," says Nurse Daisy, bard of Green Palms nursing home and one of the many characters populating Joy Williams's sharp-as-the-reaper's-scythe The Quick and the Dead.

This idea of the collective unconscious is in keeping with Williams' web imagery and interlocking narratives. The latter includes three motherless girls, a father who sees the ghost of his dead wife (urging him to join her in the next world), a suicidal pianist, an eight-year old who pours sand over her head, a dog murderer who suffers a Jake-Barnes-injury from a parcel bomb, a retired big-game hunter who listens to the music of air conditioners, a stroke survivor with a vivisected monkey in his head, a dog becoming increasingly paranoid, and so on.

The theme of exploration of life and death (as the title indicates) link these narratives, which take place in a fictional American desert town where the heat and landscape contribute to a certain sensitivity toward portentous images and events. As you would expect, characters die, move on, or are otherwise carried off not to return, all except protagonist and misanthrope Alice, who hasn't had her period since she found out the people she thought were her parents are really her grandparents.

My description of the network of characters does not do justice to the conceptual genius trickling through every dialogue and scene in the novel. Williams' characters talk intelligently, movingly, frighteningly, and humorously about life and death and what is or is not beyond; their thoughts, words, and actions connect in a startlingly organic way. This novel stops you in your tracks, lets you start down a new path, then stops you again. The writing exists at this consistently high level throughout—I dare any reader to stop reading after a page of back-and-forth between, say, Carter and his wife's ghost. That is what I liked most and least about the book as a whole.

There is barely room to breathe, barely time for the reader to step back and absorb what he or she has read, with all the information and wit and brilliance. Mostly this jam-packed-ness is extremely satisfying, but, ultimately, I did wish that the arc of the novel was a little more pronounced; I wanted more catharsis. The Quick and the Dead, once it gets you in its grasp, will not release you. Though, for the most part, I don't think you will want to be.

You can read about Matthew Salesses's dancing Christmas turkey at monkeybic, where it will be posted the day after Blame-the-Empty-Eggnog-on-Santa Day. His fiction is also available elsewhere on the web, or in MAR as the 2007 Fine Line contest winner. He is the assistant fiction editor at Redivider Journal and manager of the monsters under your bed. The monsters in the closet belong to some other guy.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Last Chance for Ethnos and 25 Books!

The end of the year approaches, and so does the end of Ethnos submissions and our 25 Books project.

This week is your last chance to submit writing on ethnicity and race for our second anniversary issue. We are particularly in need of art submissions!

Also, the 25 Books polls close December 31. So speed-read those last few books on your yearly reading list and get voting.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Poor Jessica Simpson (Really)

I'm not Jessica Simpson's biggest fan. In fact, her (father's??) strategy of dumbing herself down in order to sell her persona makes my blood boil. But I have to draw the line somewhere.

In my opinion, Terrell Owens can go screw. He's the one being the most vocal about blaming Jessica for the Dallas Cowboys loss last week. Here's what he said: "With everything that has happened, obviously with the way Tony played and the comparison between her and Underwood [Julia's insert: Don't you remember? A woman has foiled those Dallas Cowboys before!], I think a lot of people feel she has taken his focus away," says Owens. "Oh, I got a message for her when we make the playoffs. Just stay tuned."

That's right, Terrell...the presence of a pretty girl can account for the bad playing of an entire team. Those damned pretty girls -- evil temptations, all of them. And you, oh Holy Man, can stop them from ruining you. Just send them a message loud and clear.

Barf. But worse than barf - rage! Not even Jessica deserves this.

As a born and bred Boston girl and Patriots fan, I never saw the Patriots blame a loss on Bridget Moynahan or Gisele Bundchen. That's because they take responsibility for their actions.

So to anyone still blaming Jessica Simpson and Carrie Underwood for poor Cowboys performance, here's my advice: grow some boobs and admit that your beloved team lost on their own.


P.S. My pregnancy hormones make me TOUGH! Yay estrogen.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Greetings from Korea (insert postcard of neon crosses lighting up the Busan skyline here). I've been thinking, probably unsurprisingly, about communication. Maybe it's that I've been reading Joy Williams's The Quick and the Dead, with its fantastically strange dialogue (review pending), or maybe it's just the whole idea of two weddings, one Korean and one American, or maybe it's that I'm revising a story about cannibals that try to stop being cannibals after a little loving contact with a group of Europeans, I don't know. But communicaton seems all the rage these days.

It's a strange thing. We read so much fiction by authors who were ostracized in their youths and who write about ostracized characters, yet it seems especially true in stories that people need people to talk to. (Unless you like those stories with only one character--I generally don't.) This doesn't necessarily mean people really get to communicate, but it means they're trying. I re-read Carver's Cathedral recently, and what struck me about the collection is how much more grace seems offered to the characters than in his earlier stories, and how that grace comes through finding someone to communicate with. I don't mean to say these stories are better--I actually prefer the earlier ones--but stories like "Fever" and "A Small, Good Thing" allow characters to connect in a way that some of the earlier stories don't. This seems to give the book a more hopeful take on life.

So, since I'm in a hopeful mood, full of Christmas spirit and eggnog, I think I'll give my cannibals a chance to connect . . . just before they eat each other. I guess what I meant to talk about was how giving your protagonist someone who will listen to him can be a great thing for fiction, but oh well. Instead, I'll recommend some recent lit mag releases (shameless plugs and more!): Redivider, MAR, Black Warrior Review's sad animal issue. Read.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Vote for Your Favorite Books

The end of the year approaches, and with it, the closing of Fringe's 25 Books Poll.

In a nutshell, we were appalled that the New York Times top 25 list included only 2 women, one of whom was the only writer of color on the list. We vowed to make our own list, where the public could qualify to vote by reading two or more books from our pool.

We still want to hear from you about the books you read from the pool, and which novels of the last 25 years changed your outlook, inspired you, or moved you to tears.

The polls close on January 1, so you only have 2 more weeks to sound off and let us know what you think.

Click here to read about the project.

Clear here to VOTE.

Not sure what book to read next? Click here for a list of Fringe Reviews.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Dysfunctional Family Holiday

Fringe is once again teaming up with Redivider, Black Ocean, and Quick Fiction to host the Dirty Water Reading Series' 2nd Annual Dysfunctional Family Holiday.

There will be holiday-themed mad-libs and short readings by Fringe contributor Steve Himmer, as well as Sommer Browning, Stace Budzko, and Tao Lin.

Oh, and there will also be free food, spiked egg nog, and a KEG. Yes, that means FREE beer. Just in time for the [guilt-ridden, drama-charged] holidays ahead!

Sunday, December 16
Grub Street 160 Boylston, 4th Floor, Boston MA
FREE Admission, food, beer

Wishing you drama-free holiday!

12/16 Note: Unfortunately, the reading has been canceled due to extreme Boston weather!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Thanks a lot, Dave Obey.

Full disclosure: I'm cross-pollinating. The publishing company I work for, Beacon Press, has a great blog (the Beacon Broadside) and a terrific and thoughtful blog editor.

I just do not understand why this country keeps throwing money at abstinence-only education. Clearly, it doesn't work; clearly, we don't have the best interests of our youth at heart if we refuse to give them scientifically based education that respects them as thinking, and yes, sexual human beings. So it is incredibly disturbing that abstinence-only funding is being used as a pawn on the Hill by a party with a so-called progressive agenda. I hadn't planned to mix work and Fringe, but today's post by Carole Joffe is just the kind of thoughtful whistleblowing we need in this country:

But Democrats supporting "abstinence-only," especially after the November 2006 election, when they regained control of the House and Senate?! A powerful Democratic committee chair proposing to give even more to these programs than the Bush administration has asked for?! No, this is not a Saturday Night Live or Jon Stewart parody. This is Washington politics. In a move that stunned advocates for "comprehensive" sex education—that is, programs that include discussion of both abstinence and birth control options—Congressman James [sic] Obey of Wisconsin, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, proposed increasing by $28 million the current abstinence-only allocation of $113 million. Obey made this move in order to lure Republican votes for Congress’s main domestic spending bill. (In fairness, an equal increase was suggested for Title X, a federal family planning program that has been consistently under-funded during the Bush years.)

This (mis)appropriation may not see the light of day, given the wrangling taking place on the hill, but whatever transpires in the next few weeks, reproductive justice advocates are deeply demoralized to see how casually an issue of such intense importance could be horse traded away.

Complete posting is here.
Good HuffPo article too.

Yikes, it's a whiteout in downtown Boston. Safe travels, everyone.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Witch of Portobello: A Review by Julia Henderson

Okay, I know. I wrote my review of The History of Love and gushed about it, and now you're all going to think that I only write gushy reviews. But here's the thing...this book *really* made me think about who I am and where I am going, and who I want to be as a woman, a wife, a soon-to-be-mother, a daughter, and a human.

I didn't always like Paulo Coehlo's work. I tried to read The Alchemist in college and the novel just didn't do it for me. But a friend recommended Veronika Decides to Die to me while a loved one was in the hospital for depression and I was struggling to understand what might be happening in there, and ever since, Coehlo has been one of my obsessions.

When I picked up The Witch of Portobello, I didn't know quite what to expect. The synopsis said "How do we find the courage to always be true to ourselves—even if we are unsure of whom we are? That is the central question of international bestselling author Paulo Coehlo's profound new work..."

"Oh. Profound," said the skeptic in me. "We'll just see about that."

But all I know is this...the protagonist of the book, Athena, follows a winding path to enlightenment in the form of a female deity. And along the way she struggles to transcend society's expectations of her. The book is about the power that everyone has to find their own spirituality and fight against the norm. And in spite of myself, the novel made me feel able to make my own decisions, both practical and spiritual.

Coehlo uses a number of narrators to flesh out Athena's story, and these differing perspectives add a real depth to the story line. As a reader, you like some narrators and dislike others, which gives you the ability to take what you like from each and leave the rest, creating your own picture of Athena as you go.

This is a book to be read slowly and with a great deal of self-reflection. It's not a breezy beach vacation read, but it's worth the work. It's a book about soul, so get ready to grapple with your own.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Here it is ladies, evidence of a drastic advance in gender equality...guyliner.

Before you know it, we'll be making 100 cents on the dollar.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Support the Small Stuff: Juno

Brook Busey-Hunt went from working in a cubicle to stripping a la stage name Diablo Cody to blogging on The Pussy Ranch to writing a memoir called Candy Girl: A Year in The Life of an Unlikely Stripper all by the age of 28. It isn't a traditional path for a screenwriter, but it's the way this particular Midwest girl got to Hollywood - and her first film Juno comes out this week.

Juno might be one of the best films out right now for a number of reasons.

1. It is not a war film
2. It is not begging for an Oscar (although it might get nominated for a couple)
3. It is an indie film! We love indie films!
4. Killer soundtrack
5. Great cast
6. Funny!

But probably the best reasons are the lead actress, Ellen Page, and aforementioned Brook Busey-Hunt, who now goes by Diablo Cody, and who penned the script for this film. The premise of the film is pretty basic: high school girl gets pregnant, decides to keep the baby and then put it up for adoption. The boy who impregnates her is Michael Cera, from this summer's blockbuster Superbad, and the adoptive parents are played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. It sounds simple, but Cody's script is fast paced and Page delivers the lines effortlessly. It is refreshing to see an actress and a film that can be smart and funny, and not in your face, especially at this time of year when the Oscars are right around the corner. And this film will certainly re-launch Page's acting career and grant her celebrity status; Diablo Cody's name will soon pop up in many opening credits. She is already working on her next projects, another book and a pilot for a Steven Spielberg inspired TV series for Showtime. She isn't pretentious - she knows she has a talent and shes putting it to good use.

Since this is an independent film, it is only on limited release this week, in NY and Los Angeles. When this movie finally is nationally released, go see it. Even if it is not in your nearby theater, find where it is playing and go see it - that's the only way to get other theaters to pick it up. And trust me, it's definitely worth the $10 ticket price.

Friday, December 7, 2007

writing beyond the MFA

Before delving into the real topic of my post, I wanted to take a moment to join in the recent spate of holiday-gift-madness posts with some suggestions of my own.

We are artists after all, aren't we, writers? Why not make something for those you love? We owe it to ourselves and our careers to support art, our own medium and others. Giving something homemade is giving something of yourself. Write a story or a poem, knit something (if you knit), bake a cake (you don't have to be a pro) or some cookies, craft something. Or support other artisans. Gift-giving does not have to support the store-bought culture of our country.

Ok, that aside...what to do if you are graduating this semester with your MFA? Have you realized at this point or some earlier point what a useless piece of paper that diploma is? Do you think I'm a dick for suggesting so? Do you still hold hope that your thesis manuscript will get read by agents, editors, and you'll be offered a contract in a few short months? Pinch yourself, or pinch me, and take heed. Below are some suggestions for life after graduate school.

1. Keep writing no matter what. Even if it's only for ten minutes a day. Even if you think it's not "good writing." Because regular practice helps you maintain your commitment to writing.

2. Explore alternate form of writing and publication, whether it's journalism, essay-writing, screenplays, blogging, or hypertext. If there's something you wanted to try but never got around to, do it now while the enthusiasm (or world-weariness) and discipline of the student is still at least vaguely familiar.

3. Think long and hard about what you want to do for a living, if you are going to be getting a full-time job for the first time in 3 years. Or ever. How much time will it leave you for writing? Are you going into something you are passionate about or are you just trying to pay the bills? After all the time, money and debt you've gone into for the MFA it can be challenging to channel your energy into something that (unless you're teaching or working in publishing) is unrelated to writing. How important your writing is to you--and how good you are at managing your time--are the most critical tools for building a steady writing practice. But it helps to pick a job that feeds you and challenges you in ways that mimic writing (as my profession does all the time) or else are unrelated but still of interest to you.

4. Join a writer's group, find a writing buddy, etc. If you can, make it someone outside your graduate school circle. Some many voices sound the same as certain styles and voices are privileged in MFA programs. I often felt like I couldn't relate to the stories in workshop and I'm sure I was not alone. (While Emerson seems to have expanded its graduate-level queer population since I began, it could stand some ethnic diversity and an influx of students of various ages and backgrounds.) My San Francisco writing group is comprised of people who are gay, straight, Asian, white, 20something, 50something, commentators on NPR and short story award finalists and published authors in varying genres. And then there's me. While it's not as comfortable as the MFA community you're leaving, it's good practice to surround yourself with people at a higher level that you are, if only for teh advice they may have.

5. Create community in any way you can. Write to share your voice. Attend readings, poetry slams, art exhibits, movie screenings. Help edit a literary journal or volunteer at one of the big guns ( Ploughshares, McSweeneys, Storyglossia, or one of the 826 entities).

6. Know, first and foremost, that how you succeed or struggle with your writing at this point is entirely up to you.

I'd love to hear other suggestions. Sometimes we all need a little push to continue our commitment to the things we love.

A Holiday Hassle: Gifts at Work

Don't get me wrong, I love the holidays, and I love giving and receiving gifts. But after all the hassle my office has just gone through deciding how to give the gifts (yankee swap vs. secret santa), the merry has melted right out of the thing. There are so many rules to consider, so many feelings to potentially hurt. Like when the big boss takes the best gift out of the hands of the lowliest office worker, because that's how you "play." Or when the poor Jewish person is forced to trade gifts as a Secret Santa (my office elected to go with Secret Snowflake, instead). Or when someone opens your carefully selected, deprived-you-of-sleep yankee swap gift and says, "What kind of gift is this?"

Frankly, I could do without anything from my co-workers. It's enough for me to take a few hours out of work, eat some good (enough) food from our contracted caterer, and chat with everyone. But some are very adamant about it; last year someone floated the idea that rather than give each other gifts, we collect gifts for a charity. Nice idea, was the response, but we should still do yankee swap, too (and we did, so I bought two gifts instead of one).

Good grief, Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Holiday Gifts? Buy Women for Women

Here's a holiday gift suggestions for those of you who are still shopping -- check out Women for Women International's bazaar, which sells crafts made bywomen survivors of war.

For those of you who don't know, Women for Women is an award-winning nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lot of women in war-torn countries.

You can sponsor a woman, which entails a $27/month donation. $5 of this donation keeps the organization running, and the rest provides your sister with staples for her family, and pays for job and rights-awareness training. Depending on where and how educated your sister is, you may be able to correspond with her. At the end of one year, each woman "graduates".

The upshot is this -- the organization helps women in warn torn countries find each other, recover, start self-sustaining businesses, and apply for micro-credit. In my book that's a worthwhile goal.

So consider getting me a set of those cutting boards(are you listening, Santa?), or better yet, sign up to sponsor a woman.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Breaking News: Man Finally Put In Charge Of Struggling Feminist Movement

WASHINGTON—After decades spent battling gender discrimination and inequality in the workplace, the feminist movement underwent a high-level shake-up last month, when 53-year-old management consultant Peter "Buck" McGowan took over as new chief of the worldwide initiative for women's rights. . . .

"All the feminist movement needed to do was bring on someone who had the balls to do something about this glass ceiling business," said McGowan, who quickly closed the 23.5 percent gender wage gap by "making a few calls to the big boys upstairs."

...more at, you guessed it, The Onion. Via WomPo, the women's poetry listserv, which is well worth checking out itself.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Fringe 13 Now Live!

This month's issue of Fringe features sleek new web design, and chic new literature. Here's a gloss of the issue:
  • In her series of poems Fragments from a Nonexistent Yiddish Poet, Jehanne Dubrow takes on the persona of Ida Lewin, and captures a nostalgia for a past where the social order was regimented, and therefore a little safer.
  • Jackson Bliss transports us into the world of limo drivers, and then beyond, into the realm of the unexpected in the short short Change Gonna Come.
  • Holly Anderson and Sev Coursen's series of poems The Secret Language of Flowers is, perhaps, the most formally unusual piece we've published -- click around and you'll see.
  • Venus Envy tells the story of a woman who is done with beauty, who goes to extraordinary lengths to lift herself out of the status quo and into the heroic.
  • Mihaly Flandorffer Peniche's work is graphic. His bold use of color and simply-rendered figures make his images feel mythical as cave paintings.
  • In her excellent piece of criticism, Jaffney Rood explains what happens when academic culture collides with working-class students.
  • Another Kind of Nigger, Matthew Haynes' nonfiction piece, riffs on the theme of Ethnos, which we will take up again in February. Haynes, half-Hawaiian, half-white, recounts devastating incidents from his childhood.
And just to keep your eyes on the horizon, remember to submit for our Ethnos issue -- the submission deadline has been extended to December 31. The polls for the 25 Books Project are still open -- so get your vote in soon!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Breaking the Sequence

Has this ever happened to you: You come across a passage or line in a book and think it brilliant, and are thrilled that you’re the first one to discover it, only to find that people have been talking and writing about that exact thing for years?

Much later than I should have, I read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, and it happened to me. There’s a section in this amazing essay in which Virginia (Can I call her Virginia? I think she wouldn't mind) decides to evaluate a recent novel written by a woman named Mary Carmichael. She expects it to be sentimental and sappy, as most novels written by women at the time tended to be. But instead of long, flowing sentences, she found that Mary used short, abrupt ones, almost as if Mary were intentionally trying to avoid sounding sappy.

As she read further along, Virginia noticed that the plot, though set up to be a typical love story, turned out to be a story of the friendship and scientific careers of two women. Such subject matter was rather shocking in that day, as women typically were featured in novels as in relationship to men, not as characters interacting with each other. Virginia recognizes that Mary Carmichael first “broke the sentence; now she has broken the sequence.” Although the novel was not the best-written piece of literature ever penned, it still carried significant notability in Virginia’s estimation as it did something vitally important: it broke the pattern that women were confined to write certain types of sentences about certain types of subject matter.

I was truly amazed by this whole idea and overjoyed that I discovered such a thing. To my chagrin, as I related this finding to my friend, she said, “Oh yes, you should read this book of criticism about that; it’s right over there on my bookshelf.” Indeed it was, and the title was none other than Breaking the Sequence. Oh well, it still felt like a revelation to me.

And although I wasn’t the first to discover Virginia’s brilliance in discovering Mary Carmichael’s brilliance, I still feel like I’m part of the, well, sequence, of women discovering and building upon each other’s ideas. Isn’t that always the job of the artist? To recognize the sequence, the patterns and traditions, and break out of them into something new, undiscovered, significant? As long as, Virginia says, we do them “not for the sake of breaking, but for the sake of creating.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Facebook: Gettin Literary Wit It

With all you've probably been hearing about Facebook lately, you'd think the entire world is being taken over by an evil empire, intent on sucking out our souls, wasting our time, and invading our privacy. But maybe something good has come out of everyone's favorite social networking site.

The Facebook Review
is the first literary magazine that seeks to use Facebook as its platform to publish members' creative work. Set up as a group, users can join and then read and comment on the work. Submissions for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and reviews are all accepted and decided upon by an editorial board consisting of the last issue's contributors, which is a pretty nifty system (called an "editorial train"). Submissions are made by sending a facebook message to the managing editor, and issues are posted as "news updates," with new installments going up daily.

Issue 2 features a pretty amazing short story titled "The Vegan Muffin" by Tao Lin, an up and coming writer who will be reading at Fringe's own "Dirty Water" reading on December 16 at Grub St, 160 Boylston St, Boston. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Send Us Submissions About Ethnicity and Race

The Ethnos issue is coming, and we're still looking for submissions.

We're looking for writing that navigates the complexities of ethnicity, race, and identity, and are accepting work in the genres of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, criticism, and cross genre, as well as original artwork. Experimental and political work are always welcome. See the site for complete guidelines.

We have extended the submissions period -- it now closes DECEMBER 31, so there's still time to get your work in.

While we always judge your work on its literary merits alone (using a blind submissions process), we are are particularly interested in publishing minority writers, and intended this special anniversary issue to help us get the ball rolling.

Why wait? Send us your stuff!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bettye LaVette

Here's a holiday recommendation for those with musically Fringey taste. I just got back from a trip to the West Coast that ended up being something of a vinyl binge, and picked up Bettye LaVette's 2005 album I've Got My Own Hell to Raise. LaVette is a soul singer who has somehow remained below the radar--possibly because her extraordinary voice is so evocative and high-octane it may make pruder listeners uncomfortable.
I've Got My Own Hell to Raise is a collection of LaVette's renditions of great songs by exclusively female songwriters. Most songs were originally performed somewhere in the intersection of country and folk (Joan Armatrading, Dolly Parton, and Lucinda Williams are all represented), and LaVette growls them up to red hot emotion. This is raw, relevant, profane soul.
You can listen to tracks on LaVette's website:
Posted by Katie, even though it says Sarah.

Feed the Hungry with Good Vocabulary

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I discovered a cool new site, via my aunt by way of my mother. It's called FreeRice.

The site gives you a vocabulary quiz that is quite hard -- my best level was a 46 -- and featured words like "scintilla," "veld," and "decollate". Word difficulty increases with every question you get right. For each correct answer, the site donates 10 grains of rice to a starving country via the UN -- site advertisers foot that bill.

FreeRice's sister site, keeps a grim death toll of people dying from hunger each minute.

Do something that's good for your vocabulary and for the starving -- check it out.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The First Page

So these days reading slush for Ploughshares and Redivider, as well as working for Fringe, I'm reading a lot of pour-water-over-my-head-to-wake-myself-back-up, clamp-jumper-cables-to-my-nipples-to-wake-me-back-up, boring-as-rust first pages. Lizzie talked about cover letters a gazillion posts ago; I thought I'd do a sequel. Here's some thoughts on the first 300 words, because really, an editor can tell from page one whether the story is going to be good or not at least 90 percent of the time. So print this out, crumple it up, and eat it--that's supposed to work for memory. Three simple rules:

1. do something new.
2. start the story arc.
3. write a brilliant sentence.

Why? Because (1) editors are sleepy and they've probably already read 20 stories by the time they get to yours, (2) the most tiring thing in the world--more tiring than Thanksgiving--is waiting for a story to begin, and (3) the editor carefully reading your opening sentences should be given a reason to continue doing so. I think if I don't get two of these three things in the first page, the monster under my bed ends up finishing the story. He likes to eat paper too, but not for memory. He likes it because "it tastes like smart."

Saturday, November 24, 2007


In the Prologue to Strange Pilgrims, Gabriel Garcia Marquez talks about a dream where he goes to his own funeral and sees all his friends there, but when he wants to leave with them, he's told he's the only one who can't go to the after-party. (That's right, in dreams there are always after-parties.) Well, Marquez relates this being-left-behind to expatriation and isolation. Sounds heady, I know, but as a minority and an adoptee, isolation is all up in my writing's business, so I thought I'd talk about it. I thought I'd talk about setting as well, so be prepared for the following mess.

So here's what I'm thinking. Sure, Marquez uses the unfamiliarity of the setting to isolate his characters. Why not? They're pilgrims, after all. But when they really feel isolated is when they run into things that should be familiar to them but aren't. Like when the Prez in the opening story runs into people from his home country who lie to him about their motives.

Marquez also uses the ole pathetic fallacy, where the Prez's thoughts are mirrored by the weather and place. This is okay if you're going for the magical realism thing. Yet what is it Charles Baxter says about the pathetic fallacy--that a setting can be stronger when it doesn't rely on the character? I think there's something damn good to say for that. The character should experience isolation in spite of what's around him. I'm just saying, it gets a little tiresome to see rain when someone's sad, sunshine when happy, no one around when the character feels lonely. Why not let your characters feel lonely when they probably shouldn't? It's more lonely when you're sitting next to someone and still feel alone.

Depressing and serious. I'll try for something more ridiculous in my next post, I promise. Let's just say my dreams are about dinosaurs and The Paris Review. Don't ask.

Friday, November 23, 2007

November 23 is Buy Nothing Day!

Come all ye fair and tender shoppers
Be careful how you spend your dough
It's like a puddle after a rainstorm
It first appears, then there's no more
Tralala, it's Buy Nothing Day! If you're in the US or Canada, that is; in other countries it's November 24. Buy Nothing Day was founded in 1992 to help us think about how we consume; it's no accident that it falls on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. There's a lot of potential for preachiness with something like this, so I reckon it's best to approach it in the spirit of having fun and raising awareness. Adbusters has some good ideas for stuff to do, as well as posters you can print out.

Adbusters also makes ads for BND every year, and then tries to get big networks to run them—with varying success. I like this one, which involves mittens (though the music, well, ...).

Lots of places will have skillshares and other events, so if you want to get involved, check your local weekly to see what's happening near you. And if taking your folks to the potluck at the anarchist bookstore sounds implausible, consider designating a surrogate Buy Nothing Day for yourself later in the week--that's what I'll likely end up doing.

For more info, consult Treehugger. Everybody now:
Oh stuff is handsome, stuff is charming
And stuff is pretty when it's new
But so much stuff is made of plastic
And unlike money, it will never go away even when it is no longer useful or appealing or lovely to view

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Leaving the Country to Give Thanks

Five years ago I met my Canadian girlfriend, M. I’d like to tell you that we met reaching for Adrienne Rich’s The Dream of a Common Language in our favorite independent bookstore, but we met in typical college fashion, in a gay bar across the river from campus. An athlete and later coach, M always worried about her visa status even though by the end of last year, she’d been living in the country and paying taxes for nearly a decade. Like other naïve Americans, I found it hard to believe that a successful and educated Canadian citizen would have problems immigrating to the United States. I would recall to M how easy it was for my friends and me to cruise beyond the Canadian border in High School to take advantage of the lower drinking age in Thunder Bay. That’s what the border had meant to me…that is, before meeting M.

The fluidity of the border also shifted dramatically post 9/11 as M left graduate school and entered the professional public, landing a coaching position at Harvard University. But even Harvard couldn’t provide visa security and despite having three job offers after leaving, M had to pack up and ship out because no one it seems could convince the government that M deserved working status in America. Of course, if I or M were a man, it would only take a trip to Vegas and a marriage certificate, to keep us together this Thanksgiving.

So, this year, I’m leaving the country to give thanks. Yet, it’s difficult to give thanks when your nation is tearing so many families apart.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Amazon Kindle - Wave of the Future or Overpriced Tech-toy?

In this morning's "Around the Water Cooler" segment of Good Morning America, I learned about the new Amazon Kindle. It's concept isn't new -- it's a wireless reading device that can hold up to 200 books, can display current newspapers and can even connect you to over 250 blogs. It's a s thin as a pencil and only costs...$399.00!

Forgive me for saying so, but I like to be able to take my books on the train with me, throw them in my bag, hand them off to my friends when I am finished, and read them on the beach. I remember the e-reader craze of the early 2000s. They never caught on. What makes Amazon think that these e-readers will be different?

I may be old-fashioned, but I still like the idea that people can stroll into the library, produce a card they got for free, and have access to books. I like the fact that when my friend is finished with "the book that changed her life" she can hand it to me and not worry that her life-savings is suddenly in my possession.

I admit that the idea of Fringe readers downloading the latest issue to their e-reader to take with them on the bus or train appeals to me, but part of our manifesto states that we want to be accessible. Isn't that what online magazines and blogs are all about? You don't need anything but a public computer with Internet access in order to partake in the discussion. You certainly don't need $400.

What do you think? Would you carry one of these around as your exclusive reading material?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Taking a Bite Out of Rape

South African Sonette Ehlers is taking women's defense in a new direction - vaginally. The former medical technician has developed Rapex, a version of the female condom that is beefed up with teeth to stop would be rapists, or at least to slow them down enough for intended victims to get away. My first thought: won't the rapists be angrier, and find some other way to hurt these women? After all, it causes no lasting damage - seems like it'll be more likely to piss them off. And as Kira Cochran of the Guardian points out, "it places the onus for stopping rape not on the perpetrators, but on women - entirely the wrong way around. It implies that rape is an inevitable part of human culture and that women need to adapt accordingly." Some have even claimed that using the device is just an act of vengeance toward the rapists.

I'm sorry, say that again? Maybe it's just an old eye-for-an-eye judgment on my part, but I think rapists deserve much worse than a few pricks that aren't permanent (excuse the pun). The fact is rape is all too common in South Africa (and many other places, too) - perhaps it will anger the would-be rapists, but it seems better to have some chance of getting away than none at all. Is it just a bandaid slapped on a larger problem? Of course it is, but someone please explain to me how we ought to go about changing the way a rapist's brain works so we can stop him from hurting women. And then make sure to change all rapists' brains. I think it's more empowering for women to have some option of defense.

And I think the teeth should be bigger.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Blogging through the Culinary Underbelly

This year, for the second time in my writing life, I thought about participating in Nanowrimo.

When I did Nano before, in 2003, I wrote an awful 50,000 word genre novel. I didn't pretend it was serious work, but I was proud of the accomplishment. There's something intimidating about a novel--all that time, and all those words, namely--and in a month I had created one.

This year, working upwards of 60 hours a week, Nano just doesn't seem feasible, at least if you are also trying to get some sleep.

While I spent the last week of October stressing about logistics--Could I do it? How would I carve the time out of my schedule to write? What shape would the novel I had in mind take, and how would I link its disparate pieces together?--I allowed an even larger, scarier question to form in my mind.

Was it still the best way to get my writing out there? Is the novel, in our current society, a valuable product? Is it the best use of my time, of my reach? Hardly new ideas, I know. While we've all been talking about print culture being dead and how no one ever buys novels anymore, we're still waiting for the rise of e-books and their ilk, and we may wait a while more.

About a month ago I was sending out a piece of flash fiction to online journals. I'd worked over the piece and was fairly happy with it, but couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't "worth" sending out to print journals. I submitted the piece to over a dozen journals and within four days it was accepted. I'm not saying this to brag, but because the experience was just so shocking. Another writer in my writers' group, Jamey Genna, shared that she's also been getting a lot of flash fiction placed recently. There seems to be an energy around the form that isn't present around longer stories. What we want to hear, what we have time and space to hear, is it changing? Where do you read, and what do you read? If what we are after as writers is to affect other people, or to get out stories out there, how do we make the novel relevant and critical, and not an artifact?

This time, these questions are coming out of my experience as a blogger. Some time back I started an anonymous food-writer blog (and subsequently became un-anonymous), and while it's audience is not large by any means I do have some readers, many of whom are also in the culinary industry. An old Emerson professor of mine Pamela Painter always stressed the importance of giving your characters a good, unusual job because the wealth of useable details was such a gift to your story. By becoming a pastry cook halfway through my course in Emerson's MFA program I essentially gifted myself. While there are many food blogs out there in the blogosphere, the voice of the chef is still rare.

As inimitable Bay Area pastry chef/writer Shuna Lydon wrote in a guest-post on writer Michael Ruhlman's blog, what it means to be a chef is still a story largely created not by us, the people in the kitchen. What really happens behind those doors is not Top Chef and it's not represented accurately. I have a unique story to tell now, and I have a voice that tells mostly true stories, and I have learned a little something along the way about appropriate content.

Chef culture finds its way into my fiction, and this Nano novel that I wanted to write would have taken chef culture as its focus. But it seemed more important to blog. To write flash fiction. The food blogging sphere is being mined for book deals. Maybe you've heard of Julie Powell's Julie and Julia, but do you know Gluten-Free Girl? Confessions of a Restaurant Whore? Conversely, authors such as Maryusa Bociurkiw, whose novel Comfort Food for Breakups is by turn both funny and wrenching, are turning to blogging as a promotional tool once the novel is published.

There are different kinds of stories we tell in blogging and in print. There is an immediacy at play in blog posts that does not translate well to the slow pace of fiction. But somehow, as I've let a part of my writing work be through blogging--and writing about the work I do, in which the voices of women and of queers are hardly well represented--is informing and changing the writer's work I do. Blogging is no longer a sidebar to my work. It is part of my writing identity. Perhaps, troublingly at times, the most important and far-reaching part.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Car Accident and a Baby

So it has been a while since I've posted, but when you hear my story, you'll forgive me.

I am pregnant with my first child (due April 30th), and though I am utterly thrilled, my husband and I didn't exactly plan the pregnancy. Being the crazy person that I am, I decided that I would get a second (third??) job and work as hard as I could for as long as I could to make some extra cash..afterall, we all know how expensive babies are! So I was happily working an extra 15 hours a week for TripAdvisor, bringing in some dough, and feeling proud and capable.

But these things catch up with a person...especially when the first trimester of pregnancy makes you extremely tired all the time. I was walking home from the subway, rushing to be home in time to start my second job. It was dusk. I was using the only 10 minutes I'd had free all day to call a friend, and...dun, dun, duuuuun...I was hit by a car while crossing the street.

I got a concussion, some stitches in my face, a bruise on my hip and some nasty swollen, strained knees, but the little one was fine...protected by my belly and by the amniotic fluid.

But all of this is just background for my amazing revelation...I just don't need to do everything by myself. I am looking at the last 6 months of my life where I'll have time just for myself, where I'll be able to lie on the couch all day watching movies on Sundays if I want to, where I'll be able to go out to a movie with my husband without finding a babysitter. So damned if I am going to waste it working 60+ hours a week for a few extra bucks.

If you need me during the next 6 months, you can find me reading (I am currently reading The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coehlo, and it is fabulous), knitting (check out my newest endeavor, which I found on, catching up on my sleep, and enjoying alone time with my (existing) baby (a.k.a. my husband Andy).

Yay for selfish Julia. She deserves at LEAST 6 months of my life, right?

Friday, November 2, 2007

What is Feminism?

What is Feminism? Can Christians be Feminists? Can Conservatives? Can “Pro-Lifers?” Non-white women have often been marginalized within feminist discourse; poor women are nearly non-existent as valiant voices. Also, many issues have divided feminists like sex work or lesbian rights. About five years ago, I listened attentively with my Intro to Women’s Studies class as Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, authors of Manifesta and leaders within Third Wave Feminism, preached to the choir at a neighboring university. Our class was trying to define feminism (so cliché right). We got as far as “feminism is the idea that women are equal to men and thus should be allocated equal rights and opportunities.” But, how do we define “woman?” Feminist theorist Chandra Talpade Mohanty importantly questions the overgeneralization of women’s experiences and the emphasis of placing gender at the center of oppression without complicating it with race and class. While working at a feminist magazine where all of the content was written by and for girls, I came across the same question when an intersex person sent in a piece for publication. What is a woman?

The existence of “pro-life” people who claim to be feminists, also begs the question of what is a feminist and what is a woman. I just had to ask Baumgardner and Richards: can you be “pro-life” and a feminist? Surprisingly, their answer that day was explicitly yes! They cited a list of ways “pro-life” and “pro-choice” people could work together to make a change in our world, like making education and contraceptives available. But, because the idea of personhood is the root conflict for “pro-life” and “pro-choice” people, a definition of feminism remains in limbo. In an age where technology proliferates and ideas over what is “natural” are debated, who decides what defines a person? Or more precisely, who has the power to decide?

Outrage at a Catholic College

As this is my first official post, allow myself to introduce...myself. Ok, no more lame jokes. I'm a student at Emerson College in Boston, pursuing my Masters in Publishing and Writing. Emerson is a far-cry from Holy Cross , the small liberal-arts college in Worcester where I got my Bachelor's degree. For example, I don't think anyone with pink hair or sleeve tatoos attended Holy Cross (at least while I was there...). That's not where the differences end.

The Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy held its annual conference at Holy Cross, the oldest Catholic college in New England, on October 24. Though no students or faculty were involved in the Conference, the move sparked an outcry from alumni and the Catholic community. The College's President, Michael McFarland, SJ, defended the College's decision to rent space to the organization. In an official statement, McFarland said, "It is the College's position that providing rented meeting space to a conference of professionals from a variety of Massachusetts organizations discussing the safety and care of at-risk teenagers does not represent a disregard of Catholic teaching."

While Holy Cross, as a Catholic institution, is officially opposed to abortion and contraception (I was surprised to find open distribution of condoms on the college campuses of friends I visited, since they could not readily be found anywhere on the HC campus), it is also a progressive institution devoted to the open exchange of ideas. It is shocking that even today, certain groups can remain so closed-minded. Given the response of some communities, you would think the College was setting up abortion tables in the dorms rather than renting space to an organization that promotes awareness and responsible family planning for vulnerable teenagers!

I respect Fr. McFarland's choice to defend his decision and stand up for the rights of Massachusetts teenagers to be aware of their options. It makes me proud to call myself a Holy Cross Crusader (ok, so maybe they have to work on their mascot...)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Panties for peace

If you've already told the Postal Regulatory Commission you won't stand for a sellout to big media (and if you haven't yet, there's still time to weigh in before their hearings on Tuesday, October 30), perhaps you're feeling a little bored, a little blue.

Happily, there's a cure for such listlessness, and it even involves the mail. You can support the people of Burma by sending your panties to the SPDC! Dunno about you, but the image of hundreds of pairs of panties, lacy, frilly, variegated, winging their way through the postal system carefully packaged in envelopes and boxes, destined to freak out officials worldwide, just puts a smile on my face.

Andrew Buncombe writes in the Independent:
Activists seeking to pressure the Burmese regime are targeting the superstitions of its senior generals by asking for people around the world to send women's underwear to the junta.

In what may be a first, campaigners based in Thailand have called for supporters to "post, deliver or fling" the underwear to their nearest Burmese embassy. They believe the senior members of the junta – some known to be deeply superstitious – could be made to believe they will lose their authority should they come into contact with the lingerie.

"The Burma military regime is not only brutal but very superstitious. They believe that contact with a woman's panties or sarong can rob them of their power," says the website of the Lanna Action for Burma group, based in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. The group says that Burmese embassies have already received underwear from people in Thailand, Australia, Singapore and the UK.
Lanna Action for Burma kicked off this campaign on October 16. You can find the nearest SPDC embassy here. Read more about ongoing protest efforts here. Happy panty-flinging!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Safe Sex, Indian Style

This video on safe sex and condom usage is from Nrityanjali Academy, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India.

I have to say, I wish Americans would let condoms be this friendly...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Post office: another chance for small journals!

I've written before about the U.S. Post Office's misguided (read: guided by TimeWarner) plot to raise postage sky-high for small periodicals and simultaneously lower it for huge ones. The Postal Regulatory Commission voted to put these new rules in effect on July 15; a massive petition effort has caused them to hold hearings on the new rates. They're scheduled for next Tuesday, October 30. Kudos if you spoke up and signed that first petition... let's all sign it again! To ensure that those hearings have the biggest possible impact, you can sign the new petition—and simultaneously have a message sent to your congressperson—to repeal the new rates. Also at, you'll find an excellent essay by Peter Rothberg, reprinted from the ActNow blog at The Nation. We've got to stop this bad idea before it's too late and the pages of dead periodicals start fluttering from the backs of mail trucks like sad little elegies.

Stamp Out the Rate Hike: Stop the Post OfficeIf supporting small journals isn't enough to convince you that this is an issue, remember that, if those journals go out of business—which many will surely do under the new rates—that means less mail volume and, as a result, fewer decent-paying post office jobs. Also, remember love notes. Subscriptions to Ranger Rick for 4th graders. The postcard your friend sent from vacation, where she couldn't remember your address so she just wrote the street but misspelled it, but it arrived in your mailbox anyway. The time you put stamps and an address label on a coconut and sent it to your friend—and it got there. Be warned! You know once you let TimeWarner make the rules, it's gonna cost fifty bucks to mail that coconut.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ms. Magazine Turns 35

I have a love/hate relationship with anniversary issues, particularly when they are celebrated in quarterly ones like Ms. Magazine. The issue quickly diverts from present day feminist politics to a historic trajectory of where we’ve come and where the heck we’re going. A who’s who list is cultivated to show the breadth of feminist leaders—which inevitably falls short.

But, I dutifully read through my Fall 2007 issue of Ms., feeling a twinge of guilt when I remember how I literally squealed when the last issue of Bitch hit my door, because surely I have much to learn from women who raised female wages, exposed the ad industry, deconstructed the definition of marriage, put more women in politics, title IX—the list is endless. (My favorite fun fact from the issue compares Pat Summitt’s salary in 1974, which was $8,900, to 2004, when she became the first collegiate women’s coach to be paid over $1 million).

One group of thankful voices in the issue comes from the Girls Editorial Board, editors ages 8-14 of New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams. My faith in feminism is further restored. New Moon is an ad free publication, where 80% of the content is written by girl readers. Now, I know Fringe readers are more likely to pick up a copy of The New Yorker rather than New Moon but how inspiring it is to see our youngest cohorts have a place where one is “Free to Be…You and Me.” I’m still a proud reader of New Moon even though I’m much older than 14 and not because I’m nostalgic for my youth (trust me, those weren’t my best years). I continue to read feminist publications because I want you and me to be free.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Vote for the Best Novel of the Last 25 Years

Here at Fringe, we love novels, writers of color, and women writers (along with a whole lot of other things like feminism, culture, and judging from our blog tags, more feminism). That's why the New York Times' list of the Best 25 Novels of the Last 25 Years made us sad. (As the Guerilla Girls might say, "Hormone Imbalanced! Melanin Deficient!")

So we launched the 25 Books Project...and now we need to hear from YOU.

To vote, you must have read 2 or more books from the Pool, which we've been reviewing on this blog. For each additional book you've read, you get an additional vote, up to five.

All votes are write-in -- the only parameters are the ones set by the NYT list -- only novels by American writers written since 1981 are eligible.

Vote here soon -- the polls will close at the end of this year!

Flannery O'Connor and Heroes

So this is my first blog attempt and I'm assuming it's going to suck, but stick with me. Good intro, right? Now I'll talk about what kind of food got stuck in my teeth this morning (cinnamon apple sauce) and my favorite kind of toilet paper (whatever that commercial is with those red bears!).... I thought that was how blogs worked? You see, I did a little research. Dwight Schrute's blog is about a time capsule he sent to himself. No, really. I'm actually getting to something literary. Seems to me time's a pretty mysterious mofo. Heard about this study about how people like to see, in their movie trailers, everything that's going to happen in the movie? Not original. Flannery was doing that stuff ages ago. See "A Good Man is Hard to Find." You know damn well they're going to meet the misfit the moment the grandmother, and then the storeowner, mentions it. Or "A Circle in the Fire." Fire's in the title, even, and it's the protagonist's greatest fear. What she really pulled off is making us pant with anticipation (that's right, like a dog) until we get there. Why don't we see this in a lot of writing today (though, yes, there are exceptions like Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex--on our Best Books List)?

Actually, this isn't what I wanted to talk about at all. What I wanted to talk about was dialogue subtext. In "A Circle in the Fire" (really one of O'Connor's fastest moving stories) we've got this woman who's convincing herself the invading boys are only hungry and will soon leave vs. the boys who know exactly what they are doing but pretend to speak politely. The suspense is in waiting for the subtext to come to the surface, for the woman to realize (or let herself realize) what exactly is going on, in opposition to what is being said. That's a whole lot of suspense, a whole lot more than just wondering what physical action will play out. If you look back at pop culture, you'll see this at work in shows like Heroes, where characters will have whole conversations full of disparate subtexts, disparate levels of knowledge (though this is probably easier to do when your characters' identities/super powers are secret). Too heavy? My time capsule would include gay Albus Dumbledore, embryonic research, global warming in a tube, a copy of James Scott's OneStory, an issue of the latest Redivider, my upcoming issue of Mid-American Review, other shameless plugs, etc. And yours?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two Cities: A Love Story by John Edgar Wideman: A Review by Katie Spencer

This is the thirteenth of a many-part series written by the staff and editors of Fringe Magazine, who will be reviewing books from the Pool as part of the 25 Books Project

It may be that the most enduring, affecting art produced within modern cultures develops when cultures are in crisis. Think about the greatest Russian literature. And think about the art that has come from black urban America in the final third of the 20th century. When beauty and destruction, oppression and exhaustion, history and outrage, love and grief combine, you get art distilled to such poignancy that it makes your heart literally ache. You get, for example, Funkadelic’s instrumental Maggot Brain, you get John Edgar Wideman and his brilliant, heartbreaking Two Cities.

Two Cities skips perspectives, delving most deeply into Kassima, a young woman who has lost a husband and two sons to AIDS and violence; Robert, the man who breaks the shell around her heart; and her tenant, ancient Mr. Mallory, a quiet man with a rich inner life and backstory.

The love between Kassima and Robert is a buoy neither expected to find, but one that nourishes long-dormant tendrils of sweetness and vulnerability in both of them. It's a love as sexy and sad as a doomed affair, as warm and kind as the strongest marriage.

These characters float between the decayed neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. They stay quiet and invisible out of self-preservation, though the cycle of young black men annihilating one another continues, and they are infected with sorrow and rage.

The subtitle for the novel is “A Love Story,” and this is the thread of hope that makes this novel so redemptive and powerful amidst so much grief – the relentless love of the characters for things that can slip away at any moment – each other, their cities, their culture, the homes they’ve built, the sons they’ve lost.

What's in a Name?

To change, or not to change, that is the question - my last name, that is. I'm getting married, and I am struggling with this decision. I should note before continuing that my fiance is totally on board with whatever I decide (and even has expressed the opinion that maybe I should keep my own). Also, I am not resistant because his name is long and unpronounceable or anything of that nature - Ott doesn't cause much confusion. I am, however, resistant to hyphenated last names, which feel a little artificial to me.

I'm really partial to my last name. It defines me. My first initial and last name spell a real word, and it's actually fitting for my personality. People call me by my full name all the time, because there are so many Sarahs out there. Yes, I share my name with an actress, but that's kind of good - when you google me, you have to sift through all her pages before you get to any mention of me, and I like it that way. When I imagine going by a different name, I feel uncomfortable. Like I'm masquerading as someone else.

On the other hand, it's cultural tradition. Our children would have his last name, but mine would be different. People will want to call us the Otts, but I won't really be one. Maybe his family will be offended. Actually, even my mom said I should change it - "it's easier with the kids," she said. And part of me wants to be the Otts, just the way I'm part of the Miles family right now.

Most of my family members have changed their names, except for my aunt (by marriage), who never took ours. I certainly don't feel offended by that, nor is anyone else, but I know part of her decision was that there were no boys in her family to carry the name. Of course, it is ending with her, since her child shares my uncle's last name.

Help, ladies, I need advice!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Advice to Submitters: Cover Letters

Here at Fringe, we see a lot of cover letters from submitters, ranging from the perfectly-composed traditional cover letter to the multi-page biography. A good cover letter allows your work to stand on its own, while a bad one can be off-putting to editors and start them out with an attitudinal deficit.

As a service to writers and editors everywhere, I thought I'd run through some of the most frequent pitfalls, at least by Fringe standards.

  • Keep it short, no more than three paragraphs maximum.
  • Send a two or three-line bio either within the letter's body text, or below your sign-off.
  • Tell us if the submission is simultaneous.
  • Use proper capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Yes, the Internet is a casual place, but we haven't let our hair down THAT much.
  • Let us know if you are/are not previously published, and list a few of your most recent or most important publications.
  • Include a cover letter.
  • Send us a curriculum vitae or a list of all 57 journals you've published in.
  • Summarize the piece(s) you are sending. Doing so robs us of the pleasure of discovering your writing on our own. If you have a sentence of background you simply must put in there, or which is necessary to understanding the story ("I wrote this piece while living with Sherpas in Nepal and studying their myth cycle which relies on..."), that's fine.
  • Address us as "Dear Sirs" -- we know you don't mean to cause offense, but we are not male, and also we are feminists. We prefer "Dear Fiction/Nonfiction/ Poetry/ Etc Editor."
  • Tell us that your piece is exactly the avant piece of literature we have been waiting for.
  • Tell us who your literary influences are. This can be a turn-off, which makes it harder to give your piece the fair reading it deserves. Remember, it may happen that your most venerated literary fore bearers typify all we loathe about the hetero patriarchal canon. Also, Burroughs and Hemingway influenced everyone.
Remember, as my old adviser Pamela Painter says, the primary function of a good cover letter is to tell editors, "hello" and "I'm not crazy." Follow these tips and yours will do just that.

Happy writing.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Olympic Games and Sex Work

In a WeNews article yesterday, correspondent Wency Leung reported on sex workers founding a brothel in Vancouver to help with the aid of “cleaning up the city” in time for the 2010 Olympic Games. Let’s try to put a dialogue of the politics of sex work aside (prostitution is legal in Canada but solicitation is not; while the co-op brothel if being founded by female sex worker advocates, the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter has voiced dissent on the subject along with escort agencies threatened by the potential competition). The tourist trade surrounding an international event must both represent the city/nation as being “civil” while offering an abundance of debauchery for actual visitors at night. Leung reminds us that an estimated 40,000 female sex workers traveled to Germany during this year’s soccer World Cup. National events like the Olympics become a spectacle, where gender, race, and social politics are perhaps forced to momentarily surface, which makes me wonder why sex workers in Vancouver are finding a safe place only when it’s fitting to national interest...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Congratulations Doris Lessing!

Today Doris Lessing is the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. She’s the 11th woman to win this distinguished honor. Her extensive writing has confronted social issues such as feminism, race, and communism, yet her sophisticated literary style keeps her from being confined to a political writer. I’ve only read one of her many novels, The Summer Before the Dark, and was captivated by the main character's journey at a crucial point in her life to discover her true identity while old age lies waiting in the 'dark' future. Ms. Lessing’s first novel The Golden Notebook is next on my list to read: its historical impact on the feminist movement in the 60s is still important today.

So here’s a Fringe toast to this outstanding writer. We are thrilled that her literary achievements have been recognized and rewarded.

Bastard Out of Carolina: A Review by Elizabeth Stark

This is the twelfth of a many-part series written by the staff and editors of Fringe Magazine, who will be reviewing books from the Pool as part of the 25 Books Project.

Dorothy Allison's
devastating novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, was the last fiction book I read before entering journalism school. The day I started reading it, two different strangers on the train came up to me and said, "that's a really good book," and Bastard delivered.

The novel falls into the Bildungsroman category, following Ruth Ann Boatwright, nicknamed "Bone," who, like the author, was born to a 15-year-old unmarried waitress in South Carolina. The first person voice is compelling and takes the reader inside poor white rural culture.

Although the novel is about abuse, Alison writes against stereotype, keeping Bone's pedophiliac stepfather, Daddy Glen, looming ominously in the background for most of the book, which keeps the story from lapsing into the sentimental. This authorial choice makes the subject of the book Bone's early life, rather than the abuse, which shapes, but does not define her.

Due to the subject matter, it's not the easiest read, but the passion of this book makes its unpleasantness well worth it.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

It's Banned Books Week!

And we've almost missed it, but fortunately Sam Baber, an Emerson grad and good friend who blogs about culture, film, and lit, among other things, didn't forget. Check out the American Library Association to find out more about what you can do to celebrate intellectual freedom, and see lists of the most challenged books today - go out and pick one up today.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Good Intentions, Bad Word Choices: Conversations on Women's Bodies

I love my dad, but sometimes he puts his foot in his mouth. This morning he told me about a conversation he had with my mother, who recently turned 52:

MOM: I got my period again today – I thought I was through with this.

DAD: Well that’s okay – that just means you’re still all woman.

MOM: (with a raised eyebrow) So when it does stop, I won’t be a woman?

DAD: (stammer, stammer) No, no, I meant you’re still a young woman.

MOM: So then I’ll be old after menopause?

DAD: (stammer, stammer, and um, more stammering)

Now Mom’s been with Dad long enough to know he’s not purposely trying to be a jerk, and that, in his insensitive way, his intent was to make her feel better, but it did bring up an interesting question – why are conversations about women’s bodies – and I mean conversations, not commentary - often uncomfortable? I admit to feeling grossed out by what my body does sometimes, even though it’s always natural – is it a result of this discomfort?

The problem is that there isn’t enough open dialog about this, so it’s no wonder the men in our lives don’t know how to support us through these changes, or even the women for that matter. I can’t remember exactly what my dad said when I got my first period, but it was something like “congratulations – it’s supposed to be a good thing, right?” And my mother has trouble getting advice about menopause from my grandmother; Grandma can't shake growing up in a "don't ask, don't tell" atmosphere. We do have women’s health product commercials on TV, but let’s face it – those are often cringe-worthy, too, and don’t do anything to make having a period, or not having one, feel more normal. Usually these products (I’m thinking douches, estrogen pills, etc.) are focused on “fixing” the condition.

I’m lucky enough to have a Mom who will talk about any and all of this with me at great length, and I hope that others do, too. Let’s start the conversations now, with our children, moms, grandmas, partners and our dads, too – my dad may always be unsure of what to say, but at least he can learn what not to say, and why. What is this conversation like for you? How can we make it better?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Fringe 12 is Live

Issue 12 focuses on image and icons. We've got pieces on hair and teeth, AIDS, and myth. Read on, brave reader, and don't forget to vote as part of our 25 books project. A gloss of this month's issue:
  • Brett Allen Smith's short story Needle! Now! Broken! takes what could be a horribly sentimental plot about AIDS and turns it into something subtly unsettling by fragmenting the short-story form. Is it any wonder that he likes David Lynch?
  • Ponyboy, Brad Gayman's short short, negotiates the bizarre world of the Internet chat room, and the lies we've all told there.
  • Tammy Ho and Reid Mitchell's collaborative dialogue, Perfect Teeth, explores a chance encounter in the dentist's waiting room, the ambiguities that lie behind judgements at face-value.
  • Self Portrait in Three Hairstyles, a nonfiction essay by Carrie Jerell, shows how hairstyles, often dismissed as superficial, can change both self-perception and others' perception of oneself.
  • Heather MacNeill's piece on Oulipos will surely introduce you to a new and avant-way of composing literature.
  • Craig McKenzie's work plays with image through photo collage, and the concentric circles superimposed over his figures brings to mind the halos of ancient religious icons.
  • You've read about the 25 Books it's time to vote! Leave us your contact info in the poll, and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a copy of Fringe's top book.
Stay tuned Fringe fans, we'll be back with another new issue, featuring sleek fresh web design, in two more months!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Keggers and CliffsNotes: Passed the test!

Keggers and CliffsNotes was the best college party, ever. Maybe it was the keg, maybe it was the pizza, maybe it was the 4 awesome readers that made the night, well, magical.

After some boozing and schmoozing to the college-band soundtrack in the background, a crowd of about 50 people settled down to hear Amy L. Clark read 3 short shorts, one of which was brand new. Then her true skills as reader were put to the test as she read a CliffsNotes version of 'The Scarlet Letter' with mad-libbed words thrown in from the rather creative audience. Brian Foley, Urban Waite, and Janaka Stucky continued the pattern, each reading compelling literature, followed by audience-enhanced renditions of 'Paradise Lost,' 'The Odyssey,' and 'Moby Dick' ("Discover this American classic of Captain Mr. T on his maniacal search for the emu Schmoopy Dick who took his leg...").

It was the 3rd reading of the series, but the first under the new official name: Dirty Water Reading Series. We love that dirty water, love great literature, love that fizzy beer. The next reading will be December 16 at Grub Street...write it down! You won't want to miss it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Great cause, bad taste

There is a fantastic benefit the dames at LUPEC Boston have created this September: a number of area bars and restaurants are donating the proceeds from a specific woman-themed cocktail to Jane Doe, Inc, the MA Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. So naturally, when Julia, Janell, Joanna and I met up after work last night, we went to participating restaurant No. 9 Park, to splurge on a fancy cocktail and know the proceeds were going to help a great organization.

We had a lovely time. And then at the end of the night, someone from the restaurant approached Julia and me to ask how our drinks were. There was some awkward banter, and then he asked why we were there. Well, we like the idea of cocktails for this cause. Our literary magazine, Julia pointed out, is run by all women.

"Hopefully not battered women!" he quipped.

Ha ha, it's a safe joke, guys! Because everyone knows battered women don't drink cocktails at No. 9 Park! It's not their scene. Battered women don't go out in public. In fact, I don't know a single woman who's been physically or psychologically abused by a partner or parent, or witnessed the abuse of a mother, sister, friend... It's a them issue, not an us issue. And it certainly doesn't touch the editorial staff of Fringe.

I think this was an isolated case, as No. 9 Park is woman-owned and operated and known for civic engagement. So chalk it up to awkwardness, insensitivity or ignorance on this one employee's part. But I left feeling a little angry, and conscious of how much more work we need to do to build awareness of violence against women.

For more information about LUPEC Boston and Jane Doe, Inc, please click
and here:

Follow the LUPEC Boston link to find out which bars are doing the cocktail promo in September. The Jane Doe site has info on how to donate directly.