Thank you to everyone who entered our first annual short story contest. It was a pleasure to read your fiction. There were many, many fantastic stories to choose from, but in the end our winner was clear. “The Selkie’s Daughter” by Gina L. Grandi caught us in a fishing net of visceral prose.
Gina L. Grandi is a doctoral student and adjunct professor in the Educational Theatre program at New York University’s Steinhardt School. In her former life, she was a public school teacher in San Francisco and a teaching artist and arts administrator in New York. She is currently the co-founder and artistic director of The Bechdel Group, a new play development company dedicated to challenging the role of women on stage. Her writing was recently featured on the site 100 Word Story and she has received a number of very kind rejection letters from a wide variety of publishers and literary journals. Gina has a BA from Vassar College, a Masters from New York University, and an extensive finger puppet collection. She can be found on twitter at @yonderpaw.
“But the sea does not let go and she was part of the sea. She was drawn again and again to the water’s edge, trailing her fingers through the foam. She held fistfuls of wet sand in her pockets. The hems of her skirts were stiff with salt. She smelled my father’s hands when he came home, pressing her face into the brine and the tang of fish that lived in the crease of his palms.”
Alisa Hagerty Miller recently completed her Master’s in Interdisciplinary Studies from Western New Mexico University with major concentrations in English and Writing. Before enrolling in graduate school, she worked for ten years as a commercial pilot. In January 2015, Alisa represented WNMU’s graduate division in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and presented a research poster, “Interdisciplinary Education in Action,” for New Mexico Legislature’s first annual Graduate Education Day. She is completing a final revision of her first young adult fantasy novel, while actively submitting short stories and essays for publication about the flying life and other subjects. Look for one of her latest CNF pieces in the spring edition of WNMU’s literary journal, Twisted Vine. [28:57].
Along with discussing the impact of Alisa’s flying life on her writing life, her experience at WNMU, and her publishing aspirations, we also talk about post-MFA teaching opportunities. Lacy teaches three college-level writing classes online; Audrey is in the midst of an MA in English Literature at the University of Oslo; and Alisa remained at her school for an extra semester in order to pick up some important literature-based classes, potentially making her a more attractive candidate for teaching jobs. We hope these insights help you, dear listeners!
“I got into flying because I thought it would fuel my writing life… and I also had this fantasy that pilots had all this time off!”
“I found [WNMU] by providence and by luck… I didn’t really see a clear path back into education as I got older. I think it’s a common thing for people in their 30s and 40s: They’re like, I’ve put [grad school] off for this long, am I ever going to do this?”
On Interdisciplinary Studies…
“[IS] gives students the opportunity to design their own degree plans, usually in two or three disciplines… and the goal is to ultimately draw connections between those disciplines.”
“I think my whole life had been interdisciplinary. Flying is just about the most interdisciplinary career I’ve ever encountered.”
Management Information Systems: “A branch of computer science; you don’t have to code, but you learn about really cool technical concepts and organizations using technology.”
“I think that education should be dynamic. That flexibility [at WNMU] was really important to me.” Continue reading →
“I started when I was twelve. I got a typewriter for my birthday, and I immediately thought, I’m going to write a novel!”
“The work I do for children is very honest and I tackle difficult subjects–I’ve looked at suicide in a play for teenagers–but I also believe in giving them optimism and hope.”
“My aim in writing [‘Micka’] was to get adults to see how two boys of that age can grow up with no compassion… of course, it’s a lot to do with their upbringing.”
On working with a niche publisher [Grimbold Books]:
“I wanted a new, young publishing house… I found from day one, as soon as Zoë said she liked the book and wanted to publish it, it was a wonderful journey. I felt really taken care of as a writer, because they [Sammy Smith and Zoë Harris] are both writers and they understand the creative process.”
On her writing process:
“Well, you can forget consistency and discipline!”
“Writing is one of the very few things that gets better the older you get.”
You don’t want to miss Frances speaking to us as her alter ego Pan Zador!
If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it? Good God, we also would be happy if we had no books and such books that make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. What we must have are those books that come on us like ill fortune, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us. ~ Franz Kafka, someone “quite mad”
“You get a feel for what schools people are applying to… I definitely noticed people supporting each other and boosting each other’s spirits, and that seemed like a good thing.”
On choosing Rutgers’ MFA program…
“I applied to either 11 or 13 programs. [On Facebook,] I saw that people were worried about the cost of application. I’ll suck it up on the application costs if it means I could get some kind of a funding package somewhere.”
On patience as a writer…
“Most people [at the start of the MFA] hadn’t even written ten stories, me included. If you put that in the context of a writing life, it’s really just the beginning.”
Advice to people considering an MFA…
“When MFA faculty are looking at applications, they’re trying to find people, not who have written the most polished story, but they’re looking for people who… if they were they to work with this person, some good would come out of it.”
In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything! ~ Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Stephanie Reents is the author of The Kissing List (Hogarth, 2012). Her work has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories, Best of the West, Epoch, StoryQuarterly, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, and Denver Quarterly, among other places, and been noted in Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize. She earned her MFA from University of Arizona and has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, a Stegner Fellowship, and a MacColl Johnson Fellowship for fiction from the Rhode Island Foundation. An Associate Professor of English at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, Stephanie lives in Cranston, RI with her husband and multiple cats.
“I was sifting through the stories on my hard drive–because I didn’t want to start working something new–seeing if there was anything partially finished that I could attempt to finish. I realized that I had been writing a number of stories about young women, without being fully cognizant of it, and it suddenly made sense to me: Why don’t I have a collection of stories about young women figuring out that decade after they graduate from college?”
“It wasn’t a collection of interconnected stories. The connecting of the stories didn’t happen until after the collection had been acquired by the publisher. My editor suggested that I try connecting the stories, which was very psychologically challenging.”
On writing mystical, unreal stories…
“Any writer knows that you have to use your own life for scale… We use the places we know, and we use some of the experiences we’ve had, to create the texture of verisimilitude or believability in a story or novel. So, I definitely draw from experiences I’ve had or places I’ve lived in order to make things feel believable, to give the story the texture of something that’s real, even if it’s obviously not real.” Continue reading →
We’re one year old! This show is a retrospective, a chance to talk about all the fun we’ve had and lessons we’ve learned over the last twelve months, as well as an opportunity to update you on the status of our own writing lives. Thank you, podcast listeners, for such a great first year! (26:55)
Where are they now? Catch up with your favorite Postmasters guests here! This is what they’ve been up to since they spoke with us: Courtney Gillette (Writing, Identity & Sexuality) Courtney’s essay “How To Like Girls” (featured in our episode!) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was the featured prose writer in Issue 4 of Ardor Literary Magazine, and also served as a judge for the 2014 Lambda Literary Awards.
Zoë Harris (Enterprise, Agency & Making Things Happen) Since speaking with us, Zoë has completed the third book in the Eidolon Cycle, and is almost finished with her first draft of the fourth; she is still looking for a publisher. The membership of the Oslo Writers’ League (OWL)–which Zoë founded in 2012–has tripled in the last year, and published its second anthology, All the Ways Home, in May. And while her typesetting business has really taken off in recent months, the bigger news is that Zoë’s publishing imprint has released two books, including Dollywagglers, a novel by Frances Kay.
Cameron Conaway (Artistic Collaboration & Activism) Cameron has been re-exploring the beautiful campus of Penn State Altoona, the place where, 10 years ago, he first studied the art of poetry. He’ll teach poetry there this Fall.
Boris Fishman (The Replacement Life) Boris’s debut has been the stuff of every writer’s dreams. The Replacement Life was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice! He’s also been interviewed by several prestigious news outlets, and the book continues to be listed over and over as a great summer read.
Coming up… We’ve already got our interviews lined up for the rest of the year. Can you believe it? In August, Stephanie Reents, author of The Kissing List, will sit down to chat about her writing life. Then in September, fellow Lesley University graduate Suzanne Hegland of Essay Therapy will share her experiences as a writer of nonfiction, but also her insights on the college application essay process.
We have to learn to be kind to ourselves. What we’re doing isn’t easy. We have chosen to spend the better part of our lives in solitude, wrestling with our deepest thoughts and obsessions and concerns. We unleash the beast of memory; we peer into Pandora’s box. We do all this in the spirit of faith and exploration, with no guarantee that what we produce will be worthwhile. We don’t call in sick. We don’t take mental health days. We don’t get two weeks paid vacation, or summer Fridays, or holiday weekends. Often, we are out of step with the tempo of those around us. It can feel isolating and weird. And so, when the day turns against us, we might do well to follow the advice of the Buddhist writer Sylvia Boorstein, who talks to herself as if she’s a child she loves very much. Sweetheart, she’ll say. Darling. Honey. That’s all right. There, there. Go take a walk. Take a bath. Take a drive. Bake a cake. Nap a little. You’ll try again tomorrow. ~ Dani Shapiro, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life
If you’re wondering what to read this summer, you’ve tuned into the right podcast. We’re excited to have Boris Fishman joining us today to talk about his debut novel, The Replacement Life, out from HarperCollins on June 3rd. It’s a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick for the summer, and having recently finished the book myself, I heartily agree with that choice!
Boris was born in Minsk, in the former Soviet Union, in 1979, and emigrated to the United States in 1988. He received a degree in Russian Literature from Princeton University, and an MFA in Fiction from New York University, where he was a New York Times Foundation Fellow. The list of residences and fellowships he’s received includes the New York Foundation of the Arts, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., and the Djerassi Resident Artist Program in Northern California. Boris’s journalism, essays, and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker,The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, Harper’s, Vogue, The London Review of Books, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. He worked on the editorial staff of The New Yorker, but has also supported his writing by working as a hiking guide, a farm laborer, a market researcher, and the editorial director of a tech start-up. But today he’s here to talk about writing fiction. (29:39)
“You work alone in a room, day in and day out, for three years, and then your agent calls you one day and says that HarperCollins wants to issue a preempt offer for this novel… It’s meant to reflect the enthusiasm of the house for the book. To get any offer at all would have been incredibly affirming after three years of uphill climbing. Years that, I want to point out, were filled with no after no.”
“Even when I was getting said no to… it was still kind of amazing that the answer wasn’t, I don’t think this could sell. The answer was, I need to be on fire about this, and because I’m not, I regretfully have to turn it away… So, even though the answer was no, it’s wonderful to be part of a business where the heart is deciding along with the mind and the wallet.”
“You’re calling me on a very significant day. Just this very morning I finished revising my second novel. So, I will be having a drink later.”
“I’m just about fully secular, however, I feel profoundly Jewish… I grew up in a very secular country. So, where I connect to Jewishness is the literature, the culture, the history, the humor, the language, the inflection, the grammar, the way of speaking.”
“Everyone agrees that money can’t restitute suffering, and yet the slate is expected to be wiped clean after [restitution is made]. One of the amazing things about Germany, at least for me as a Jew, and as the grandson of a survivor, is that this country has continued to remember its responsibility and to commemorate long after it satisfied its monetary obligations, such as they are.”
“I’m the child of immigrants; it would be so awesome if I were interested in something more stable and lucrative than writing fiction. So, even as there’s [one eye on] MFA world, the other eye is swiveling around looking for other opportunities. It’s a blessing that they came along relatively rarely.”
“I’m the one-man MFA-defense army. It’s so fashionable to knock MFAs these days. In my case, it was essential. It provided structure that I didn’t have, deadlines… It made me interested in discipline in a way I hadn’t been previously. I did not start writing every day until I started my MFA. Like a job, every morning, Monday through Friday.”
Who’s Who & Books
Bernard Malamud — An American novelist and short story writer whose “gorgeously mangled syntax” inspired Boris in his writing of The Replacement Life.