This post is a collection of all the blogs posts since our last roundup.
This post is a collection of all the blogs posts since our last roundup.
by Matthew McEver
In American culture, we have always given the era of frontier expansion special treatment. The Literature of the American West has typically served the causes of Manifest Destiny and Social Darwinism and functioned as the American creation myth. Such a mythology seems so ripe for lampoon, yet parodies of the Western are so few. But if you’re familiar with Barry Hannah’s work, you know that false history is an ever-constant theme in his fiction. Not surprisingly, Hannah pulls it off.
Hannah’s short novel, Never Die (1992), is a parody of the American Western where, echoing High Plains Drifter, a gunfighter named Fernando intends to burn down the corrupt township of Nitburg, Texas–a settlement controlled by a judge who founded and named the town after himself. Judge Nitburg relies on his town regulator, a dwarf named Smoot, and hires a ruthless killer named Luther Nix to quell Fernando’s mutinous aspirations. Hannah mocks America’s sentimentalizing of the frontier by refusing to exalt the characters, through violence that is cartoonish but never redemptive, and by incorporating elements of progress and modernity such as the automobile and the airplane. The New York Times Book Review described the novel as “the Marx Brothers doing a combination western parody and slasher film.” Hannah’s adeptness at blending violence and comic absurdity is at a premium here, and the dark humor in this short novel is achieved largely through his negating our expectations of a Western.
In the novel’s opening, via a rapid-paced narration, we learn that during the Civil War twelve-year-old Kyle Nitburg lived in Louisiana with his beautiful mother who was a Confederate spy. Young Nitburg informs the Union army, the mother is subsequently hanged, the boy collects a one hundred dollar reward and heads for Texas. Of course, a staple of the Western is the journey to the new Eden–but in Texas Nitburg marries, “the marriage did not go well,” and he sells his wife to the Comanches for four thousand dollars (Ibid). Rendering Nitburg’s depravity in such hyperbolic fashion, Hannah is forewarning us that in his Western anything goes, so it is no surprise that Nitburg “became a judge… (and) continued to cheat, lie and steal, and pretty soon the town and much land around it was his” (3).
Also customary for a Western is the mythical gunfighter who strolls into the corrupt town like a savior. Hannah’s legendary gunslinger is Fernando Muré, who once gunned down three angry men in a saloon by taking cover behind a card table and firing through the table itself. He wears a fedora and smokes long tan Mexican cigarettes. Women “wished he would assault them like a shovel of passion in the grave of their lusts” (7). Yet immediately after establishing Fernando as a superhuman desperado, Hannah begins to undermine him. Fernando vows to burn down the town of Nitburg–not only because it is corrupt, but because the Chinese have moved in and ruined his aspirations to open a coffin factory. As it turns out, Fernando is not Mexican but a faded southern aristocrat –a New Orleans native with a university education. He is an alcoholic and mediocre gambler who gambled all his bullets away. After proclaiming his intentions to burn down the corrupt town, Fernando the gunslinger is attacked and temporarily neutralized by the town regulator, a dwarf with a baseball bat.
Hannah subverts other stock characters as well–the doctor, the minister, the saloon madam, the schoolmarm. One reviewer likened the novel to an old rerun of Gunsmoke where everyone’s on acid. Even the villains are hardly standard fare for a Western. Smoot, the dwarf, keeps a mannequin in his room at the Nitburg Hotel, regularly bringing it out as a dinner guest. He also imagines stealing an automobile belonging to Navy Remington, a former sea captain. Smoot’s pursuit of the automobile grows complicated, though, when he develops romantic feelings for Remington’s pet monkey: “He was wild with tenderness for the animal. He could imagine nothing worse than her racing off across the plain without him” (64).
Repudiating the myth of redemptive violence, the violence in this Western serves no purpose. Luther Nix and his goons arrive and the carnage is over-the-top, Monty-Python-esque. Fernando’s burning of the town is anti-climactic, doesn’t have the anticipated effect of purging the town of its evil. Nothing is accomplished.
Never Die is an example of dark humor achieved by way of deconstructing a metanarrative. In other words, Hannah writes a darkly comic tale of the American West by breaking the rules and violating the treasured conventions of the Western. He refuses to comply with the expectations, which is what writers writing with purpose and intention always aim to do.
South85 Journal is the official literary journal of the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program.
“I won’t change anything the first year,” I said to both retiring Editor-in-Chief Sarah Gray and Contributing Editor Rick Mulkey when I took over as Editor-in-Chief of South85 Journal this past December.
That was before I led my first staff meeting at the Converse Low-Residency MFA program, where I was inspired by the enthusiasm of the staff. Not only did all of the previous staff members (except Sarah Gray, of course) decide to stay, but quite a few new people joined us: David Colodney, Kristi Hébert, Rebecca Landau, Connie Thompson, and Jacob Allard.
I left the meeting with my mind racing with ideas about what to do with everyone who was interested in serving our journal. Improvements I knew we needed to make – like a weekly blog, a social media presence, a review section for the journal, and a brand – became possible immediately rather than in the months – or even years – to come. We now have a Blog Editor, a Review Editor, an Artistic Director, and a Social Media Director.
With these new positions, we have created a logo, redesigned our site, started posting to our blog weekly, begun conversations on Facebook and Twitter, and planned reviews for our upcoming issues. In addition, we have kept up with our regular task of reviewing work submitted to us for our 2014 issue.
So, if you haven’t visited our website lately (or ever), please stop by. If you like what you see, here are three ways you can support us… and none of them involving donating or spending any money: `
One of the most important things you can do for any literary journal to read it. As much as writers say they write for the love of writing, writers also want to be read. And without readers, there would be no reason for literary journals to exist. So, check out our past issues. If you like what you see, sign up for our e-mail newsletter, and we’ll let you know when the next issue is available. Also, visit our weekly blog for a little literary inspiration. You can subscribe to it using your favorite RSS reader, or sign up to receive posts in your inbox.
If you are a reader, a writer, or an artist, we want to see your work! If you love to read and want to tell others about good books, join our staff as a reviewer. If you’re a writer or an artist, you can contribute your work to our journal. Our reading period ends April 30, so don’t delay if you have something good to show us! We are looking for poetry, creative non-fiction essays, short stories, and visual art. Also, we have a weekly blog where you can share your thoughts on all things literary with other likeminded people. Visit our submissions guidelines page for information on all of these categories.
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Thanks in advance for your support! We look forward to seeing you online, and please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any ideas about how we can improve our journal.
Debby DeRosa holds a BA in English from the University of South Carolina-Columbia and an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College. In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of South85 Journal, she is the Marketing Manager of Five Star Plumbing Heating Cooling in Greer, SC, and she freelances as a copywriter and content developer.
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is a novel about willing censorship and the kinds of people who enforce it, allow it, try to understand it, and secretly fight against it, and what makes Fahrenheit 451 such a powerful book is that it is so terrifyingly plausible. Two aspects I try to imitate in my writing are how the characters’ speech reflects their personalities and goals, and also how Bradbury takes a familiar story (the battle against censorship) and manages to make it eerily relevant and plausible over fifty years after it is first published.
In good fiction a character’s voice can tell you much about who is speaking. This is particularly true in Fahrenheit 451. All of the characters, from Clarisse McClellan to Guy Montag to Mildred to Captain Beatty, differ in both what they say and how they say it. This is a way Bradbury can give the reader more detail about who the characters are without resorting to long sections of narration. For instance, at the start of the novel Guy Montag is a regular fireman. He burns books when there are books to be burned, and he is happy doing it. However, once he meets Clarisse McClellan, his attitude begins to change and he starts questioning things he never thought to question before. This change in his character can be seen in his dialogue. Early on in the novel there is an exchange between Clarisse and Montag which shows his character through his speech.
“Do you ever read any of the books you burn?”
He laughed. “That’s against the law!”
and a few lines later,
“Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?”
“No. Houses have always been fireproof, take my word for it” (8).
So from the dialogue we get that Clarisse is an inquisitive girl, who asks uncomfortable questions, and that Montag (at least at this point in the story) believes he has the answers to her silly questions.
Later on, when Captain Beatty arrives at Montag’s house when he decides to call in sick, their dialogue reveals how Montag’s thoughts are changing, and it also shows how Beatty thinks. Starting on page 57, Beatty details how it was not the government that forced censorship upon the masses, but the masses themselves that brought about the book burning world. By explaining the declining history of the books, Beatty leads Montag to wonder about the firemen’s history. Beatty is, of course, prepared for this question, and he then explains the history of the firemen and why they are needed. This entire conversation has Beatty feeding Montag information and leading him to the conclusions that Beatty wishes. From this the reader can see Beatty’s cunning nature, and also Montag’s new found curiosity, which leads him to reading the books he had been stashing for the past year.
Dystopian stories of a future with an oppressive government aren’t difficult to come by (just pick up a newspaper), but what Fahrenheit 451 does to elevate itself above the rest is to present a convincing path from the present to that future. Fahrenheit 451 does this so well that some aspects of the Montag’s lives are indistinguishable from the lives we lead today. Mildred’s constant use of headphones is a good example. You would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know what an iPhone is. But it is not just the minute details that Bradbury captured, but the way he explained the attitudes which led to the world of Fahrenheit 451 that is so compelling. Montag learns, both from Beatty and Faber (two sides of the same coin, you could argue) how ideas devolved from the complex stories contained within books to the harmless sound bites produced by the programs in the parlor. Bradbury presents a real starting point and uses his knowledge of society and the human mind to connect that starting point to his oppressive future. Through this idea Bradbury is able to create a convincing dystopia, and that believability allows the reader to be engrossed by Fahrenheit 451.
Several weeks ago, Shannon Huffman Polson’s book North of Hope was featured on Why The Writing Works. Today’s post is an interview Shannon kindly agreed to, taking time out of her very busy schedule to answer a few questions.
WTWW: Your memoir North of Hope A Daughter’s Arctic Journey is a very personal story through grief. How difficult was it to not only write this book, but then release it out into the world?
SHP:Writing memoir is a funny thing in that you may include some memories that are so intimate you may only have shared them with a spouse, but I think it’s this willingness to be vulnerable to write toward the truth of the work that is the heart of writing, what allows a book to connect to a more universal human experience. This connection is the whole purpose of writing a book. It’s also important to remember that a book has limitations; 250 pages is not the same as an experience or a life. One of the most difficult things is crafting the narrative, deciding what must be included and what (no matter how important it seems) must be left out in service to the story. I think it’s important for both writers and readers to remember the possibilities but also the limitations of a narrative.
WTWW: Your web address is A Border Life (dot) com and on your website your state you “write about the difficulties of navigating borders.” Why borders? What other borders do you hope to explore?
SHP: The idea of edges and borders has always held me. The idea of “a border life” comes from Thoreau (“with regard to nature, I live a sort of border life, on the confines of a world, into which I make occasional and transient forays…”- Thoreau, Walking) When I first started writing seriously, one of the tensions I felt most strongly, and still do, was that of life in the city, where work has required I, and now my family, live most of our time, set against life in a more rural setting, the strengths and weaknesses of both. I think a third book might look at this more deeply. I am also aware of borders of life and death, of self and other, of women and men, as those that we are forced to live with every day. I love the idea of the ecotone as well, the border between ecosystems that is a transition area, a place where two ecosystems integrate. Borders are infrequently as hard and fast as they are drawn on maps or held in arguments, and I think this area on the edge, this requirement of integration, is where the possibilities for our own growth lie.
WTWW: You end your book with an afterword about the dangers the fragile ecosystem of the coastal arctic plain face from development. What do we stand to lose if this ecosystem is developed?
SHP: We would love one of our very last wild places, and that part of us that can hold a place as sacred. There is only a tiny percentage of the Alaskan coastline that is undeveloped, and it’s a tragedy that we can’t agree to protect it. Now, of course, the threats are much more complex, from the rapid changes occurring due to warming in the Arctic areas which changes this fragile landscape in unimaginable ways, both on land and in the sea where there is no longer sea ice (where even I experienced it in 2006.) This puts whole ecosystems and the animals and birds that rely on them at risk. What we don’t seem to see is that in our connection to wilderness, it puts us at risk too.
Wilderness is so much more than a place on the map; it is a place in our consciousness, a place that allows us to understand the fullness of potential and possibility, and love in all it’s terrible and beautiful forms. I am afraid of the way our culture seems to be losing the ability to see the sacred, in wilderness, in each other. Our connection to the wilderness, felt or not, is both body and soul. When we destroy the wilderness, we are destroying ourselves.
WTWW: Any other writing projects you’d like to discuss?
SHP: The book I’m working on now is exploring ideas that come from my experience as one of the first women to fly attack helicopters after the combat exclusion clause was lifted in 1993. I’m not yet clear what the key themes will be; certainly connection and aloneness, narrative inclusion and exclusion, and men and women, though I’m constantly surprised at what comes up as I do my work, so I’m not yet prepared to give a full answer about it, but it’s both terribly risky and exciting. Stay tuned!
WTWW: What are your interests outside of writing?
SHP: I‘m an avid chorister, and sing with an incredible group in Seattle called Seattle Pro Musica. I love to hike, backpack, and ski— nordic, alpine and backcountry. I love spending time outside in Washington and Alaska, or anywhere, with my family, my husband and two happy active boys. That’s most of it!
WTWW: Anything else you’d like to discuss?
SHP: Thank you for having me visit your blog community!
Thank you, Shannon!
Connect with Shannon:
If you wish to read more of her writing, Shannon also contributes to Image Journal’s Good Letters blog.