Read these! Our contributors’ (and then some) work from around the web

Regular contributor Gabrielle Brant Freeman has several poems published around the web:
“The Art of Deception” page 64 in the Minetta Review

“Guess My Name” and “Linen” at CSHS

A short story from Kyler Campbell. You can download a free issue and read his story “Caretta Caretta” & short interview from Driftwood Press. Story starts on page 13.

Travis Burnham is a fellow Converse alumi and his short story “The Bone Washer” is up at Bad Dream Entertainment.

Jeffrey Schrecongost, another Converse grad, whose post was highlighted a few weeks ago, has a short story–“Mouthwash” up at Gadfly.

Poet Melissa Dickson Jackson is the author of Sweet Aegis and Cameo. Another Converse alumni and she has a blog post up at North American Review titled A Poem in Flight: Memory and Truth.

Check out contributor Yolande Clark-Jackson’s children’s book Rocko RocketRocko also has a Twitter account. Lots of good stuff happening here!

Core faculty member and fiction member Leslie Pietrzyk, author of A Year and A Day: A Novel and Pears on A Willow Tree has an interview up at Reader’s Lane. Leslie also has a blog at Work In Progress and edits Redux: A Literary Journal


Fifth week round-up

Fifth week round-up highlights posts in the last few months:

May’s roundup

History and Humanity in Summary

A Different Sense of Place: Where a Story Begins and Ends

I Want Every Poem to Change My Life. No Pressure

Blogs You Should Be Reading

Winging It

Down the Rabbit Hole: Growing Strangeness in The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club

The Snow Child

Barry Hannah’s Monstrous American Hero

“Words that burn”: Honesty in Denise Duhamel’s Blowout

June’s round-up:

Writing Tips to Get You Through the Summer Doldrums

Diamond Mining

Biblical Allusion in Flannery O’Conner’s The Violent Bear It Away

Just Breathe

July’s round-up:

Lines That Linger

Repetition in Tanya Olson’s “Notes from Jonah’s Lecture Series”

The Threat of Violence

Werewolves and the War on Terror: A Literary Snob on Betrayal

Literary Magazine Highlight-Glimmer Train, Slice

Everything in Its Proper Place

By Kyler Campbell

Something as small as a fleeting mention of color has staying power in the mind of a reader. They can find the deep and subtle threads that you as the author wove into your work, but come away from the piece fixated on a small mention of a color. Shouldn’t we as writers harness even the smallest, most fleeting parts of the writing? When everything in a story is in its proper place, the writing takes a dramatic turn for the memorable and powerful. Rick Bass, in his story “The Hermit’s Story”, uses this principle when he drops small mentions of specific colors to lead the reader to an underlying meaning within the writing. In the story of two dog trainers lost in the wild, Bass not only inundates the reader with that special sort of Canadian cold (reminiscent of Jack London), but manages to show how potent small details (like the use of colors in our example) can pull a piece together and create an overall theme.

During the winters of the Canadian wilderness, the color scheme hardly varies from the snowy greys and whites that blanket the land throughout most of the year. So it’s interesting that Bass’ story, set in the upper reaches of Canada, starts with a riff on the color “blue.” Bass immediately sets up the importance of this single color “as if blue were a thing itself…creeping up fissures and cracks,” (1). The color is compared to a “scent” and the dogs outside are shown “breathing that same blue light,” (2). He shows the characters, and their dogs, wandering across a frozen lake, under the stars, “just above their heads with a shimmering cobalt light,” (12). While most would consider white the color of winter, Bass grabs the reader with an unexpected portrayal of winter’s chill, giving it a more potent resonance within the story. These soft and cold colors serve as a means not only to chill the reader, but also to set up a color contrast later on.

As the story progresses, the characters find themselves caught underneath an ice-shelf, the frozen top layer of the lake. From here, Bass draws an interesting comparison between man and nature. Throughout the story, the characters practice training dogs to hunt pheasants, utilizing nature (the dogs in this example) to their benefit. However, once they are beneath the ice shelf, the roles (man over nature) are reversed as they spend the rest of the story at the mercy of a naturally occurring phenomena (man under nature). Once this shift in position has occurred, the characters light a torch under the ice, leaving Bass to remark that “the orange blurrings of their wandering trail [were] throbbing with ice-bound, subterranean blue and orange light of moon and fire” (13). For the first time in the story Bass shows a color that does not comply with the wintery pallette from earlier. This acts as a subconscious signal to the reader that the colors are more than surface descriptions. In this case, they serve to show the “blurring” of man and nature. The reader moves from the chilly whites, blues, and glassy hues of winter, to a bright and warm orange flame. Using the contrasting hues of orange and blue, Bass juxtaposes man’s greatest invention (fire) with one of nature’s greatest phenomena (the ice shelf). The small detail of color choice gives shape to the story and carries a theme that permeates Bass’ writings: that of man and his ultimate relationship within nature.

Everything in the writing must have a place, especially the small things. Every color, name, and fleeting word must stand out and belong with a specific sense of purpose. The writer must use whatever tools to clue the reader to important meanings and scenes. Every piece the writer uses, be it colors, phrases, or images, must be in the proper place to give the writing a punch of meaning and purpose. The use of color in “The Hermit’s Story” shows a clear example of how the proper use of a seemingly small thing, like colors, can send the reader through a range of emotions and help carry the entire weight of meaning within the story.

Bass, Rick. The Hermit’s Story: Stories. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Print.

You’re Too Nice: Flannery O’Connor and Character Hate

By Kyler Campbell

I love my characters. Every character I create in a story is in some small way a part of me. I want them to survive and to prosper, to have every bit of happiness I can give to them. I’m too nice to them, sometimes. I’m afraid to push them to their absolute limit, to toy with their emotions, and to make others hate them. When they’ve found an escape from the awfulness around them, I’m afraid to take it away and leave them scratching in the dark. There are many authors who don’t seem to have this problem, but chief among them, I believe, is Flannery O’Connor.

I’ve never doubted that O’Connor was anything less than brilliant and a true voice of women’s literature in the South. Reading through a collection of her stories is something akin to catching up with an old friend: a reminder of familiar themes and people that were just as exciting now as the first time I experienced them. O’Connor’s lyrical prose and memorable characters have as much to say about methods of writing as they do about antiquated southern values. But more than anything, O’Connor demonstrates the effectiveness of Character Hate.

If I could only read one O’Connor story for the rest of my life, it would undoubtedly be “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” In the story, O’Connor lays a hard path of remorse and damnation for an average middle-class family, setting up one terrible situation after another. Within the story, O’Connor shows she is not afraid to attack her characters with full force both physically and emotionally. The grandmother’s famous, “You’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children,” confession shows a dramatic reversal in the character’s perspective (O’Connor 132). The Misfit has murdered her entire family and holds a gun to her head. It is then that the grandmother sees the humanity in her murderer. She, on her knees at gun point, appeals to the Misfit’s sense of mercy, displaying her own humanity and decency. The grandmother has her first truly human moment in the story only after the rest of her family is murdered. She shows compassion instead of judgment for the first time in many years, and is murdered for it. The Misfit remarks later that the grandmother would’ve been a good person “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life” (O’Connor 133).

O’Connor’s treatment of her characters is more than hate: it’s purpose-driven story-telling. O’Connor detaches herself from her characters in a way that allows her to craft a moving piece of fiction without holding herself or the narrative back. She has, what I like to call, Character Hate: enough narrative distance to let the characters have dynamic flaws but enough heart invested that the reader stays involved.

The idea of Character Hate is something every writer can benefit from. O’Connor uses it to great success in her stories and shows the potential that every character can have when the author lets go. It’s a challenge to all writers to put aside our apprehensions and start letting the story take its course. It’s time to stop being so nice, and to start writing.

O’Connor, Flannery. The Complete Stories. New York: Noonday, 1990. Print.