In his 2010 memoir Breaking Into The Backcountry, Steve Edwards writes,
This is the Thoreau I admire most of all. Not the hero living by his own means at Walden Pond; not the pithy craftsman of quotable quotes; not the meticulous, miraculous journal keeper whose observations cut to the quick with the precision of a scientific instrument. No, the Thoreau I admire most is the one struck dumb on a mountaintop in Maine. Struck dumb by the smallness of our accumulated knowledge in the face of raw, depthless reality. The desolation of Mount Katahdin turns such formerly simple questions as ‘Who are we, where are we?’ into maddening and unanswerable koans to which the only appropriate response is one’s whole life, one’s being, nothing less.
Edwards’ own book, an account of his seven solitary months spent along Oregon’s Rogue River as the recipient of a Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency, is admirable in the very way its author admires Thoreau as it cuts to the quick no less precisely. The humility, courage, and clarity of his account of those seasons spent deeply engaged with the world shine through in his writing, not only in that memoir but in his fiction and other work, too. And that’s why I’m so pleased Steve will join us as Writer In Residence for the month of May 2013.
I met Joanna Walsh in 2007. I commented on her blog, or did she comment on mine? One way or another we found each other through our blogs. (Back then, in those first few years after I’d moved to Paris from New York, I met all of my friends online). This led to an email exchange in which we discussed Paris, cities, dogs, life. We talked about the no dogs allowed signs in Paris, the ones that say même tenus en laisse. Even on a leash. I thought this was unfair. (I have a dog.) Why can we take a dog into a fancy restaurant but not into a park? She noticed the little dog on the sign has his leash in his mouth. “Any dog that can take itself for a walk can probably book a table at Laperouse,” she wrote.
Soon she wrote to say she was coming to Paris and would I like to meet for coffee at La Palette? I said of course. And thus began a friendship that’s become one of the more rewarding and sustaining in my life. Over the years we got together when she came to Paris or I went to London; I went to visit her in Oxford; we started frequenting festivals in the summer, sharing her tiny tent and sneaking into the staff bathroom to escape the port-a-loos. We go flâneuring together through Paris, London, Berlin, talking of Breton and Rhys and Benjamin. She’ll sing Rodgers & Hammerstein with me in the street. She introduced me to my partner and my agent. Really I owe her everything.
So given the digital origins of our friendship, it’s appropriate that she’s now writing about the internet, and the strange, tenuous-yet-solid links we build with people through digital communication, and that I’m here too, introducing her. Joanna’s work operates at the place where communication gestures at something beyond itself, or just as often totally breaks down. As a writer and illustrator her work is deeply informed by the Oulipo’s constraint-based creative approach, and she asks a similar level of ludic involvement on the part of her readers as Georges Perec or Harry Mathews. We’re in the frame. We play along.
One of the best novels I read in 2012 (and one I most eagerly talked up where I could) was Vault by David Rose, published the previous year. It’s the story of an amateur cyclist who becomes a sniper in World War II then returns to civilian life and struggles to reconcile the jarring disjunction of his experiences while swept along by historical and political forces. But I’ve called it a “novel” whereas the cover proclaims it “an anti-novel” instead, because woven parallel to that narrative thread is another in which an author turns the cylist’s life into a novel. The two strands contradict to the point of argument, cancelling each other in the manner of a kinetic sculpture I once saw in which a machine first knitted then unraveled a dress over time. Rose has told Paul Kavanagh,
I too wrote a flawed book, but in my case it wasn’t intentional, it just came out that way. The “anti-novel” tag was stuck on later, but the idea was for the two strands to cancel each other out, leaving a novel-shaped hole.
Rather than a hole, however, to my mind that cancelling out produced a whole, a novel that can be read as narrative, the undoing of narrative, the erasure of the individual by distant machinations whether political or artistic or otherwise, the exertion of individual will despite everything working against it, and — most importantly — a book so rewarding and provocative I’ve asked David Rose to join Necessary Fiction as our Writer In Residence for the month of February.
Please Note: Books listed are available as e-galleys except where otherwise indicated. If you are interested in reviewing one of these books, please email us. We are also glad to have reviewers propose a book they’d like to review (per our guidelines), and we are willing to request review copies from publishers on their behalf (though we prefer doing so for reviewers we’ve worked with before or those with prior review publications).
A Simplified Map of the Real World by Stevan Allred, Forest Avenue Press
I’m very honored to introduce Necessary Fiction’s January Writer-in-Residence, the superbly talented Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of one of my favorite short story collections from this past year, Birds of a Lesser Paradise.
If you haven’t read the book yet, you’ll want to. One of the best stories of the collection is the first, “Housewifely Arts” about a woman’s journey with her young son to find something that might still remain of her deceased mother: her voice. As the story unfolds, we come to understand the relationship was complicated, imperfect, as are all parent-child relationships. What I love about this story is its fundamental truth perhaps best summed up here:
I hunger for the person who birthed me, whose body, I realized after becoming a mother myself, was overrun with nerve endings that run straight to her heart, until it was numb with overuse, or until, perhaps, she felt nothing.
I have the unique, and quite frightening, honor of introducing you to December’s Writer in Residence, Ryan W. Bradley. Unique — because I am the first in what might become a long line of guest presenters here at Necessary Fiction. Frightening — because if I screw this up, I could go down in history as the WORST guest presenter. Ah geez. The pressure.
I believe my first experience with Ryan, who was featured here this month during Ben Tanzer’s reign as Writer in Residence, was through his short story collection Prize Winners, which exploits humanity’s inner demons — obsession, vanity, and sexual curiosity. An honesty-is-the-best-policy kind of guy, Ryan doesn’t shy away from his past and allows much of his real life to shine through in his writing, finding inspiration in everything. When asked about the truth factor, he once told Allison Writes that “even when the events are pure fiction there’s some truth there somewhere, whether setting, emotion, or more.” And though Ryan and I have only known each other for little more than a year, it’s that ability to write from what he knows that makes it feel as though I’ve known him all my life; that willingness to bring such intense familiarity to his stories that turned me into such a huge fan.
Interestingly enough, writing was something that came unexpectedly to Ryan. In an interview with Mel Bosworth back in 2010, he explains how he first found himself bitten by the writing bug:
Writers, publicists, editors, agents… we want your research notes. We’ve got some great pieces coming up in our Research Notes series, but we want more. If you’ve recently published a book of fiction or have one forthcoming, and if you think it would fit the guidelines below, please get in touch (especially women — for no reason other than trying to post these pieces close to their books’ publication dates, we’ve had a run of mostly men lately, and we’ve love to balance that out a bit in the upcoming weeks).
For our Research Notes series, we invite the author of a recent book of fiction to reflect on the “research” behind it. Research is defined very broadly, from archival work to field work to family histories to memory — pretty much anything goes. Usually, these take the form of essays in the realm of 1000 words, but we’re open to experiments like annotated reading lists, conversations, or whatever authors come up with. The goal is more to see how authors think about their own process than to force them into a box, and we like to be surprised.
According to Googlism,
ben tanzer is the author of the books lucky man
ben tanzer is the author of the books my father’s house
ben tanzer is the author of several works of fiction
ben tanzer is everywhere
ben tanzer is the author of the books 99 problems
ben tanzer is a crazy
ben tanzer is the guest
ben tanzer is doing a reading
ben tanzer is the author of the books you can make him like you
ben tanzer is a great friend of mine
ben tanzer is the author of the books my father’s house and so different now among others
ben tanzer is a chicago writer
ben tanzer is that rare writer and this is that rare book
ben tanzer is an emmy
ben tanzer is about to outline these difficult and haunting feelings of our formative year
ben tanzer is
ben tanzer is the author of the novels you can make him like you
ben tanzer is the author of the novels lucky man
ben tanzer is one of those guys you meet and like within seconds
ben tanzer is senior director of strategic communications at prevent child abuse america
I wouldn’t usually put much stock in what some algorithm has to say about a person, but in this case it’s onto something: Ben is the author of a number of books, he is a “Chicago writer,” indeed “that rare writer,” and he most definitely is “about to outline these difficult and haunting feelings of our formative year” — unless he already has in one of those many books, which is more than likely.
In an interview with Smokelong Quarterly, Stefanie Freele was asked how she discovers the unexpected details of her characters and their worlds, and how she balances “controll[ing] this unpredictability” against the story she’s set out to tell.
I don’t know that I loosen myself up at all actually. I do pay attention though in the world for stuff that stands out. I say almost daily – man, I gotta make a note and write about that. Good point about the control of the unpredictability, but, I have no idea what I’m doing there, I think that item of question is something that is worked out in my subconscious. Unfortunately I believe I think about readers’ perceptions too much. Is it insecurity? Is it concern? I don’t know. I do know that I’d like to let go more.
Contributor Amber Sparks worked with Kevin Murphy and Brian Carr to put together a collection of presidential fiction, which we expect to include a number of NF contributors (and, full disclosure, a story by me). Their Peculiar Ambitions: Forty-Four Stories About Our Forty-Four Presidents will be posted five presidents at a time by Melville House Press.
Beasts & Men by Curtis Smith
Writer In Residence:
"The Turn to Fiction"
"'Nazimova'" by Juliet Jacques
Writer In Residence:
"Do You Love Sentences?"
Building Waves by Taeko Tomioka , trans. Louise Heal Kawai. Review by Michelle Bailat-Jones.
Glamorous Freak and Beyond This Point Are Monsters by Roxanne Carter
Writer In Residence:
"The Artist's Way"