Gabriel Blackwell is the author of Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer and Critique of Pure Reason, a collection of essays and fictions. His work has appeared in Conjunctions, Tin House, Puerto del Sol, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. He is the reviews editor of The Collagist and a contributor to BIG OTHER.
Laura E. Davis is the author of the chapbook Braiding the Storm (Finishing Line Press). Her poem “Widowing” won the 2012 Crab Creek Review Poetry Contest, judged by Dorianne Laux. Other poems and reviews are featured or forthcoming in Mason’s Road, Right Hand Pointing, The Rumpus, A-Minor, Super Arrow, and Redactions, among others. She is the founding editor of Weave Magazine, and teaches poetry writing, translation, and recitation in San Francisco, where she lives with her partner, Sal.
Steve De Jarnatt grew up in the small logging town of Longview, Washington. He attended Occidental College, graduated from The Evergreen State College, and recently completed the Creative Writing MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles after a long career as a writer and director in film and television. He counts among other credits the indie cult film, “Miracle Mile.” His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Meridian, The Cincinnati Review, The Santa Moncia Review, The Best American Short Stories 2009, and New Stories from the Midwest.
Valerie Fioravanti is the author of Garbage Night at the Opera, winner of the 2011 Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. Her fiction, essays, and prose poems have appeared in many literary journals, including North American Review, Cimarron Review, and Hunger Mountain. She was a Fulbright Fellow in Creative Writing, and is at work on a novel set in Italy. She teaches in private workshops in Sacramento and as a writing coach, and runs the award-winning reading series Stories on Stage.
Anne Galjour is an award-winning playwright and actor. Her playwriting credits include the upcoming world premiere of Turtles & Alligators, a Cajun Kitchen Comedy at the Bayou Playhouse in Spring 2013; Bird in the Hand; Okra; and The Queen of the Sea. Her solo performance credits include You Can’t Get There from Here, Hurricane Mauvais Temps, Alligator Tales, and The Krewe of Neptune. Awards for her work include the Bay Area Theater Critics Circle Award – Best Original Script; the Will Glickman Playwriting Award and Bay Area Theater Critics Award – Best Original Script; theAmerican Theatre Critics Association Osborn Award for Emerging Playwright; the Bay Area Theater Critics Circle – Best Solo Performance; the S.F. Solo Mio Festival – Outstanding Solo Artist; and the S.F. Bay Guardian “Goldie” for outstanding performance artist. She is a lecturer in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University.
Daniel Handler is the author of the novels The Basic Eight, Watch Your Mouth, Adverbs, and Why We Broke Up, recently awarded a Michael L. Printz Honor. As Lemony Snicket, he is the author of far too many books for children, including Who Could That Be At This Hour?, the first volume in his new series, All The Wrong Questions.
Arisa White is the author of the debut collection Hurrah’s Nest, the 2012 winner of the San Francisco Book Festival Award for Poetry. She is a Cave Canem fellow, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an editor of Her Kind, the official blog for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Her second collection, A Penny Saved, is forthcoming from Willow Books.
Valerie Fioravanti will be reading March 10. Details here. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including North American Review, Night Train, and Cimarron Review. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to Italy, and her story collection, Garbage Night at the Opera, was recently a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. She lives in Sacramento, where she teaches private workshops from her home and runs the Stories on Stage reading series. Check out her website to read some of her work.
WTAW: You’re primarily a short story writer, at this point, is that true? And assuming it is, what is it that you love about the short story form?
Valerie: Well, I’m primarily known as a short story writer, and I do love the form, but I’ve written two novels, and am working on a third. The first was the novel in the drawer, and I consider it my pre-MFA program, for all that it taught me. The second I may go back to, but it got squeezed out, first by my story collection,Garbage Night at the Opera, which I worked on concurrently, and then by my Italy novel,Bel Casino, when I received a Fulbright Fellowship to Italy to do the preliminary research.
I tend to be more of a slow-and-steady writer, letting work sit for months, revising and refining over many drafts, always working on multiple projects at once. I love revision and taking drafts in new directions. That’s much easier to do with stories and essays than it is with novels. I recently realized that I’m only a story or two shy of a second collection, so I think my book-length work is reaching a critical mass—right now, I have one book that I feel is ready, but in the next year or two, I may have three or four.
You were a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award — congratulations! Talk about short story collections. What are some of your favorites, classic and most recently published or read.
Thank you. The first collection by a single author that blew me away was Robert Olen Butler’s A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, which I read because it won the Pulitzer Prize. At that point, I only cared about novels, but his work stayed with me, so I read Margaret Atwood’s stories next, since she was one of my favorite novelists, then Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Amy Bloom…now I’m pretty much always reading a story collection or anthology, a novel, and nonfiction at once, trading off depending upon my mood. Recent story collections I’ve read and admired are Becky Hagenston’s Strange Weather, Lori Ostlund’s Bigness of the World, and Mary Akers’ Women Up on Blocks. The collection I chose to teach this quarter was ElizbethStrout’s Olive Kitteridge.
Do certain motifs run through your own work? Motifs or obsessions.What are they? Discuss!
I’m clearly obsessed with gentrification, with how neighborhoods change over time. Garbage Night at the Opera spans thirty years inGreenpoint, Brooklyn as it de-industrializes, languishes for a generation, then gentrifies. One novel was set in Alphabet City during its transformation into themore rentable East Village, although those issues stayed in the background. I’ve written a lot of travel fiction, for obvious reasons, and I’m already pondering my next novel, which I’d like to set in the NGO world of humanitarian aid/development. For the past year or so I’ve been a bit obsessed with adolescence in both fiction and creative nonfiction, although the two pieces I’m working on now may purge that era from my system.
You teach flash fiction. What is so fabulous about flash fiction?
Well, I think it’s a great form to learn by. I have an exercise I use, which I owe in part to the amazing Mc McIlvoy, where I ask students to take the first paragraph of a story and take it in five different directions, not revising so much as re-envisioning an entirely different story each time, just to point toward the possibilities inherent in any work of fiction. I think working with different variations of one piece can really help students “get”characterization, POV, or particular details building toward a central impression.
In terms of my own flash, both with fiction and creative nonfiction, I’minterested in packing as much as I can into a tight, dense space. The urge is to do more, more, more with less. I blame this on having so many poet friends.
Are there common misconceptions about flash fiction, that you’ve come across? What are they; how do you clear them up (say with your students.)
I would say the tendency toward the generic or superficial is a problem in student flash writing, mainly because they are writing stories too complex or too large in scope or timespan than they can handle at present. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, because failure is an excellent teacher. However, if you’re always trying to do too much, you may never get to the point where you dig in deep and really start to “get” those details that bring a character or circumstance to life. I advocate for going smaller, getting in closer—not a relationship, but a date, or a kiss. Once you’ve developed a knack for the particular, it will be easier to widen that lens and do more with less.
You also run a reading series. Why is it so important that such a thing be available?
Well, I believe that art is for everyone, that it should be both accessible and affordable in all its variations. There’s a lot of moaning about how literary fiction is irrelevant, and I’ve had my share of self-pitying moments as a writer. But, if you want a larger audience for good fiction, what are you doing to build one?
Do you listen to music when you write? If yes, what?
Do you have any habits to dispel the build up of creative tension when you are trying to write or are impeded from writing?
When my mood turns dark, I ask, “Are you writing?” The answer is almost always no, and I’ve learned to just drop everything because writing is a transformative act. I will feel better after I’ve gone into my creative space, however briefly. That said, I am very fond of food and shelter, so I’ve learned to forgive myself and my circumstances when reality impinges upon my writing time.
Stones or Beatles?
Stones for when I need to work through resentment or rage. Beatles when I want to decompress or believe.I have a tough time with either/or questions. The answer is almost always both. I crave variety, or am simply more comfortable with expansion over reduction. I can’t even choose genres—I’ve published in all three, although my focus in poetry is the prose poem.I can say that I primarily write fiction, but I wrote more nonfiction drafts last year. Most of my fiction time was spent revising.
The question I should have asked?
What are you reading right now? Dinaw Mengestu’s How to Breathe the Air (novel), Suzanne Rivecca’s Death is not an Option (stories), and Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright Sided (nonfiction).
Join us March 10 at Studio 333 when the following authors will read from their work on the theme of “open.” Doors open at 7 pm; admission is $5.
Sona Avakian has been published in the journals ZYZZYVA, Instant City, and The Sand Hill Review. She received an MFA in creative writing from Mills College and was awarded an individual artist’s cultural equity grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission in 2008. She was born on the east coast, lives on the west coast, and has never stolen anything (worthwhile).
The San Francisco Chronicle described Angie Chau‘s Quiet As
They Come as “a powerful mix of tragedy and kindness, of miscommunications and all-too-painful empathy, which bound together are a resonating homage to many an immigrant.” Publisher’s Weekly describes the book as “serenely stirring stories” in which, “characters radiate dignity and depth, seek freedom but find crushing loneliness.” Elle Magazine called the book a “darkly sparkling debut.” In 2009, she won the UC Davis Maurice Prize in Fiction for this debut collection. Angie Chau’s work has appeared in the Indiana Review, Santa Clara Review, Night Train Magazine, Slant, and the anthology Cheers to Muses. She was born in Vietnam and now lives in Eddie Money’s former studio in Oakland.
Maria Finn lives on a houseboat in Sausalito with an edible garden and tango floor on the roof. She is author of the memoir Hold Me Tight and Tango Me Home (Algonquin Books 2010), which has recently been optioned for a television series by Fox Studios. She is also author of the book A Little Piece of Earth, How to Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces (Rizzoli 2010), and she compiled and edited the anthologies, Cuba in Mind (Vintage 2006) and Mexico in Mind (Vintage 2008). Her essays have been anthologized in The Best Food Writing and The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2007. She writes for Sunset Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and Wine Spectator, among many others. She is currently at work on a novel based on her experiences as a deckhand on an all female commercial salmon fishing boat in Alaska. She is an Affiliate Artist at The Headlands Center for the Arts, and will be in residence this year at The Mesa Refuge in Pt. Reyes Station.
Valerie Fioravanti’s work has appeared in many literary journals, including North American Review, Night Train, and Cimarron Review. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to Italy, and her story collection, Garbage Night at the Opera, was recently a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. She lives in Sacramento, where she teaches private workshops from her home and runs the Stories on Stage reading series.
Grace Dane Mazur is the author of the literary non-fiction work, Hinges: Meditations on the Portals of the Imagination; the novel Trespass; and a collection of stories, Silk, which was a New York Times notable book of the year. After studying painting and ceramics at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, she went to Harvard University for her BA and PhD in Biology. She was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard working on morphogenesis and micro-architecture in silkworms when she hinged into literature. She now teaches fiction in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson and is the fiction editor at Tupelo Press. She lives in Cambridge and Westport Massachusetts, with her husband, the mathematician Barry Mazur.
Matt Stewart‘s debut novel, The French Revolution, is a San Francisco family saga loosely structured on the historical French Revolution. It was named a Best Book of 2010 by the San Francisco Chronicle and a Notable Debut by Poets & Writers. Matt’s stories have been published in Instant City, McSweeney’s, Opium, and more, and he blogs for The Huffington Post and The Nervous Breakdown.