Category Archives: Uncategorized

Radio Interviews

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I think I forgot to announce this on my website.

Here is the most recent, only eight months ago:  Writers Forum on Vox Pop, “Writers on Writing. Me and Barbara Chepaitis.

And here we are with“Family Stories,” on the Vox Pop’s Writer’s Forum. Not sure of the date. 2016?

WAMC.org

Cimarron Review

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Cimarron REview.jpgCimarron Review
Winter 2017
Issue 198
Quarterly
Review by Lâle Davidson

With prosy poems and poetic prose, Cimarron Review provides fodder for intelligent readers. Founded in 1967 and a member of CLMP, the magazine regularly nominates its writers to “notable contests.” The Winter 2017 issue is a clean, slim volume, the pages almost square and formatted with a lot of white space so the reader can breeze through. Of the 25 writers, 14 are male, and a different 14 had published one or more books, while 8 were either MFA graduates without publications, or had published in fairly unknown magazines.

Most of the poetry in this issue leans toward spare prose, sometimes based on a vivid anecdote that leaps deftly into philosophy. For example, Karen Skofield’s “Abbreviated Guide to Unusual Phobias” begins with a wry list of eccentric fears posed as questions, “If I abide crowds but not the man in the fringed vest…If children are welcome but identical twins cause sweating.” Then it builds to fears that have shaped civilization: “The fear that I will outlive/ my children is called parenting” and “A fear that the lion will never lie down with the lamb/ is called Revelations…”

Michael T. Young’s “High Dive” explores how body and mind navigates the laws of gravity, while Michelle Menting and Katharine Kaufman’s poems enter and exit dreams. Amy O’Reilly’s poem “Girls in the City” paints a vivid picture of girls playing sidewalk games that grow into adult despair: “…Like so many girls/ who become bigger girls. Fish in dim,/ shallow bowls. Their suns,/ wounds in the sky’s flesh…”

Just when you think you’ve figured out this magazines’ prosy esthetic, it springs a few poems on you which experiment with form, like Doug Ramspeck’s “Field Anatomy,” which is formatted like a double-spaced prose poem, but is written with choppy syntax and juxtaposed images, or a highly abstract poem, like Michael Hurley’s “Samuel Explains Departure:”

It will discredit you
to look too longingly
at a thing like this,

the way a laugh is
half
for the other person.

The poems make you work some, but not too hard before they yield rewards, which is always my personal preference.

In addition to the 25 poems, there are four short stories and two essays. The stories range between 8 and 14 pages, some straight up realism, and two that challenge.

Jessica Hollander’s “Oracle,” explores a relationship from a man’s point of view, whose emotions flicker on and off like the streetlight outside his apartment at twilight…”nervous about its judgment.” It finishes with a de rigueur unresolved but thought-provoking ending. Miriam Cohen’s realistic “Wife” deals with an old story in a vivid yet humble way, a woman’s rage at being cheated on, while William Haas narrates the downward mental spiral of a “one-hit wonder” in prose that is dense logic defying.

My favorite was Michael Biel’s “La Négresse,” narrated in first person, which starts out seemingly realistic, but gets stranger and stranger. The first person narrator tells the unlikely story of twins who turn out to be doppelgängers, who join him at a café in France. Narrated in tongue-in-cheek, false-British style, using words like “moue,” “chap,” and “a frisson of delight,” the narrator wanders farther and farther afield of logic, with observations, like, “I would have despaired of telling the two apart had I not noticed almost right from the start that Jack was right-handed and Jed was left… Shouldn’t all Jacks be left-handed? Marys right and Marthas left?” I’m not sure I understood it, but I think a send-up of narcissism.

That leaves me with the two essays. Both are richly figured, written by men dealing with male issues in not particularly male ways. “If It Had to Perish Twice,” contrasts childhood vignettes with adult vignettes to explore the complexity of intentional and unintentional racism and aggression. “A Man of Action” features the aggressions latent in a relationship of father and son.

All in all, Issue 198 of Cimarron Review delivers highly but subtly crafted mainstream writing with some boundary pushing pieces that provide fodder for the intelligent reader without demanding more than their due.

I wrote this review for NewPages.com, which posts news, information, and guides to literary magazines, independent publishers, creative writing programs, alternative periodicals, indie bookstores, writing contests, and more. Check it out here!

One Hundred Years of Solitude 50th Anniversary

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Yellow ButterflyWhen I grabbed Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude off the shelf to re-read, I didn’t realize it was the 50th anniversary. Stifling my academic urge to write a long literary analysis, I’ll just tell you a few things that struck me the second and third time through.

There’s very little dialogue in the novel. It’s almost all narration, more like a vivid summary rather than a series of scenes. He’s taking a leaf from his grandmother’s storytelling oral tradition, in which the beauty of the story is in its shape rather than the individual characters’ progress. Add to this the narrative’s digressive tendency and spiraling treatment of time, and you get transported.

The narrative describes event after event, covering years in a paragraph, pausing to provide half a scene, then galloping twenty years into the future, then spiraling back to whatever the present was, and twirling off in a different direction following another character’s trajectory. Sometimes, he’ll be talking about one character and he’ll digress into other character’s life and follow them up to their death, then return to the original time period, but not necessarily the original character, and then follow the line of another character, like he’s tracing the branches of an enormous tree, which of course he is, the Buendía family tree.

He doesn’t use the past perfect tense to make clear when he’s going into flashback, or the subjective tense to flash forward,  or any other signal when he returns to the main time period, as the famous first sentence exemplifies, encompassing three time periods, the first of which is never clarified: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aurelian Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice” (1). It isn’t until the middle of the book that we get to the rest of the firing squad story, and then it’s almost a side note.

This tendency casts the reader awash in time, and develops the novel’s theme of time’s circularity and stagnant pockets, much like the mythical book Jorge Louis Borges wrote about in “The Garden of Forking Paths.”100 Years

The novel traces 100 years in the town of Macondo, from its founding by the Buendía family, through 32 civil wars lead by Colonel Buendía, through the arrival of capitalist enterprises in the form of the banana company with the attendant immigration of white foreigners, prostitutes and gamblers. The arrival of the capitalists culminates in a massacre of thousands of labor union protestors which the government hushes up. Then the town is washed away by “four years, eleven months and two days” (320) of rain, ending in the wildly decadent but transcendently pure lovemaking of the last Aureliano with his own aunt.

Having just recently traveled to Ecuador and studied Ecuador’s history and modern novels, I see better how the absurdity and circularity of the novel is shaped by Colombia and South America’s history.

Just like Ecuador, Colombia was invaded by the Spaniards who imposed an oppressive feudal system on the indigenous people, and it was both oppressed and liberated by the Catholic church. While Ecuador had 17 different constitutions since its independence, Colombia had nine civil wars between its independence from Spain in 1810 and 1850. Then there was the war of 1000 days from 1899-1903 in which 120,000 were killed, and then another civil war, “La Violencia” between 1848 and 1957 in which another 300,000 were killed, all between the liberals and conservatives (Britannica).

This is what much of the novel is about, and perhaps explains the theme of solitude that is the clear center of the book, though I must confess I don’t quite understand how. In what way is/was Columbia any more cut off from the world than any other Latin American country? Was he implying that Columbia is somehow more inbred and isolated than most countries? Is the rise and fall of Macondo an analogy for the whole country or just for Columbia’s rural past? Or just a certain kind of family? Why does he say that the Buendías were a “race…condemned to one hundred years of solitude” with “no second opportunity on earth?”

Garcia MarquezThough there are characters in this novel, they keep repeating, as do their names, so there are many Aurelian’s and José Arcadios, and after a while they all get mixed up in your mind, underscoring the circularity of time.

I love the character of “active, small and indomitable” Úrsula, Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s mother, who lives to be more than 100, running the household and family business until she is blind. I love the story Remedios the Beauty, who ascends bodily to heaven, and I love Úrsula’s great granddaughter Amaranta Úrsula who has a genius “for erotic mischief” and arrives home from Europe “leading her husband by a silk rope tied around his neck” and who shouts with laughter rather than alarm when she finds the family home is total chaos.

Though I can’t pretend to grasp it all, I adore this novel because of the whimsical blend of history, farce, passion, and magic typified in this winding sentence: “Jose Arcadio Buendía…gathered the men of the village… and he demonstrated to them, with theories that none of them could understand, the possibility of returning to where one had set out by consistently sailing east. The whole village was convinced that Jose Arcadio Buendía had lost his reason, when Melquíades [the traveling gypsy] returned to set things straight. He gave public praise to the intelligence of a man who from pure astronomical speculation had evolved a theory that had already been proved in practice, although unknown, in Macondo until then…” (5).

I think I’ll have to read it again.

Gabriel García Márquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Harper and Row. 1970.

Compliments Aren’t for Sissies

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Discouragement.jpgAfter a writing retreat with one of my two writing groups, I am reminded of the importance of starting any critique session with appreciation and compliments, but not just any kind of compliments. Saying things like, “I loved that” or “you rock,” aren’t particularly helpful.

In any kind of feedback group, there is a tendency to go right to the criticism and skip the appreciation. It’s just human nature. We feel the boat is sinking and we need to plug up the hole. Talking about the nice paint job on the way down doesn’t make any sense.

Part of  this problem lies in the fact that  we are always  in a rush. Another part of the problem is that there’s a prevalent feeling that we are all getting too soft, that teachers are pumping up their students’ self-esteem at the expense of high standards, and that  if your feelings get hurt, that’s your problem, not the problem of the person delivering the criticism or insult.

However, as I watched one of my writing colleagues begin her reading with a hopeful look of anticipation, and then watched her deflate into exhausted confusion as we criticized her, I thought we were doing her a real disservice. She looked like a swimmer far from land who is losing strength and sense of direction, and all we were doing was telling her how wrong her swimming stroke was.  She said, “I don’t know if I can trust my own perception, anymore. I thought I was on the right track.”

Here’s the thing. The reason it’s important to start a critique session with compliments is not to make the writer feel good.  It’s to show the writer that you have heard, seen, or understood where they were intending to go.  So much of writing is necessarily taking a stab in the dark (letting go of the conscious mind’s dictums and letting the unconscious mind well up and take over). It’s as important to have your audience reflect back to you where you were hitting your mark as it is for your audience to reflect back where you may have missed.

I’ve said elsewhere, but it bears repeating, the positive comments aren’t just saying, “I love this,” and “that’s good,” they should be descriptive. For example, “The image of the wolf at the end gave me to understand that you were intimating that your mother’s spirit may have been reborn as a wolf.” Likewise, the negative criticism can be given as a compliment, “The impact of that line isn’t reaching me like I want it to because I’m distracted by alliteration in the middle of it.”

Yes, it’s validation, but the purpose of validation isn’t just a feel-good pat on the back. The more important purpose is to create trust. Descriptive and specific positive feedback about what you think the writer is achieving helps the wwriting-togetherriter to learn where and when to trust herself, but just as importantly, it helps the writer to trust her fellow group members.  If the group members have understood where she is going, then their advice about where to go next is useful.  If it turns out that the group misunderstood where the writer was going, then the writer can think about how she needs to revise to better direct her readers.

Compliments aren’t for sissies; they are an essential orienteering device for any writing group. They create the compass points for that session which buoy’s the writer on her way.

 

 

 

A View of the Universe (from Schroon Lake)

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nebula

Pictures from the Hubble Telescope Archives

We stood on the shore of Schroon Lake after the sun had set. A fingernail moon and a single star hovered above Adirondack foothills. Up the bank, toward the house, a three piece band played Django Reinhart-like jazz, the kind of quick upbeat notes that make you dance in spite of yourself. I had come down to the shore in search of my husband and found him talking and walking with man with a cloud of white hair. I could barely see the man’s face in the dusk, only the faint glint of glasses.

It had been humid day, but as soon as the sun went down, a breeze began to blow off the lake, sweeping upland and inland, cooling our brows, stirring our hair, reminding us of the luxury of skin.

He told us he lived in the woods and loved being surrounded by the trees, but missed this kind of view, gesturing to the broad sheet of water and the mountains beyond.

Together we tried to name of the star above the moon. Venus? Mars? He said he had little telescope that he could see the moons of Jupiter with. “That’s how Galileo figured out we were circling the sun. He saw the moons circling the planet.” He smiled as he told us this, and we nodded, taking it in. The breeze blew.

My husband said he just couldn’t get his mind around the idea infinity. It hurt his brain.

I couldn’t imagine anything but infinity. If the universe stopped somewhere, there would have to be nothing after it. “How could that be?” I asked. In nature there is no such thing as nothing. My husband and the man nodded and smiled. We looked up at the sky. The moon sank closer to the hill. The breeze blew.

He lived in Malone, up near Canada, a small town struggling since its businesses had left America, a shoe business and something else. Like many small towns, it had accepted the building of three prisons. They provided a few jobs, but nothing else.

He was a painter and owned a gallery in the town. He wanted to do some work with the inmates, but the warden didn’t like the idea.

He told us about a man he’d known, who had once worked for Sunmount—an institution for the developmentally disabled in Tupper Lake, where a staffer was allegedly stabbed in the eye with a fork and three other staffers were recently found guilty of abusing residents.

Sometime in the 90s, there was an escape attempt, and the man was run over by the escape vehicle. He was awarded only a 20 thousand dollar settlement, though he had to stop working and was hobbled for the life.

He could have spent it on a chair lift or a new car. Maybe he should have used it to pay off a few bills. It might have been wise to invest for the future. Instead, he spent the entire settlement on a powerful telescope with a computer attached that would give him a view of the universe. Our new friend said, “He used to invite a bunch of us over all the time to look through it. We could see suns rotating in the nebulae.”

nebuI’d always wondered whether those pictures of prismatic nebulae swirling in stellar winds were real, yet this man had seen them with his own eye because a crippled man had helped him to.

Tourmaline sky resolved into black, and the light of long lost stars parted the darkness at a million points.

“He used to say the telescope was too big not to share.”

Standing on the shore of that shimmering lake, looking up at the sky, while the wind brushed us clean, we shared a moment of limitlessness.

Why Quirky Lit is the New Cool

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When one of my best friends got an agent who sold her novel, I asked her if she’d recommend my writing. The agent asked her to characterize my work and she called it “quirky.” At the time, I took it as a put down. But as time went on, however, I noticed more and more book jackets describing the content of their books as quirky. When you Google search quirky books, here’s a small sampling of what comes up: Douglas Adams’ The Hitchkiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and more recently, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and Karen Russel’s Swamplandia! Quirky has become a literary subgenre. Google shows that the use of the word skyrocketed around 2010. A quick Amazon.com search of books with the word “quirky” in the title delivers more than 900 results. Some bookstores even have a Quirky Reads shelf. The term seems metamorphosed from bad to good.

So what exactly does it mean when applied to literature?

Google dictionary says: characterized by peculiar or unexpected traits. Synonyms are eccentric, idiosyncratic, unconventional, unorthodox, unusual, strange, bizarre, peculiar, odd, outlandish, zany.

Well, no wonder I felt insulted.

My oldest friend from 4th grade says I am decidedly unusual. I suppose I’m unusually honest. I’ve never understood why people hide their hurts, fears and flaws. We all have them. All people deep down are full of oddities, quirks, and unexpected turns. Maybe what quirky really means is authentic. Instead of putting up a conventional façade, quirky lit celebrates how people really are. Maybe that’s why its popularity is growing. In a world where big businesses homogenize and mass-produce everything, where commercials scream attention to glossy surfaces, people are getting hungry for the beautifully, wonderfully, strangely deep down.

Busy, Busy, Busy

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Taking a leaf from my friend and fellow writer Barbara Chepaitis’ book, I have created a soundtrack for my novel The Ciphery.  Because I work full time, I have to snatch and hour here and an hour there to write, so this soundtrack is wonderfully useful in getting me back into the head-space of the novel quickly. Plus, it’s fun to imagine the movie version of my novel. I will be sharing some of the links to the songs for my next few blog posts. They all inhabit that strange place between the real and the fantastic that we seem to inhabit unconsciously. These are all available for purchase on iTunes.  Enjoy.

Busy, Busy, Busy

Finalist!

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Okay….I wasn’t sure, because the e-mail announcement came with a rejection announcement at the same time. I guess those who live by magic realism get tortured by magic realism, but here it is in living print! Woo hoo! Maybe I’ll sell that novel after all. Working hard to be finished by August. http://thedoctortjeckleburgreview.com/announcing-the-2014-…/

Announcing the 2014 Franz Kafka Award Finalists http://wp.me/pMtRv-8nk

“Empty Spaces” by Stephanie Frazee “Plato” by Daniel Grandbois “The Opal Maker” by Lale Davidson “The Hole” by Rebecca Nison “The Eye” by Amy Narneeloop “Dream State” by Mark Jacobs…
thedoctortjeckleburgreview.com

http://thedoctortjeckleburgreview.com/announcing-the-2014-…/