All posts by South 85 Journal

Write Well Award

South 85 Journal Fiction Chosen for Award

South 85 Journal is pleased to announce recognition for one of the fiction pieces published in our Fall / Winter 2014 issue“Blowing Smoke” by Rachel Moore has been selected to receive the Write Well Award sponsored by the Silver Pen Writers Association.

According to the Write Well Award website, “This award seeks to recognize outstanding short stories and flash fiction from both print and online journals and to give readers a way to experience stories that they might not otherwise be exposed to.”  Thirty-six different fiction stories were chosen for the award this year.

When South 85 Journal notified Rachel Moore of the honor, she said, “I’m very excited and honored to be receiving the Write Well Award. I am proud of ‘Blowing Smoke,’ and it is incredibly rewarding to share this piece with a wider audience.”

Moore is a twenty-three year old Pittsburgh native. She lives and works on her family’s small farm outside of the city. Moore has a B.A. in History from Allegheny College and is currently a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, where she will earn a Master of Library and Information Sciences (MLIS) degree.

Check out all 36 winning stories in the 2015 Write Well Anthology, which is now available on the Kindle and in paperback format through Amazon.com.

So You’re a Writer

David Raney

Years ago my dentist found out I wrote. He said “God, I used to be really good at that. I could write answers on these insurance forms and stuff – nobody could make head or tails of it.” Writing as obfuscation. I had implements in my mouth so fortunately was not required to respond.

If you’re a writer, either you admit to it in social settings or you don’t. Cop to it, and the range of responses is discouragingly slim.

I asked a few writer friends about this. “When I say I’m a writer,” one told me, “people assume I have a book out with my name on it, and I’m possibly a famous person they’ve never heard of.” The next moments don’t go very well if that isn’t the case – if for example you’ve published something (or dozens of somethings) without spies or raised gold lettering.

“Even a lot of my old friends seem to be shaky on what I do,” another one said. “I’ve had people say ‘Oh you write for the paper?’ when I’ve been reviewing there for the past six years. And even when I explain, the bemused look stays in their eyes. The whole livelihood is fuzzy.”

I don’t often tell people I’m a writer, partly because I’m never quite sure I am. It’s not usually part of my job description, but that’s not the real reason I hesitate. Mostly it’s to avoid what follows. The polite cocktail party response – although to be perfectly accurate I’ve never attended a cocktail party – is “Oh how interesting, what have you written?” If the answer isn’t a novel, things can get hazy fast. When people learned I was a college teacher I used to get plenty of “Must be great to work three hours a day and have summers off.” But writing is, if anything, even less understood.

I think I’ll start answering “What do you do?” with just “I write” – and the inevitable follow-up with “Whatever seems true to me and might be interesting to someone else.” This will engender a few good talks with fellow sufferers and many premature trips to the bar for refills. But I’ve come to think of it as what I do, and also to feel less apologetic than I used to.

I’ve had a little luck publishing my pieces, but that’s not what has changed. (No one wants to hear your list of rejections and acceptances anyway.) I think it’s just that I’ve finally spent enough hours, weeks, years with my butt in a chair trying to get words to come. You pick the time and place, smells, drinks, noise level, favorite pen, whatever works, and you do it. Do it long enough, even (especially) when you don’t want to, and you’re a writer.

For me it’s legal pads and no capital letters (this fools my brain that things are already flowing, there’s no forbidding “Once Upon a Time” gate to open), plus a little background noise and some coffee. It isn’t so much superstition as training. You’re saying to your body “This is what happens now.”

So tell your friend/lover/barista/dentist you’re writing a novel or poem – or don’t. Say you’re a writer or else let it be your secret power, whatever makes it real. Just sit down somewhere, or stand on a ladder, and make words. They stand a good chance of begetting other words. Some you make better, some you throw out. That’s what we do.

 

David RaneyDavid Raney is a writer and editor living in Atlanta with a great wife, two great kids and an enormous dog. In a previous life all that was true but he was a better writer living in, let’s say, Paris. His writing has shown up in about thirty places including Flash, Compose, Gravel, Referential, Texas Review, North Dakota Quarterly, and the Hollins Critic.

Hearing Voices

Dallas Woodburn

After I broke off my engagement, I was often haunted when I sat down to write. All you care about is what other people think. My ex-fiance knew how to cut me deeply with a few precise words. He was right: I did care, perhaps too much, what others thought.

As a writer I had a difficult time distancing myself from my audience. Even when writing a first draft, part of me wondered what readers would think. This habit grew paralyzing while pursuing my M.F.A. degree, when I workshopped stories with the same eight people for two years and could anticipate how they would respond to a piece before I even turned it in. While writing a descriptive sentence, I would hear Craig’s voice in my head: Too flowery. Tammy would chime in, arguing the opposite: Lengthen this description so it comes alive on the page. I could hear Anna’s critique of a character (stilted and flat) while Rick would comment on theme (too heavy-handed; you’re telling the readers what to think instead of letting them come to their own conclusions.) If my story tanked in workshop, my confidence was shaken for days. Attempting to heed the disparate voices in my head only watered down my work. By trying to please all, I pleased none.

Three weeks after breaking off my engagement, I sat at a conference table with a panel of professors for the culmination of the M.F.A. program: my thesis defense. I had spent the past year working on draft after draft of my manuscript under the guidance of one professor, whose response had been positive. I expected to receive a fair amount of feedback and suggestions, but to overall feel encouraged.

Within ten minutes, I was shell-shocked by criticism. The defense lasted two hours.

I trudged back to my car through the early April slush, my mind spinning, feeling drained and utterly defeated. Because real life is often stranger than fiction, I bumped into my ex in the parking garage. He asked if I’d passed my thesis defense. I nodded. “Congrats,” he said coldly, and then he climbed into his Jeep and sped away.

I missed him—the old him—terribly in that moment. There were myriad reasons we ultimately were not compatible, but until the breakup he had genuinely supported my writing. When others were critical of my work, his had been the voice I turned to: Ignore them…This is really good… I like what you did here. Suddenly that supportive voice was gone. When I thought of my ex, what I now heard was contempt. All you care about is what other people think.

Weeks passed, and I confessed to a friend that I was struggling to get past his hurtful words. Even worse: I didn’t know how to make them false.

“You already proved him wrong,” she said. “If you only cared about other people’s opinions, you wouldn’t have broken off your engagement. But you heeded your inner voice. You can do it in your writing, too.”

I realized she was right. Leaving my ex meant losing shared friends and mutual acquaintances. Some people, looking in from the outside, spoke ill of me. But I never doubted I did the right thing. I trusted my gut, and that was enough.

My ex’s words—and other people’s criticisms—stopped troubling me so much. I dove back into my thesis manuscript with renewed vigor and a wellspring of new ideas. I completed a young adult novel that had been languishing in my hard-drive for years, ever since some of my colleagues had scoffed that YA fiction was not “serious” writing. I wrote essays and plays and blog posts without worrying about being judged by readers. Ironically, once I stopped concerning myself with the opinions of others, my work began to receive more acclaim: a short story won second place in the American Fiction Prize, a play was produced Off-Broadway, and I received the John Steinbeck Fellowship in Creative Writing. However, my confidence as a writer is no longer tied to what others think of my work. I know now that the only voice I need to listen to—the only voice that truly matters—is my own.

 

Dallas-Woodburn-photoDallas Woodburn, a former Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing, has published fiction and nonfiction in Fourth River, The Nashville Review, The Los Angeles Times, North Dakota Quarterly, Passages North, and Monkeybicycle, among others. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, her short story collection was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and the Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. Woodburn is the founder of Write On! For Literacy, an organization that empowers young people through reading and writing endeavors: www.writeonbooks.org. She blogs frequently at http://daybydaymasterpiece.com/

The Spring / Summer 2015 Issue Is Here!

Our Spring / Summer 2015 is up and ready for viewing!

Creative Work

We are pleased to present work by the following contributors:

Artwork – Vivian Calderón Bogoslavsky
Fiction – Connie Bull Stillinger, Graham Bowlin, Janet Schneider
Non-Fiction – Francis DiClemente, Krista Varela, Susan Vespoli, Timothy L. Marsh
Poetry – Christine Grimes, Christopher Muravez, Disa Turner, Donald Levering, Iain Macdonald, Jevin Lee Albuquerque, Jonathan Travelstead, Kevin Brown, Koal Gil, Marlin M. Jenkins, Tom Montag

Reviews

Looking for a good summer read?  Check out our reviews of these books:

•  City of Ladies by Sarah Kennedy (Fiction)
•  Lifted by the Great Nothing by Karim Dimenchkie (Fiction)
•  The Lost Child by Caryl Phillips (Fiction)
•  The Last Two Seconds by Mary Jo Bang (Poetry)
•  What I Came to Tell You by Tommy Hays (Young Adult)

Special Thanks

South 85 Journal is published by the Converse College Low-Residency MFA program.  Thank you to our staff of volunteers who put countless hours into making this issue happen.  We hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as we enjoyed putting it together!

What We Talk About When We Talk About Poetry

Lisa Hase-Jackson and Gary Jackson

To people who are not involved in the writing life, the idea of poets in a committed relationship can strike a romantic cord. Many acquaintances have suggested that it must be great to have someone at home who understands what it’s like to be a poet: someone who reads closely and provides just the kind of considerate critique needed to revise and edit toward the perfect poem; someone who will contradict every rejection and celebrate every great (or mediocre) publication; and someone who, above all else, provides love and support when the rest of the writing world seems to have turned its back. Since writers in love seem to hold a great deal of mystery for writers and non-writers alike, we thought we’d explore some of the more common assumptions that we’ve encountered during our 10+ year relationship.

“You guys must talk about your poetry all the time.”

Lisa: Though we discuss favorite poets and books, craft, and theory as well as keep each other informed about markets we’ve submitted our work to, we probably talk about the business of poetry more than anything. By that I mean that a lot of our “poetry conversation” is peppered with academics, especially since we are both teachers, and we tend to discuss the latest gossip about who won the latest award or who was hired at what institution for which position. Honestly, because we talk about writing at our jobs everyday then spend our evenings writing and researching markets, we tend not to talk about writing and academics in our down time and prefer to focus on some of the simpler joys of life and marriage, like what albums to buy on Record Store Day or what movie to see on date night.

With that said, I have to admit that far more of our time is probably spent deciding what we are going to have for dinner.

Gary: If we’re considering poetry a (part-time) career, then I don’t think we talk about poetry any more than two people who talk about working in the same field. But it’s more than a career too, right? I mean it’s a passion, and it’s a passion we share, but for me poetry has always been this type of paradoxical experience – it requires solitude, yet the goal is communal – to reach out. So though we share and talk about poems – our own and other authors/books we adore, we don’t usually engage in these long, passionate, critical discussions. Every once in a while, sure, but we’re more likely to say “you check out that Natalie Diaz poem on poem-a-day? It’s pretty dope. It reminds me of…” and then we move on to talking about dinner, who needs the car and when, what we need to buy at the store, what’s on TV. Similar to what Lisa already said, our lives at this point could entirely revolve around poetry if we allowed it, and who wants to be identified by a single passion? To riff on Carver, This is what we talk about when we talk about poetry.

“How convenient to have a live-in editor/workshop partner.”

Lisa: When it comes to sharing my work, I don’t necessarily want my spouse to weigh in on every piece of writing I compose. I rather believe it’s healthier for our writing, and our relationship, to keep our respective voices distinct and relatively unadulterated by the other’s opinions. I rely more on my own instincts these days, which will sometimes tell me consult an outside reader, one that I am NOT married to.

When it comes to editing, I do often ask Gary to read something before submitting. This generally works fine unless I am overly attached to what I have written and therefore less receptive to his comments. As a result, we might get snappy with each other and wind up sulking in our offices, and honestly, I can think of about a million other things I’d rather do with my husband than sulk.

Gary: Ha! Is convenient the right word? We haven’t work-shopped or edited each other’s poems in a long time. We’ll help edit each other’s documents, letters, and other pieces (like this blog post for example), but going back to the idea finding solace in the solitude of writing: we tend to only show one another poems just to get a general sense of a yay or nay if we’re feeling a little unsure (or super excited about a newborn poem). It seems to work best for us that way. Too many cooks in the kitchen and all that jazz. And yes, two can be too many cooks.

“It must be great to live with someone who respects your writing space.”

Lisa: I am fortunate to have a room of my own. One with a desk, lots of books, a window that opens and a door that shuts. There is a bed, too, so the space can double as a spare bedroom for guests, or as a great spot to read and take a nap. Still, when I am stuck or bored with my work, feeling lonely, or have a random question about our plans to fly home or some other trivial matter, I am sorry to admit that I will barge in on Gary on occasion. I could, perhaps, claim to have picked this habit up from him, but I suppose I should just admit to my flawed behavior. I also have to admit that his interruptions are, sometimes, quite a welcome distraction from my work. When it comes down to it, though, we respect each other’s space when we know the other is working on a big project.

Gary: I think it’s essential for a couple to have separate workspaces, and we’ve been fortunate enough to live in places with space for separate offices, otherwise it gets more difficult to respect that writing space – when your writing space is, let’s say, the living room coffee table. Though you do what you gotta do when you don’t have the luxury of space (and we’ve been there before too). And yeah, I’ll take that blame for encouraging Lisa to barge in on me. And I do it way more to her than she does to me.

“You must have a lot in common.”

Lisa: Our relationship is built on many commonalities. We met in undergrad where we attended many of the same classes, writing circles, readings, and, eventually, parties. We discovered we shared interests in comic books, though I am far less zealous, as well as movies, art, and music. In areas where our tastes diverge, we enjoy introducing each other to new things we may not learn about otherwise. We have many separate interests, too. Gary, for example, likes playing video games where I prefer to do just about anything else. Likewise, Gary isn’t too interested in knitting, sewing, painting, or yoga. Where I like a quiet house, he prefers the hum of the television or, occasionally, music. Where I like salad, he prefers red meat, grilled if possible. I guess our biggest differences are gender and skin color, which I rather consider complimentary.

Gary: Ditto to everything Lisa said. For once, I got nothing to add!

“Do you write about each other? Do you show up in each other’s work often?”

Lisa: The first poem I ever published was about an evening Gary and I spent together when we first started seeing each other and, recently, I wrote a poem based on something he did. Of course, I take a lot of poetic license when I write about anything in my life, including my marriage, and what suites the poem will prevail even if it isn’t factual truth. It’s emotional truth that I am after.

Gary: Of course, but it’s not as titillating as you may think. And like all poetry, when you read those poems – know that everything is true and nothing is true. We don’t ask permission either, we just trust each other enough to realize it was something potentially upsetting, we’d give each other a heads-up first, and more importantly – I don’t know if there’s anything we could write about the other that could even be potentially upsetting!

Lisa Hase-JacksonLisa Hase-Jackson holds a Master’s in English from Kansas State University and is an MFA candidate at Converse College in Spartanburg, SC. Her current projects include an anthology of poems celebrating New Mexico’s 2012 centennial and a manuscript of her own poetry. Her poems have appeared in Sugar Mule, Kansas City Voices, Pilgrimage and elsewhere. She teaches English and Poetry at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, and is the Review Editor for South 85 Journal.

Gary-JacksonBorn and raised in Topeka, Kansas, Gary Jackson is the author of the poetry collection Missing You, Metropolis, which received the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in Callaloo, Tin House, Tuesday, and elsewhere. He is the Associate Poetry Editor at Crazyhorse, and an Assistant Professor at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC.