15
Sep 17

Eight Works of Fiction That Make the Impossible Appear Possible

Writing fiction is impossible: that was my earliest impression, and in some ways that impression has remained with me.  How is it possible to make a world on paper or on a laptop screen, to create characters, moving those characters through space and time in convincing ways? How can words build something that will live on its own and, if we’re lucky, mean something to someone else? Each time I begin to create an imagined world I’m both excited and daunted by that lingering sense of impossibility.

The stories in Visitations deal with what I find particularly bedeviling: obsession, betrayal, addiction, denial—and so much yearning, including yearning for something a character can’t even begin to name.  From the start, I hadn’t intended to write a book with a unified set of concerns. Nevertheless, I soon realized that my stories often addressed a common subject: books. A love of actual physical books, their weights and textures. The appetite for reading books. Or a character’s loss of the ability to read books without summoning rage. How childhood reading may shape an entire life. How we are in debt to the books that have been our most loyal companions.

Finding their way into Visitations are echoes or plot elements from a number of books, including The Turn of the Screw, Wuthering Heights, The Odyssey, Robin Hood, and Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. In Visitations the goddess Venus and her son float in a field toward a lonely woman who grew up reading myths. One character joins the world’s laziest book club.  Another character tries to find the last book that her mother read before her mother’s sudden death. The first sentence of Visitations’s first story is a partial, distorted echo of the opening sentence of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.  Here’s Woolf:  “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” In homage to Woolf, here’s the first sentence of my story: “Tiffany’s mother is swearing at the flowers again.”

When I was a child I thought writers must be strange creatures, entirely unlike anyone I knew. Maybe more like unicorns. As I worked hard at learning to write fiction I found that re-reading the books I loved—re-reading with hunger and re-reading more than twice—taught me what I’d never have learned otherwise. My attempts at fiction grew out of emulation. Probably most writing does.

New books teach me new possibilities—and I’m grateful for that widening of possibilities. At the same time, I’m especially indebted to those books that first introduced me to a special sort of energy, an infectious possibility, right when I was feeling writing was most impossible. Below are some of those books.  I don’t want to suggest that any of the books I’ve listed make writing look easy—no, it’s just that they’re so daring and fully imagined that they gave me enough heart to hope I could attempt to do that seemingly impossible thing: write a story.


Lucky Jim (New York Review Books Classics, 2012) by Kingsley Amis. Crisp and wildly funny, this novel contains unforgettable descriptions of a hangover, stage fright, and defensive actions in academia. It’s true to its era and yet a comic novel that deserves to live forever. Who doesn’t recognize the put-upon Jim Dixon, steaming with resentment?

Talking to the Dead: Stories (Anchor, 1993) by Sylvia Watanabe. Among my favorites in this luminous collection is “A Summer Waltz”–just shy of four full pages, and each of those pages is perfect.  Two little girls, Sachi and Meg, wander together and wind up at a clubhouse bar. What happens when those little girls meet a bartender is wonderful.

Loitering with Intent (New Directions, 2014) by Muriel Spark. Written with vigor, wit, and comic sternness,  Loitering with Intent is practically a guidebook for writing a novel. Spark’s hilarious narrator recounts her efforts to compose her first novel and offers plenty of advice along the way. Writing, the character tells us, “took up the sweetest part of my mind and the rarest part of my imagination; it was like being in love and better.” Whenever I reread any of Spark’s novels I’m refreshed by her bracing, crafty, idiosyncratic intelligence.

Mrs. Caliban (Harvard Common Press, 2009) by Rachel Ingalls.  A short novel that does something next to impossible: create a compelling contemporary love story about a lonely woman and a sea creature. The ending never fails to make my throat close. When I first read Mrs. Caliban, I experienced a soaring sensation: the wish to write something unexpected, to write a story that opened up a new vista on our inner worlds.

Hotel du Lac (Vintage, 1995) by Anita Brookner. How to describe this quiet novel with its undercurrents of deep feeling? Brookner was an art historian, and her sensibility is informed by her academic discipline. Parts of this novel, a study in melancholy and moment-to-moment realizations, are practically painted in delicate shades of gray. The wounded protagonist is a stoic in some ways, yet she nearly throws her life away. A novel so beautifully written, you could frame each sentence in gold leaf.

The Awakening (Dover, 1993) by Kate Chopin. Enacting the pressure a culture bears upon a woman’s burgeoning sense of herself and her own self-ownership, Chopin creates exalted, gorgeous romantic scenes and then punctures romance with realistic intrusions: “She was having a good cry all to herself. The mosquitoes made merry over her, biting her firm, round arms and nipping at her bare insteps.” The sensual particulars, the escalation toward tragedy, the complexities of embodiment: this 1899 novel is still one we’re coming to terms with.

The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics, 2006) by Shirley Jackson.The portion of this strange, nearly hallucinogenic novel that I return to most often: Eleanor’s drive to Hill House, that winding, fever dream of a journey in which we readers, and Eleanor, gently lose our grip. And then there are Jackson’s short stories. Among my favorites: “The Witch.” Jackson dramatizes how evil may enter a scene casually, and how children may see and name what we’d rather not.

Blow-Up and Other Stories (Pantheon Books, 1985) by Julio Cortázar, translated by Paul Blackburn. Has the art of the reversal ever been manipulated in more dexterous hands? Just when you’re about to wake from the tricky plot of any of these stories, another startling revelation occurs and a new question hovers. Who’s alive? Who’s dead? Has the narrator of the story become what he’s observed? A profound recognition of suffering animates this collection. Cortázar told a Paris Review interviewer that he wished “to go beyond the possible.” In the same interview, published in 1984, the year of his death, he said: “These days, my notion of the fantastic is closer to what we call reality. Perhaps because reality approaches the fantastic more and more.” That gap, it may seem to plenty of us, has now closed even more.


Lee Upton’s short story collection, Visitations, was released on August 16, 2017 in the Yellow Shoe Fiction Series, LSU Press.  Her stories recently appeared in Bennington Review, Notre Dame Review, Cincinnati Review, and World Literature Today.

You can read more about Upton and Visitations on the AGNI blog, on the Story Prize blog, and in Kirkus Reviews or do one better and buy your copy of Visitations today! Take home Upton’s poignant and luminous words.

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09
Sep 14

Enter to win a free copy of Tough Day for the Army by John Warner

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Tough Day for the Army by John Warner

Tough Day for the Army

by John Warner

Giveaway ends September 19, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


18
Jul 13

Neil Connelly’s Fourth Novel Turns a Literary Lens onto the World of Comic Book Fantasy

Once the mighty superhero Commander Invincible, thirty-nine-year-old Vincent Shepherd now faces new enemies: downsizing, a second divorce, and the strains of fatherhood. Decades ago, Vince made a living fighting supervillains, huge irradiated insects, and androids armed with death rays. But when the good guys won the war, heroes like Vince grew obsolete. Certain that his younger wife is starting to find their marriage as frivolous as his old cape, Vince embarks on a scheme to reestablish himself not only as a superhero, but as a super dad and a super husband. Confronting former allies with long-buried secrets, he must also battle the same demons we all encounter: doubt, regret, loss, and failure. The Midlife Crisis of Commander Invincible turns a literary lens onto the world of comic book fantasy to reveal the changes and challenges of simply being human.

As a teen, Neil Connelly worked at Beachhead Comics in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Later he directed McNeese State University’s MFA program in Creative Writing. He now teaches at Shippensburg University and lives with his wife and their two sons. His website is www.neilconnelly.com.

 Praise for Neil Connelly

“Delivers an endearing mix of self-effacement, wonder, warmth, downtrodden despair, and fury that’s both comic and chilling.”—Entertainment Weekly

“A sweet, intoxicating buffer of magic and apocalypse. . . . The writing quietly sure, the course of true love meandering through its pages.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“A comic romp with a darker side. . . . Crafty, magical, utterly enjoyable.”—Publishers Weekly

August 2013

248 pages, 6 x 9

978-0-8071-5317-8

Paper $23.00


09
Apr 13

Cary Holladay Publishes Sixth Book of Fiction

“A book of short stories is not usually what you would call a page turner, but Cary Holladay’s Horse People may be an exception. You gallop along breathlessly—not because you are aiming for the finish line, but because the writing is so wonderful you keep going, enthralled, never wanting this gorgeous prose to end.” —Bobbie Ann Mason, author of Shiloh and The Girl in the Blue Beret

Set in the pastoral horse country of Rapidan, Virginia, the stories in Cary Holladay’s Horse People chronicle the lives of the Fenton family through the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II. At the center of these interconnected stories is Nelle, a northern debutante who marries into the Fenton family and establishes herself as their stern and combative matriarch.

Nelle’s arrival in Virginia sets up the familial conflict: The Fentons, though well-respected millers and horse-breeders, remain yeoman farmers, whereas Nelle grew up in a wealthy, urban environment. Her high-brow sensibility creates animosity within her new family and fosters resentment among the rural poor. Headstrong and contentious, Nelle relies on an almost supernatural connection with horses to escape the hostility that surrounds her. As Nelle ages and experiences the sweeping cultural changes and hardships of early twentieth-century America, she comes to symbolize everything she once challenged in this community. Through these multi-generational stories, Holladay draws on the folklore and history of her native Virginia and examines the cultural, racial, gender, and economic tensions that pervaded the entire nation.

Cary Holladay is the author of two novels and three story collections. Her writing has appeared in New Stories from the South, The Oxford American, The Southern Review, Glimmer Train, and Tin House. She has received fellowships from the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the NEA. She and her husband, writer John Bensko, teach at the University of Memphis.

February 18, 2013
200 pages, 5.5 x 8.5
ISBN 978-0-8071-5094-8
Paper $23.00


16
Oct 12

New Novel from Pam Durban Recovers Story of Brutal Jim Crow-Era Lynching

In The Tree of Forgetfulness, Pam Durban, winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award, continues her exploration of southern history and memory. This mesmerizing and disquieting novel recovers the largely untold story of a brutal Jim Crow–era triple lynching in Aiken County, South Carolina. Through the interweaving of several characters’ voices, Durban produces a complex narrative in which each section reveals a different facet of the event. The Tree of Forgetfulness resurrects a troubled past and explores the individual and collective loyalties that led a community to choose silence over justice.

Pam Durban is the author of All Set About with Fever Trees, The Laughing Place, and So Far Back. Her stories and essays have been widely published, and her short story “Soon” was included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. She is Doris Betts Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina.

Praise for Pam Durban

“Pam Durban renders her characters and their world with such rich and beautiful complexity that the only fair response to someone asking what it’s about is to press the book into their hands and insist they read it.”—Tommy Hays, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Haunting and irresistible . . . Durban has written a splendid, engrossing, and, above all, deeply thoughtful novel that will linger in readers’ minds long after they close its cover.”— Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Oxford American

“Durban’s carefully managed cast of characters—antebellum aristocrats, slave families and their descendants in the modern South—are drawn with subtle grace, producing a narrative of compelling intensity.”—Publishers Weekly

October 12, 2012
200 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
978-0-8071-4972-0
Paper $23.00, ebook available
Fiction


29
Apr 08

The News & Observer spotlights Yellow Shoe Fiction

The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) recently ran a great feature on LSU Press and its Yellow Shoe Fiction series.  Click here to read the full article.


25
Apr 08

Telegraph lists “Confederacy” in 50 Best Cult Books

The LSU Press Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces was named as one of the 50 Best Cult Books by British newspaper, Telegraph.  Click here to view the entire list.


29
Mar 07

Oprah Book Club Author McCarthy Explored in New Book

This week, Oprah chose Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for her immensely popular book club. Check out CNN’s recent feature for the scoop. 080713175x_2

Gary M. Ciuba, professor of English at Kent State University, has recently published a groundbreaking study of McCarthy and several other celebrated southern authors titled Desire, Violence, and Divinity in Modern Southern Fiction: Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Walker Percy. In his book, Ciuba explores the roots of violence in southern culture by analyzing protagonist Lester Ballard in McCarthy’s Child of God. Desire, Violence, and Divinity would make the perfect compendium piece for those readers interested in delving deeper into the raw emotions that permeate McCarthy’s fiction.


30
Jan 07

Third Book in Yellow Shoe Fiction Series Selected

Ysflogosm The Animal Girl: Stories, by John Fulton, has been selected as the third title in LSU Press’s Yellow Shoe Fiction Series. To be published this fall, the stories in The Animal Girl explore the complexity of both mid-life romance and adolescent rage with humor and insight. While the characters in these stories are overwhelmed by grief, they are also forced to accept loss when confronted with the need and desire to connect with those around them. Fulton’s rich and unobtrusive language is just right for conveying the emotional and narrative complexities of these stories.

Yellow Shoe Fiction is an original-fiction series edited by Michael Griffith, author of the novel Spikes and the short-fiction collection Bibliophilia. Griffith was also an editor at the Southern Review literary quarterly for more than a decade and now teaches creative writing at the University of Cincinnati. Regarding the aims of the Yellow Shoe Fiction series, Griffith has said: "I’ll be looking first and foremost for literary excellence, especially for good manuscripts that have fallen through the cracks at the big commercial presses. In today’s publishing world, despite the proliferation of fiction titles in recent years, those cracks seem like yawning crevasses, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to find worthy novels and story collections—whether by new writers on the way to big careers or by critically acclaimed veterans frustrated by New York’s endless hunger for youth and novelty." The first two books in the series are If the Sky Falls: Stories by Nicholas Montemarano and Uke Rivers Delivers: Stories by R. T. Smith.

John Fulton is the author of two books of fiction: Retribution, which won the Southern Review Short Fiction Award and the novel More Than Enough, which was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. He lives with his wife and baby daughter in Boston.