A Survey of Writers on Contemporary Writers
Listening to writers read and discuss their work at Newtonville Books, the bookstore my wife and I own outside Boston, I began to wonder which living, contemporary writers held the most influence over their work. This survey is not meant to be comprehensive, but is the result of my posing the question to as many writers as I could ask.
© The author
BROCK CLARKE: Cormac McCarthy was a big influence on my early writing, although maybe not in the way one usually thinks of “influence.” In the mid 1990s I was reading a lot of McCarthy: I’d begun with All the Pretty Horses, and then gone back and read all his books leading up to All the Pretty Horses, a book Itaught, and a book I loved, and a book that I think that gets short shrift byMcCarthy nuts because it sold a lot of copies and is relatively accessible andbecause it’s a western and not a southern and because there’s no necrophilia orincest in it. But it still is written the way those earlier McCarthy novelswere written—that is, in language that is purposefully antique, a rhetoric that’s a holy cross between Melville, Faulkner, and the Old Testament. I was crazy for it, and set out trying to do something similar in my work. When I say “my work,” there really wasn’t much of it. I’d published a story, but it was a story that, while ending up in my first collection, didn’t really have much in common with the other stories in that collection. And those other stories in that collection didn’t even exist yet. I was still struggling to figure out what kind of stories I wanted to write, where they might be set, what they might be about. With everything, in other words.
But I did have an idea for a story: a friend of mine had told me a story about how, during some family trip, his father had parked their car underneath an exhaust fan outside a Kentucky Fried Chicken and when they came out the car was covered with chicken fat. I loved everything about this story. So I set about stealing it. But the problem was that I set about stealing it by way of McCarthy: the story’s language was ornate, the mood was gloomy and full of portent, and the story as a whole was absolutely humorless (unlike McCarthy, who can be very funny). The story was awful. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, let alone to show it to anyone. And yet, after I realized how totally I had failed, I still very much wanted to write a story about a guy whose car gets covered with chicken fat.
That’s when I realized that while I had found my subject (the grotesque), I hadn’t yet found writers who could teach me how to do justice to the subject. I would find them soon (Barry Hannah, Grace Paley, Donald Barthelme, Padgett Powell), just as I would find writers who I’d read, but not closely enough (Flannery O'Connor, John Cheever). And I would eventually finish, and publish that story (“The Fat”). But I would never had done so if I hadn’t realized that as much as I loved McCarthy, he was absolutely the wrong model for the kind of stories I wanted to write.
TONY D'SOUZA: I love McCarthy so much. Look at the ending of Blood Meridian, where the long and violent epic loses its grip on everything, on language, on its central character, the bloody novel whirling in to a sort of meaningless that reflects the indestructability—for better or worse—of the universe and existence and how it works:
“And they are dancing, the board floor slamming under the jackboots and the fiddlers grinning hideously over their canted pieces. Towering over them all is the judge and he is naked and dancing, his small feet lively and quick and now in doubletime and bowing to the ladies, huge and pale and hairless, like an enormous infant. He never sleeps, he says. He says he will never die. He bows to the fiddlers and sashays backwards and throws back his head and laughs deep in his throat and he is a great favorite, the judge. He wafts his hat and the lunar dome of his skull passes palely under the lamps and he swings about and takes possession of one of the fiddles and he pirouettes and makes a pass, two passes, dancing and fiddling at once. His feet are light and nimble. He never sleeps. He says that he will never die. He dances in light and shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.”
Who is McCarthy’s judge? He’s loathsome, brilliant, vicious, relentless. And he will never die. Is he evil embodied? Is he mortality itself? We recognize that he really will never die, what he represents, that it will keep whirling and dancing just as the universe will. We will die but this monstrous thing—whatever it is—will not.
McCarthy is writing about that which our culture works hardest to ignore: that our lives are brief and perhaps without any meaning beyond what they have meant to us. And what happens to that when we are gone?
PHILIPP MEYER: Cormac is one of the few contemporary writers with an absolutely dominating style. And in the end, style really does matter. It takes longer, it’s much harder to write, you have to match it absolutely to the content or it sounds hackneyed. It’s faster and easier to write without style in the same way it’s faster to play music without caring to hit the notes in an intentional way. There are a few great writers who are not great stylists, but not many.
After a certain number of Cormac books, you feel like you’ve seen into his heart and know what you’re going to find next time you look. It will probably be dark, it will probably be hopeless, and it will probably not give much importance to internality. That said, I think some of McCarthy’s books are going to last, especially Blood Meridian. I am not sure there is another book like it in American literature. It is a perfect book. Narrow, but perfect—it is the highest level of expression of a certain aesthetic and worldview. One of those works that can’t be copied.
JAMES SCOTT: Cormac McCarthy was—and is—everything to me. He can do anything. The darkness and violence are what he’s most famous for, but he can also be hilarious, and he does all of this with a Biblical rhythm that’s both inevitable and surprising.
I can’t even remember which McCarthy book I read first, as I then devoured another five or six in quick succession, but it was the summer after my freshman year of college. I felt the magnetic tug of a voice that was totally different than anything else I’d ever read. McCarthy marries that incredible voice with genre elements, real characters, cartoonish characters, twisting plots, and clear-eyed settings. The way he describes the natural world reflects upon the characters and the plot in a natural but endlessly complex way. The fact that he can make so many disparate pieces work together defies all logic.
I never get as lost as when I’m reading a Cormac McCarthy novel, and that’s the greatest thing anyone can aspire to. It’s magic.
JOSH WEIL: I discovered his work in graduate school and it slammed into me like nothing else I’d read before. His Child of God taught me how deeply a writer can commit to an unsympathetic character, and how powerful that could be. It tapped into an interest I’d already had, and drove me in further in that direction with my own work. And it made me brave. That bravery is something that a lot of these writers gave me; they let me know that it could be done, that it was OK to go out on that limb. With books like Blood Meridian and The Crossing, McCarthy also opened my eyes to the ways a writer can challenge a reader, narratively (I’m still not sure I understand the ending to Blood Meridian, but I know it feels right to me, and that that feeling makes me, as a reader, strive to understand it, and that striving engages me more fully). In The Crossing, he takes my expectations of traditional plot structure, hooks me with a feint, and then steals all my preconceived ideas right out from under me. I love that. Again, it made me see the possibilities for narrative in a new way.
© Dan Callister
ADELLE WALDMAN: Jay McInerney is often thought of as a novelist who excelled at evoking a particular time and place—namely, Manhattan in the 1980s. He certainly does, but I wonder if that one fact too often eclipses his many other achievements as an acutely observant psychological novelist and an excellent and stylish prose writer.
Re-reading Bright Lights, Big City several months ago, I was struck by the thought that what enables a writer to capture a particular time and place is not so much the period-details—brands of clothes worn, detailed descriptions of food eaten, long passages about interior décor—which after all we can get from journalism, from fawning articles about the rich and famous, but rather the interplay of a few, well-chosen period details with observations that are both acute and universal, that aren’t specific to a time and place. You certainly see that in McInerney’s fiction. Take Bright Lights, Big City’s wonderfully executed opening scene—a raucous dinner party given by its protagonists, Russell and Corrine Calloway. Apart from the touches that place the book in the New York literary world of the 1980s, the scene is full of smart, universal observations, like this one about Russell and Corrine’s friend Jeff, who recently a published a successful novel: “Everyone listened to him just a little more attentively these days, as he listened less attentively to everyone else.” This is a wry comment on success and social life, and how the two interact; it is not specific to the 1980s.
Apart from his evocation of a time and a place, McInerney consistently brings to his fiction an eye for psychological nuance and social detail, but unlike some writers who dissect status and status signifiers, McInerney resists the satirical: he doesn’t reduce his characters to caricature. In McInerney, as in life, the presence of ambition, or illicit lust, or greed or snobbery, does not mean the absence of more tender qualities. Characteristic is (also in Brightness Falls) his introduction of Harold Stone, a celebrated book editor and a prominent member of the New York intellectual establishment, who is also Russell’s boss. This is how Russell views Harold upon walking into his office:
“Looking up, [Harold’s] yellow-brown eyes blinking irritably through horn-rimmed glasses, he simulated something awakened out of a bad sleep… His lack of the recommended minimum social graces seemed a matter of principal, as if charm, manners and the other lubricants of interpersonal contact betokened a lack of seriousness.”
McInerney’s presentations are orchestral—they don’t rely on a single note or emotional effect. We’ve also just been told, by Russell’s colleague Washington, that Harold “used to be a big liberal” but isn’t anymore. “Look at the people he hangs out with now, socialites and neo-con economists, leveraged-buyout dudes. You think they’re jamming about Marcuse and Malcolm X at dinner?” Washington says. Such precision is typical of McInerney, who also gives us, cheekily and knowingly, Harold’s professional backstory:
“A junior associate of the old Partisan Review gang, Harold Stone became known as a wunderkind even before he came down from Harvard with an essay titled ‘Bakunin and the Idea of an Avant-Garde.’ He took a job at Knopf, shared a girl with Bellow and got his glasses broken by Mailer, thereby sealing his reputation.”
I fell in love with Jay McInerney’s books in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as a teenager in the suburbs who knew nothing about New York. I decided I wanted to live in New York in part because of his books. But when I re-read them now, as an adult and as a New Yorker, I see so much else to admire, so much that is timeless and gives pleasure to the reader.
Speaking of pleasure, I should also add, in case anyone has forgotten, that McInerney is very funny. Take this description of the Calloways’ neighbor, an elderly widow who peers out of her apartment door “as far as the chain would stretch” every time she hears someone walking down the hall, “as if her it were her fondest wish with to be a prosecution witness before she departed this crime-ridden world. All day long she opened the door like a bivalve drawing nutrients from the ocean.”
© Max Means
JAMIE QUATRO: I discovered David Means’ short fiction in 2008, during my last term as an MFA student at Bennington. I read The Secret Goldfish first, and was knocked out by the prose—not just by the inventiveness of the narratives, the unpredictable shifts in point of view—but by the sheer poetry of the language itself. Reading a Means story, I thought, was like listening to a piece of music. I read Assorted Fire Events and A Quick Kiss of Redemption in quick succession, and bought The Spot the day it was released.
What was most salient to me as a writer, given the theological concerns of my own work, was the religious symbolism in the stories. Here was someone working in the vein of the great mid-century Catholics: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and John Updike. So when, in a December 2012 NYTBR essay, Paul Elie claimed that Means’ work treats Christianity like the sludge in the Kalamazoo river, “toxic if handled in anything more than trace amounts,” I balked. Surely not! Take “Railroad Incident, August 1995,” a piece that all but demands reading as a symbolic Passion of Christ: the “dainty man” at the story’s center sets out to“betray himself,” limping on a wounded heel (calling to mind the protoevangelium of Genesis 3: he shall crush you on the head / you shall bruise him on the heel); when one of his four assailants first spots the limping man, the assailant says—the first line of dialogue in the story—“Jesus shit;” they mock and nearly beat the wounded man to death, then drag him into a tunnel “near the crossing grade,” believing that what they’re doing is part of an overall scheme—“the stars were aligned in certain ways.” They imagine if the man recovers he might chalk up his experience to “a personal state of deus absconditus, abandoned in a sense like Christ on the cross” (recalling Christ’s own invocation of Psalm 22 on the cross: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”). The perpetrators kill him with a final kick and—“an afterthought, a coda, a grand finish”—lay the body across the tracks. Later, the corpse is severed by an oncoming train; the engineer doesn’t watch the “cleaning away of the body.” It’s hard not to read this story symbolically; yet no critic to date has mentioned the specific parallels to the Passion.
And it’s not just this story; Means’ work is rife with the language and imagery of the Christian faith. In “Coitus,” Bob Sampson is acutely aware, during the act of adultery, of his sin: “he prayed for the filth he was in, the deep blood-sucking void that he knew he had fallen into.” In “The Interruption” the homeless men wait for Roy to come out of the Hilton “the way anybody would wait for a savior.” Means uses a tiny crucifix as a footnote: “For Jesus fuck’s sake. Give the guy a chance,” the text says, a tiny hovering cross punctuating the injunction (the footnote tells us that two men drag Roy out of the hotel, his side bruised). Or look at the implicit symbolism in “The Secret Goldfish”: the Fish, traditionally a symbol for the Christian faith, wallows neglected in his tank while the marriage falls apart. (Means wryly points out: “he was not a symbolic fish”—of course begging symbolic reading). The marriage fails but Fish survives; the family, once the father has left, “will hold a small party to celebrate his resurrection.”
Or take “Reading Chekhov”: the lovers attend church together; the pastor quotes Job, speaks of “the elegance of grace, the manner of forgiveness and the nature of redemption.” The seminarian tells his lover that “adultery is multifaceted,” using the weighty biblical term for the act (rather than the trip-off-the-tongue “affair”). Toward the end of the year-long affair, he brings up the idea that it may be God’s Providence that brought them together: “When they tried to get God in, when he mentioned the idea of God nudging them together, the narrative, she would later think, became banal and meek, rooted in the world.” In typical Means mode, the point of view shifts—we’re alternately in the heads of the seminarian and the woman with whom he’s having the affair—and in her thoughts we do find guilt: “The shame she felt came from the truth: she had been fucked and was fucking.” Neither character feels a lack of compunction; the woman wants to stay in her marriage: “no matter how fanciful and wild, no matter how impulsive, in retrospect [the affair] had stood within the fact of the marriage itself.”
Certainly a symbolic appropriation of Christian language and imagery in fiction does not “make belief believable;” nor does the fact that Means views the darkest acts of violence through the metaphysics of the Christian narrative automatically render his voice a “Christian” one. But it bears mentioning that if the biblical narrative is concerned with anything, it’s with Redemption; and, as O’Connor says, “Redemption is meaningless unless there is cause for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause.” Means is one of O’Connor’s successors precisely because he is a writer who finds in modern life “distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem [is] to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience.” [itals mine]. Means’ work is not, after all, symptomatic of what Elie’s Catholic ancestors called “scrupulosity, an avoidance that comes at the cost of fullness of life,” but is reverting to, or relying on, symbol, taking Christian belief subsurface in order to reach an audience for whom the very term “Christian” is anachronism. To return to The Spot: in “A River in Egypt,” Cavanaugh outlines his set design for an isolated cabin with chinks in its mortar “that, when lit from behind, shot small beams…of light through the walls and the dust motes, forming crosses through which [the writer] might walk.” It’s an apt image for Means’ fiction, which—seen through the right lens—is shot through with cross-shaped light.
© Getty Images
KEVIN BROCKMEIER: I read my first Lydia Millet novel through the advocacy of Paul Ingram, one of the booksellers at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. That novel was My Happy Life, which, alongside Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, remains my favorite of her books. The two of them are very different—My Happy Life a slender and I daresay perfect character-study organized around the experiences of a woman who’s incapable of perceiving anything other than benevolence in the abuse the world dishes out to her, and Oh Pure and Radiant Heart a long and mostly comic fantasy about the resurrection of Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard, shuffled together with a caustic history of the nuclear age. Even their opening sentences show how dissimilar they are in their effects: “The door is locked from the outside; they went away and forgot me” and “In the middle of the twentieth century three men were charged with the task of removing the tension between minute and vast things.” I can’t say that I’ve directly used Lydia’s example to write any of my own books—or at least not consciously. But for me her fiction stands as a model of the kind of work that can result when a writer combines imaginative daring with dynamic, exact, emotionally suggestive prose.
ALISSA NUTTING: I was first attracted to Lydia Millet’s writing for its hard-spun comedy. Tucked between the cheek and gum of each novel by Millet is one burning wad of truth: life is not here to meet our needs—things are not fair that way (or any way, really). The taste of this affirmation coats the events, characters, and content of the stories; flavors them. The ironic distance between what characters desire vs. what they get is often funny, sometimes sad, and frequently poignant. This is the sympathetic side of the coin Millet is pressing into our hand.
The other side is a summoning of self-inventory. The personal flaws of so many of Millet’s characters are stripped bare and examined for judgment—judgment meaning not so much ‘culling blame’ as ‘reason’. At its most trenchant, her work might wrongly be interpreted as anti-human—that we’re simply a hopeless, violent lot and that’s that. But it isn’t. On the contrary, Millet’s body of work is profoundly social, particularly in its use of satire. Socially, one of humor’s greatest uses is shaming: it’s a nonviolent way to suggest a course-correction is needed.
Beyond the humor, Millet’s writing stresses our social interdependence (and therefore our social responsibility) both to one another and to the other creatures on our planet. It holds up an odd sort of mirror: the reflection is not our own image, but rather the impossibility of our own image. We cannot, as her books attest, accurately understand our own individual selves. Even the most intelligent among us—perhaps even especially the most intelligent—are woefully myopic in this way. Sometimes we don’t fully understand our own context. Sometimes we’re too excited, curious, obsessed. Sometimes we’re greedy, or we lack information. Whatever our own failings are, they’re incredibly defensive and will likely protect themselves from being seen until it’s too late, if at all.
We have better luck in observing the failings of others. We can understand the things they don’t about their own situation; we can take in the big picture. We can approach with the objectivity needed for true perspective. In order to evolve in any true ethical sense, we must therefore learn from each other because we cannot clearly see ourselves. We’re thus dependent on learning from one another in order to figure out a better path for all of us. And there is a lot to learn.
Millet’s work is an objective correction to the worst of humanity’s platitudes—the ones that prioritize motive and struggle, allowing us to rationalize the terrible outcomes we’re responsible for. In Millet’s books, we see how just brittle the bones of intention are, how easily crushed by consequence. We have to live in a way that champions outcome above all else; otherwise our civilization and environment will self-pulverize. The finely ground powder left behind will attest only to the fact that we wanted more.
© Dan Nosowitz
ADRIENNE MILLER: Do people know what a genius Steven Millhauser is? If they don’t, maybe his refusal to be classified, and his roving intelligence, might have something to do with it. (I think of him like Kubrick in a way—a big and fascinating brain that seems to know a lot about, and have an interest in, absolutely everything.) Is his stuff historical? Yes, but he’s trickier than that. Is it magical realism? Yes, but he’s written some of the most heartbreaking domestic stories you’ll ever read, too. His books are rich, glorious Faberge eggs of delights, and he’s written so many of my all-time favorite short stories (can we discuss the tour-de-force epics “Eisenheim the Illusionist” and “The Wizard of West Orange”?). One of the many things I value him for: his weird, unsettling wit. And he’s so good with character. His quieter domestic stories tend to feature small-town people—reminiscent, in their essential mildness, of characters in Sherwood Anderson or Thornton Wilder—who seem to all be touched by some kind of fantastical event: a shadowy figure in a trench coat terrorizes a sleepy suburb by slapping its inhabitants in the face; a group of children discovers that the fantasyland of elaborate snow sculptures appearing in their backyards doesn’t leave them unequivocally happy, but instead fills them with an ambiguous new feeling—“a sharp, troubled joy” (and how great is that? “a sharp, troubled joy”); and, in the classic, amazing story “The Knife Thrower,” otherwise unassuming women derive a nearly sensual pleasure from allowing themselves to be the targets in a magician’s fatal game. These brushes with the extraordinary lead these characters directly to the center of life.
Millhauser is great because he asks the big questions … and isn’t that all we’re ever trying to do as writers? As his people emerge from their states of passive tranquility, they begin to question everything they once believed to be true—a transformation rendered most vividly in the devastating story “History of a Disturbance,” which examines how a man’s abrupt mistrust of words causes his marriage to disintegrate, and “the old world of houses, rooms, trees, and streets shimmers, wavers, and tears away, revealing another universe, as startling as fire.”
HELEN PHILLIPS: Steven Millhauser’s work has always felt familiar to me, as though it describes an alternate universe I too have glimpsed. Images from his stories—the somnambulant palace hallways, the house large enough to contain thirteen wives, the bizarre dresses and surreal contraptions and logic-defying inventions—swell into my consciousness like images from my own dreams.
One Millhauser story in particular has shaped me as a writer. “In the Reign of Harad IV” appeared in The New Yorker in April of 2006. I was halfway through my MFA, struggling to figure out what kind of writer I wanted to be (and wondering why I felt such an urgent need to be a writer at all). The realist writers I’d been reading, for all their skill and power, only underscored for me that my writing ambitions—vague though they were—lay elsewhere than in evoking the known world.
“In the Reign of Harad IV” is an exploration of the inexplicable, maniacal, even absurd obsession to which artists must sacrifice themselves. It instantly became a sort of creative manifesto for me, due both to its matter-of-fact fantastical tone and, moreover, to its extended metaphor about the artist’s path.
The story concerns a celebrated court miniaturist, famous for “the uncanny perfection of his work.” Millhauser’s miniaturist develops an addiction to making ever-smaller reproductions of familiar objects, a drive that only increases over the course of the story. The joy of this endeavor is directly connected to its difficulty. Eventually, the miniaturist grows frustrated that even his most mini-miniature “reveal(s) itself too readily.” He challenges himself to work entirely in the realm of the invisible, to satisfy his own inner eye. The King reproaches him, requesting that he return to “the visible miracle,” yet even as outside forces bear down upon him, the miniaturist remains true to his private quest “for a world so small that he could not yet imagine it.”
The time comes, though, when the miniaturist finds himself “wishing that he could reveal his work to someone.” His loneliness is complete; like Kafka’s hunger artist, he has been abandoned and forgotten. So when a pair of young apprentices comes by to question him about his epic project, he can’t resist showing them his invisible kingdom. They praise him, but he perceives the hollowness in their enthusiasm. He is left knowing that “from now on, his life would be difficult and without forgiveness.”
At a time when I was unsure how to direct my intense drive to write and my attraction toward surreal subject matter, unsure how these urges related to my hope that my work might someday be appreciated by people other than my family and friends, this story read like an exhilarating parable about how to be an artist. Be relentless in your vision. Don’t bow down to the demands of outside forces. Your only obligation is to your own obsession. Millhauser gave me permission, and courage, to pursue the strange worlds I wanted to pursue.
Revisiting it now, I wonder if this can also be read as a tale of warning; one can’t help being reminded of the emperor with no clothes. Is Millhauser cautioning us against forgetting about our readers, losing our audience awareness? Should the miniaturist’s deep loneliness strike fear into all creators out there? We may relate to the miniaturist, but don’t we also fear for his sanity? Yet even as it explores the plight of an artist who pursues his vision to the exclusion of his audience, Millhauser’s story itself lets the reader in; it charms and fascinates and instructs. He takes the trope of the obsessive artist to its absurd, painful extreme in order to make his point. Ultimately, though, I believe he is suggesting that it is only by being uncompromising in one’s creative vision that one can have any hope of connecting meaningfully with one’s audience. This may not be true for our poor miniaturist, but it is true for his creator.
Soon after I read “In the Reign of Harad IV,” I took Millhauser’s advice quite literally; I began writing my novel-in-fables And Yet They Were Happy, comprised entirely of miniature stories, all exactly 340 words. Though I doubted it would ever be published, I’d never been so happy creatively. Like Millhauser’s miniaturist, I felt “a deep, guilty excitement,” as if I’d “come to a forbidden door at the end of a private corridor.”
© Murdo McLeod
JESS WALTER: David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas was a revelation in terms of structure, reinforcing some things I’d already believed about the freedom a novelist might have to treat the structure of a narrative as its art. So much emphasis, especially in creative writing programs, had been on the writing itself, on the quality of the sentences, and while Mitchell writes with a poet’s sensibility, he also revels in story, and doesn’t treat narrative as a finite series of choices, but as an explosive element of fiction itself. Many writers are dismissive of “plot” or speak about it as the least interesting element in fiction; Mitchell connects the idea of a story’s plot to its structure and because of that, finds new and innovative ways of crafting novels.
CHARLES BOCK: I worked as a bartender in exchange for room and board at the Bennington Summer Writing Seminars, and took a workshop from Rick Moody. At the time he’d published The Ice Storm, which may not have been even reviewed by the Times, and certainly hadn’t been made into a superb movie by Ang Lee. But that summer Rick had published out a book of experimental fiction—stories and a novella, which revolved around a sex club in the meatpacking district and junkies on line to score in the east village. A close friend of his at the time was important in putting the two of us in touch, and getting me to work at Bennington and take his workshop. She pretty much put The Ice Storm in my hands and took me to a reading he did at a now-closed bookstore on 17th and 7th. Rick had just shaved his hair and mostly pretty girls sat around him, watching raptly as he read from the opening story in that collection. When our mutual friend introduced us afterward and said I’d be in his workshop, he was polite and that was about it.
Between then and the workshop, I read Ice Storm, and inhaled the novella and its contents, and basically had my mind blown to hell and back. “The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven” changed how I thought about sentences, about structure, about what fiction can do. That book, to me anyway, is a real bible as to how far experimental writing can go without losing a reader. One or three stories don’t work and indeed act as the example of where you go too far. But it was the entirety: experimental deeply bohemian/decadent/artisty stories, all these media savvy art whores and wannabe screenwriters and self-aware couples, you know, the life I’d come to NYC to lead. And the writing just fucking blew my mind, it was just unfathomable, so funny and cynical and new and cool and glittery and heartbreaking. (That the author and I, at the workshop, actually didn’t seem to connect only made it better, because I really felt that I had to win his respect. Had to somehow write my way to his respect, which just wasn’t happening, and so made me work harder for his approval.)
At that same workshop, Rick read from the opening of an unpublished novel, what would become Purple America. It’s the thirteen page, one sentence paragraph, separated by semicolons, where every segment starts with Whosoever… The opening of that first sentence actually got changed slightly from what he read to make it more palatable to readers—it was just a massive FUCK YOU of an opening. Like: nobody can do this. But meanwhile it also delivers the goods, a rendering of an adult man in the throes of a crisis who has to come back home and take care of his invalid mother. At once it’s sad and beautiful and heartfelt and touching. It was, without a doubt, the most awesome thing I’d heard, live, writing-wise.
All these years later the opening of Purple America remains a tour de force of language and pace, the best opening to novel of the past who knows how many years (whatever you are thinking to yourself as a topper, with all due respect, that opening can fuck itself).
One thing that just amazed me in his writing was the inclusiveness, the connections: where thread on a tee shirt might come from, the financial plight of the team being advertised on the front of the shirt, how that and eight million other things could be focused and harnessed and used, via language and placement, to create a sense of a person and a place and a country. Again, it’s 1995. The internet is just starting to emerge and explode. On the page, he was really the writer with the language and energy of that that explosion. He was angry about our country and angry about all kinds of things, and also had so much heart. And by shortening the space of time he was writing about, and then filling that short scene with everything, everything, he was able to blow out these little moments, just stuff the shit out of them.
STUART NADLER: At twenty, I loved Fitzgerald and Nabokov and Cheever, or anyone who could write a pretty sentence, but I also loved the contemporary fiction of the mid and late 90‘s, the late post-moderns, and especially the first three or four books by Rick Moody. I read his third novel Purple America at the perfect time in my life––at the beach in Delmar the summer before I graduated at NYU. More than anything, this was the book that made me want to start writing fiction again. I’d been a film student in college, learning lenses, photography, lighting, and lugging cameras and sandbags and apple boxes all over lower Manhattan. I tell people now that I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but that I never wanted to be an English major. I didn’t know that then. I’d written when I was young, and stopped, and thought that I might be a musician, and then a filmmaker, and now, reading that book at the beach, I knew. I haven’t read it since. Part of me is afraid it won’t stand up. But it doesn’t matter. It got me writing seriously, and it attuned to me to the idea of language as art. This was, more or less, the prevailing idea that dictated the next few year or two of writing. Language came first, and everything else––character, structure, narrative––all of that fell off to the side. Not because I didn’t think it mattered, but more likely, because I had no idea how to even think of it.
© Linda Nylind
ELISA ALBERT: Moore-as-influence is by now such a cliché that her “importance” seems almost to go without saying, but let me tell you: “How To Become A Writer” had me face-to-floor. From the opening line (“First, try to be something, anything, else.”) to the last (that hilariously transparent effort at literary observational description), she just hit it for me, then, there. Gone with the Wind wasn’t going to cut it for me after that. The recognition was immediate and so gratifying. It was all the things literature is supposed to be and do but so seldom is or does––it reached out a hand to me and changed my life, empowered me to see myself as having a perspective that matters. I thought: oh, i can see things other people don’t or won’t see. I mean, every single one of us has that potential, but unless you fight hard to hold on to it, the life will tend to really file it down. “Pay attention to what they tell you to forget,” said Muriel Rukeyser. Anyway, that’s an awful lot for a single short story (or short story collection) to do. Fiction can be deeply, profoundly good, well-crafted, and smart, and still not manage to change your life.
KATHLEEN ALCOTT: Lorrie Moore is an immutable source of comfort for me. That works so overwhelmingly odd—so filled with what I see as nearly-private jokes between the author and the page—are so beloved, by so many, is a bright sign of contemporary readership.
ALIX OHLIN: I remember that the first time I read her work, my eyes just widened and I felt like I’d been hit in the solar plexus (in a good way). It seemed very new to me, unlike anybody else’s voice who’d come before. The wordplay, the humor, and also the anger in her work spoke to me—there’s a real edge to it that showed me new possibilities, especially when it came to writing about women.
© Murdo McLeod
JENNIFER CODY EPSTEIN: One of my most searing experiences as a reader took place more than a quarter-of-a-century ago. I was a sophomore in college, lying on my bed, wrapped so deeply in the papery grasp of a novel that I was having trouble breathing. The sentences were lyrical, gorgeous—
among the most exquisitely-crafted I’d read. But it was the scene they relayed that was making me gasp: on a cold dirt floor in Ohio, a father was raping his adolescent daughter. Yet it wasn’t the act’s blasphemy that shocked me. It was the fact that what I felt for this rapist was not loathing, not disgust, but grief. I felt grief for the unconscious child on the floor as well, of course (the child over whom the father, dazed and spent, drapes a blanket before slowly leaving the room). But my overriding sympathies went not to 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove, but to her irreparably-damaged father Cholly.
Mystified, I read the section twice, and then a third time; studying its seams and wordings. I tried to comprehend how the writer had performed such literary alchemy; how she’d transformed one of the most reprehensible crimes imaginable into an act of tenderness, almost love. That writer was Toni Morrison, the book her debut, The Bluest Eye. In it’s pages, I’d found a devastating portrait of an impoverished family in post-Depression Ohio, one trapped by race, economics and era. Even more powerful, though, was Cholly’s heartrending descent from an idealistic youth to the warped soul we see in the book’s final pages; a man who blearily—almost poignantlyconfuses an act of sexual abuse for an act of actual love.
Closing The Bluest Eye, I knew it had changed me: I’d never look at a “monstrous” act in quite the same way. And in the years since I can honestly say I haven’t. Reading the paper or a history text or even another novel I still sometimes feel Cholly Breedlove’s haunting presence behind me; his dark eyes on my hair; his dank breath on my neck. But it also made me think: Yes. This is the point of fiction—finding those rare flashes of insight; those perfect (if painful) moments of human connection. It made me want to read every word Toni Morrison had ever written. But more than that, it made me want to write like her—even if just a little.
RU FREEMAN: Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby is a book that I return to for the way in which she was able to make me, as the reader, sympathize with each character as I went along. Sula, one of my favorite Morrison books, reinforced for me, something that I had grown up believing: the tensile nature of women’s friendships.
MELINDA MOUSTAKIS: Just gorgeous, brave, and unflinching writing that was important in every way possible. I was also enthralled by Morrison’s use of imagery and the lushness of her prose. The fragmented stream-of-consciousness sections in Beloved stand out in my memory—as well as the character of Pilate in Song of Solomon who doesn’t have a bellybutton and the dictionary at the end of Jazz that props up an older couple’s bed. And now that I think about it, her portrayals of complicated women, especially mothers, must have become embedded in my brain. I was first drawn to the minimalism in Steinbeck and then Morrison introduced me to a more maximalist style fraught with lyricism and the different ways one might structure a line.
JOSEPH SALVATORE: Both in college and graduate school, this was in the late-eighties to mid-nineties, I was assigned Toni Morrison’s Beloved close to a dozen times. No hyperbole. I hunted for all my past syllabi (which I have held onto) but can’t come up with an exact figure. I know we read it in “American Literature II,” in “American Naturalism,” in “World Literature II,” in “Postmodern Fiction,” in “Woman As Hero,” in “Gender and National Identity,” in “American Feminisms,” in “American Slavery,” in “Era of U.S Reconstruction” (I minored in both Gender Studies and American History), in “Herstory/Hystory: Embodiment, Subjectivity, and Rupturing the Real.” At that time, at my school, a state university in Salem, MA, which embraced the gen-ed-requirement model, it’s possible we read it in “Health, Fitness, and Leisure”(my phys ed requirement), in “Weather and Science,” in “Algebra 1,” and “First Year Seminar: Note-taking and Study Skills.” The novel was that ubiquitous. Needless to say, I knew and know the book well, far better than all my recycled term papers and nearly memorized written essay exams could ever demonstrate. I was an English major who wanted to write like the writers I was reading. A fan of Faulkner and Woolf, I saw Morrison as their contemporary heir, which is to say: it was Toni Morrison’s style I fell in love with first.
When I began teaching at Parsons School of Design, at The New School, in the late nineties, I taught my freshmen The Bluest Eye in the fall semester and Sula and Playing In The Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination in the spring. As a white young man from a working-class background in Boston, who now had mostly female students, diverse and international, talented, creative, and fiercely intelligent, I was aware—perhaps too aware at the time—that I could not identify in any way with Morrison’s characters (except in the most private ways that we relate to all fictional characters, ways much too private to responsibly share in a college classroom). So in those days I worked with Morrison’s texts often in the context of what many other critics and scholars had to say about her work, as well as with the many interviews pulled from Conversations With Toni Morrison. In one of those interviews, Morrison, a former editor who had authored a style and usage manual, says that she works and works and works on composing and editing her sentences with the goal, in the end, being that they do not look the least bit worked on—that they, in Morrison’s words, “never seem to sweat.”
There is in the western tradition a discussion of sweatless prose that runs through Baldassare Castiglione’s 16th Century The Book of the Courtier, through to Yeats’s late 19th Century/early 20th: “A line will take us hours maybe / yet if it does not seems a moment’s thought / our stitching and unstitching has been naught” to Hemingway’s “grace under pressure” all the way to Pee Wee Herman’s late 20th Century’s “I meant to do that.” As with Herman’s falling off his bike, the courtier, according to Castiglione, were he, at court, to fall off his horse, he should make it appear as though he had rather dismounted with the utmost nonchalance, what Castiglione called sprezzatura, or effortless grace. For me this is what Morrison achieves in nearly all her lines.
Though I think Song of Solomon is her most accomplished work of fiction in terms of pure storytelling and craft, it is Beloved I return to over and over again—as much for her language as for the story. Those sumptuous, sinewy, sweatless sentences. It would take more space than I have here to fully analyze and explicate her prose, but let me say that one can see the development of her style refining itself with each book. In the early work, she has a stiffer rhetoric, almost self-consciously sweatless:
“Helene Wright was an impressive woman, at least in Medallion she was. Heavy hair in a bun, dark eyes arched in a perpetual query about other people’s manners. A woman who won all social battles with presence and a conviction of the legitimacy of her authority. Since there was no Catholic church in Medallion then, she joined the most conservative black church. And held sway. It was Helene who never turned her head in church when latecomers arrived; Helene who established the practice of seasonal alter flowers; Helene who introduced the giving of banquets of welcome to retuning Negro veterans… .”
An entire essay could be given over to that paragraph as it relates to Morrison’s style. Note the typical freshman composition favorite: the topic sentence with a linking verb and a predicate nominative, which tries to conceal its formality with the voicey diction she supplies at the end by her use of the redundant clausal structure (“she was). Note the deliberate fragments in the second, third, and fifth sentences, about as subtle and unnecessary as Cormac McCarthy’s in The Road. Note the anxiously camouflaged use of the it-cleft structure in the sixth sentence, which typically throws emphasis off of the subject of the sentence to a more rhythmic spot further down the intonation contour of the sentence past the predicating verb. But Morrison does away not only with the expletive “it” throughout but with the predicating be-verb as well, even employing those semi-formal semi-colons to separate the syntactic units, heightening the chuch-y sermonic tone but adding to the worked-over mannered quality, which is exactly what it’s trying so hard not to seem like. Never let them see you sweat.
But through Sula, with its anticipation of Jazz’s lyrical idiom, and Song of Solomon’s longer sentences, more clausal constructions, more luxuriant syntax, leading to the liminal and Sula-esque Tar Baby, through all these, we see Morrison working to marry the earlier rhetorical techniques to her deepening awareness and ability to render character on a much larger scope and scale. And though it seems merely the natural continuation of an artist honing her craft, nothing could have prepared us for the experience of Beloved. Gone was the stylistic scale-practice and throat-clearing of The Bluest Eye and Sula; strengthened and stretched were the sentences of Solomon; reconciled was the conflict between the use of free indirect discourse and the reliance on expository narrative summary in Tar Baby; in its place we find in Beloved a narration that dominates every aspect of the world of Sethe and Denver, Baby Suggs and Paul D.
Far too many examples abound in the novel, but let me close by considering a similar paragraph to the one from Sula I cited above. This time, through a deep and desperate surface-textual honesty and yet a contextual unreliability of a first-person point of view character, we get a description of another character: here Denver, Sethe’s daughter, is talking about her father, whom she never knew. Note that it too starts with the same typical linking-verb topic sentence as in the earlier example, but here Morrison feels no need to fuss it up with obvious effort: with all those deliberate fragments (the fragments that do appear, at the end, function almost nearly as punctuation and beats as they do semantic utterances), with those stylized rhetorical cleft structures; here Morrison lets the character say it plainly.
And the effect is more powerful, frightening, devastating, and accurate: This is the voice of a child trying to convince both herself and the reader about something she herself is not entirely convinced of, and it is delivered in a childish arrogance/anxiety and repetitive/redundant (N.B. purposefully redundant) syntax and style that calls to mind the Joyce of Portrait. However, it should be noted that the style here is far, far more controlled, precise, calibrated, modulated; but now it achieves exactly what Morrison’s narrative needs, without the slightest grimace or the least drop of sweat; her control is utter sprezzatura:
“My daddy was an angel man. He could look at you and tell where you hurt and he could fix it too. He made a hanging thing for Grandma Baby, so she could pull herself up from the floor when she woke up in the morning, and he made a step so when she stood up she was level. Grandma said she was always afraid a whiteman would knock her down in front of her children. She behaved and did everything right in front of her children because she didn’t want them to see her knocked down. She said it made children crazy to see that. At Sweet Home nobody did or said they would, so my daddy never saw it there and never went crazy and even now I bet he’s trying to get here. If Paul D could do it, my daddy could too. Angel man. We should all be together. Me, him, and Beloved.”
© Eve Asher
WILL ALLISON: When I’m writing, I always keep a book of fiction on my desk, something to jump-start me when I get stuck, or to productively divert me for a page or three when I need some distance from whatever I’m working on. Over the past decade, more often than not, the author of that book has been the Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro.
I first read Munro in 2001, when my wife, a longtime fan, gave me Munro’s then-latest collection, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Up until then, for no good reason (probably because she was older and Canadian), I had always imagined Munro’s fiction to be staid and conventional.
Of course, her stories aren’t like that at all. I was immediately struck by their unconventionality, their (seeming) looseness of structure, their strangeness, their extraordinary depth. (Many readers have observed that Munro’s stories pack the emotional and literary wallop of novels.) Also, the setting of her stories—small-town Ontario—reminded me of the American South, where I grew up, and I identified with her protagonists, who often find themselves straining against conservative social mores.
What has been most influential to me as a writer, though, is Munro’s style, the plainspoken elegance of her prose, its seeming effortlessness, its invisibility. I cannot recall ever coming across a single word in a Munro story that seemed out of place or struck a false note. Try as I might, I would never claim to write like Munro, but most of what I consider to be my best writing I’ve done while reading Munro. For whatever reason, she is the author who most reliably puts me in a writing frame of mind.
Since that first collection, I’ve gone on to read (and reread) most of Munro’s subsequent books, including Runaway, Carried Away: A Selection of Stories, and Too Much Happiness. Luckily, I’ve barely scratched the surface of Munro’s canon and have a lot more stories to look forward to.
DAN CHAON: The stunning architecture of her complex stories continues to amaze and inspire me. She understands the way in which the “telling” of the story—the order of events in a narrative—can alter the effect on the reader. She is a brilliant tracer of character emotions, the way small moments can ripple and reflect larger ones.
MAILE CHAPMAN: Alice Munro, not just for the clarity and beauty of her prose, or for her astute psychological powers of observation, but for the way she uses these to demonstrate breathtaking emotional cruelty as if it were an everyday fact of life—which of course it is.
BRUCE MACHART: Her stories are so very quiet on the surface and roiling with sexual and psychological danger beneath. Imagine a little placid stream, so still that dragonflies sleep on the surface, but one whose subsurface torrent is so great that one ankle-deep step in it means that you’re swept downstream, your head bashed against the rocks. You’re lost forever in its sweep and swirl. That’s an Alice Munro story. And she does it again and again.
ALIX OHLIN: In my twenties I fell in love with the short story form and started reading it seriously for the first time. I was also writing stories, of course, and trying to figure out how they were made, what the possibilities were. I’d read Alice Munro before—as the child of literate Canadian parents, it had been impossible not to—but this was when she became a major influence on me. I was fascinated both by her style (the radical jumps in time, the depth of psychological interiority, the simple, unfussy, yet lyrically precise language) and the subject of her work (especially the complex, intense, and even brutal way she wrote about women). There is tremendous ambition and reach in her work, couched in a sometimes deceptively quiet tone. Her story “Friend of My Youth” is one I read over and over again during this time (and still do).
© Gasper Tringale
RYAN BOUDINOT: I always get the feeling that I’m reading him more with my subconscious than my conscious mind, that there are whole projects going on between his books and my brain that I’m not aware of. And this has helped me approach my work a certain way. When I wrote Blueprints of the Afterlife I thought a lot about how a Murakami narrative makes me feel, and I leaned toward conjuring similar feelings in my prose.
REBECCA CHACE: Last spring I taught a creative writing class at Woodbourne prison in upstate New York, a medium security men’s prison. I was teaching as part of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) run by Bard College. I had decided that my prison class would follow the same syllabus I taught in the MFA Creative Writing class at Brooklyn College. It’s a tough, competitive program at Brooklyn College, but word was that the BPI students wanted to be pushed. The creative writing I encountered at the MFA level was often rich in language and poor in narrative structure, so I had begun to incorporate readings on the “Hero Journey” into our discussions of modern fiction. I was determined not to change my intellectual approach to the material for the inmates, and for our second class the students read a Joseph Campbell excerpt on “The Hero Journey” in conjunction with Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. I drew an arc on the blackboard marking stages of the hero journey as defined by Campbell, and we discussed it in terms of the novel. Murakami’s novel has talking cats and parallel worlds that reference both Japanese and Greek mythology. I admit that I had wondered if this nonrealistic narrative would be too far out there for the prison population, but they got right to the heart of what Murakami was exploring in his novel. In fact, they were much less critical of the novel than my MFA students had been. The Brooklyn College students thought that Murakami’s novel had too many plot holes and that his references to the Oedipal myth lacked subtlety. The prisoners didn’t care about plot holes and they thought the talking cats were just fine. They wanted to talk about whether it was right for Oedipus to try to defy fate by leaving home once he heard the prophecy about killing his father and marrying his mother. And what about his parents putting him out on the mountainside to die when they heard the prophecy? Were they wrong to do that? I pointed out this was a big argument: Do you believe in free will or determinism? One of the men who had been very vocal in this discussion stopped dead, “You want to talk about that in here?” he asked.
“Sure, I’ll talk about it in here. We can talk about anything as long as it has to do with the work.” I sounded braver than I was.
I wished that Murakami were there to hear the discussion. He may have been pleased, as I was, that talking cats and a boy who kills his father and sleeps with his mother were the perfect medium for a conversation about how storytelling is way we can begin to understand our own lives. Who does not have a life filled with plot holes? Prison is not the only place where “reality” can be a slippery concept indeed.
ALIX OHLIN: In the past year or so I’ve been thinking a lot about Haruki Murakami’s work. I’m drawn to the strangeness in his work, how it seems to break rules not just of realism but of tone. He chooses the details he wants to present and leaves out the others, and asks the reader to accept the surreal worlds he’s narrating, without a lot of stylistic fanfare. Another writer might narrate dream worlds in a lush or lyrical style but Murakami goes the opposite route, of deadpan simplicity. The result is like a Magritte painting, somehow bright and strange at the same time. I think it’s why his work feels both highly contemporary and timeless. I’m interested in emulating that, or at least learning from it.
PETER ROCK: The first time I encountered Murakami I was working on a ranch outside of Livingston, Montana, where I lived in a small house I’d rented with my girlfriend. On the days I didn’t go to the ranch where I worked, I stayed home and wrote. I was writing a very important novel, one that had fifty chapters of ten pages each and would be exactly five hundred pages long (I completed this, a disaster). I’d walk around the house looking at the bookcases—we’d mixed up our books, a big step, and there amid my Hemingway was a large, hardcover book. A Wild Sheep Chase. I read the title on its spine many, many times before I deigned to take it off the shelf. The cover had a sheep on it, a drawing of one, a star on its ass; but it was the back cover that I found more infuriating. There, a seemingly mild-mannered Japanese man stood holding a cat. I had a hard time taking him seriously, as he did not appear to be especially fierce. Writers I admired had dogs, and glared into the middle distance. Besides, I worked with sheep every day—what did a kitten-wielding Japanese man have to teach me?
Seven years later, my books had long been sifted from those of my ex-girlfriend, A Wild Sheep Chase still unread, straying all the way to Toronto while I returned to Utah, to San Francisco. In this time I had read Kawabata’s amazing Palm of the Hand Stories, along with Mishima, and Tanizaki; I had begun to wonder who might have followed these masters when I came upon a story by Murakami called “New York Mining Disaster.” The ferocity of the sensibility, the curiosity and simplicity and depth—it was all there. That day I found another copy of A Wild Sheep Chase and began my education. Now it’s almost twenty years since I first picked up that novel (I was on Murakami before he became everywhere! I was also the first person to ever snowboard!), back in the cold days of Livingston, Montana and I’ve read every one of Murakami’s books.
Murakami is obsessive, repetitious, and I revel in rather than grow irritated by the similarity of his narratives. I expect the lost girl or cat, the dry well, all that underground action, spaghetti cooking, sex that comes from strange directions, as an emotional kind of friendship, the ear fetishism. It’s the mysteries between people that he suggests so well, that he demonstrates with stories that are a mixture of detective fiction and speculation and yearning; this is a literature of curious heart, not pretension. Not showy prose (in an interview, he said he strove to have no real style, as that would be distracting; my Japanese mother-in-law, reading his prose in the original, was quite unimpressed), but trust in his story. The shapes of his narratives arise from within, so organically that it makes me wonder at the very nature of fiction. In A Wild Sheep Chase, the reader starts into a humorous detective novel, veers into a seemingly alternate world, full of humor and surprise, and soon there is no turning back. A character in the book is so transformed that he is said to have been ‘sheeped’; in a sense, this is what happened to me. This is what happens to the reader of Murakami. Our DNA is slightly shifted, recombined. Our world is not the same, either. “I explain very carefully and clearly,” Murakami said in an interview, describing his work, yet what he has to explain is so mysterious that a careful explanation of what surrounds it is as close as we can get to apprehension. There is no better combination of respect and delight.
Brock Clarke is the author of the novels The Happiest People in the World, Exley, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, and The Ordinary White Boy, as well as the short story collections What We Won’t Do, and Carrying the Torch
Tony D'Souza is the author of the novels Mule: A Novel of Moving Weight, The Konkans, and Whiteman
Philipp Meyer is the author of the novels American Rust and The Son
James Scott is the author of the novel The Kept
Josh Weil is the author of the novel The Great Glass Sea, and the novella collection The New Valley
Adelle Waldman is the author of the novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
Jamie Quatro is the author of the short story collection I Want to Show You More
Kevin Brockmeier is the author of the novels The Illumination, The Brief History of the Dead, and The Truth About Celia, as well as the short story collections The View from the Seventh Layer, and Things That Fall from the Sky
Alissa Nutting is the author of the novel Tampa
Adrienne Miller is the author of the novel The Coast of Akron
Helen Phillips is the author of the novel And Yet They Were Happy
Jess Walter is the author of the novels Beautiful Ruins, The Financial Lives of Poets, Land of the Blind, The Zero, Citizen Vince, Over Tumbled Graves, as well as the short story collection We Live in Water
Charles Bock is the author of the novel Beautiful Children
Stuart Nadler is the author of the novel Wise Men, and the short story collection The Book of Life
Elisa Albert is the author of the novels After Birth, The Book of Dahlia, and the short story collection How This Night is Different
Kathleen Alcott is the author of the novel The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets
Alix Ohlin is the author of the novels Inside and The Missing Person, as well as the short story collections Signs and Wonders, and Babylon and Other Stories
Jennifer Cody Epstein is the author of the novels The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, and The Painter from Shanghai
Ru Freeman is the author of the novels On Sal Mal Lane, and A Disobedient Girl
Melinda Moustakis is the author of the short story collection Bear Down, Bear North: Alaska Stories
Joseph Salvatore is the author of the short story collection To Assume a Pleasing Shape
Will Allison is the author of the novels Long Drive Home and What You Have Left
Dan Chaon is the author of Stay Awake: Stories, Await Your Reply: A Novel, You Remind Me of Me: A Novel, and Among the Missing: Stories
Maile Chapman is the author of the novel Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto
Bruce Machart is the author of Men in the Making: Stories, and The Wake of Forgiveness: A Novel
Ryan Boudinot is the author of Blueprints of the Afterlife, Misconception, and The Littlest Hitler: Stories
Rebecca Chace is the author of the novels Leaving Rock Harbor and Capture the Flag
Peter Rock is the author of the novels The Shelter Cycle, My Abandonment, The Unsettling, The Bewildered, The Ambidextrist, Carnival Wolves, and This is the Place
Lettering by Caleb Misclevitz