Newburyport Literary Festival 2014 — wrap up

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Another year, another great Newburyport Literary Festival. I was thrilled to be a part of the festival again this year and to be able to share the day with readers and writers. It is, without a doubt, my favorite local event of the year and I am so proud that our town hosts it. And my great thanks to Vicki Hendrickson and Jennifer Entwistle for all that they do as co-directors of the festival. Amazing work, ladies!

Here’s a recap of all that I witnessed during the festival.

I was so happy to share the festival this year with my friends, Jennifer Pieroni and Pamela Erens. Pamela’s plane was delayed and so, unfortunately, she did not make it to the opening ceremony. Jennifer and I did, though, and it was great. The opening was a lively conversation between Andre Dubus III, this year’s festival honoree, and Ann Hood. Here I must admit that I have never read any of Hood’s work but I intend to now. She was such an engaging and charming speaker that I fell right in love with her. Their conversation was funny, informative, and full of heart. It definitely set the tone for the rest of the festival.

After the opening ceremony, we went to the Dinner with the Authors where we are able to connect with the fabulous Holly Robinson (who is so damn funny that she brings out my snort-laugh). Thankfully, Pamela was able to get on another flight and made it just in time to meet up with us at the dinner. I also was able to meet Jessica Keener and Caroline Leavitt, who were both so lovely and warm. All in all, a lovely night.

Saturday morning had me rushing out the door to get to the church on time. That is Old South Church in Newburyport where I was scheduled to introduce Wally Lamb. The night before I told my friends at dinner about my anxiety dream. I dreamt that I was at the church on time but I had forgotten my write up. I told a sour-faced group who were seated at the altar that I would be right back and I headed down the aisle. Unfortunately, I never made it down the aisle in the dream and never introduced Wally Lamb because I was too busy changing my clothes in front of everyone in the church. So my friend Holly triple-dog dared me to tell this dream in my introduction and it sounded like such a great idea after a glass of wine, but, alas in the light of the day, I decided not to. I did, however, tell the dream to the horrified pastor in my nervousness(sorry, Pastor Rob!).

Just before I was to introduce Wally Lamb, I noticed that Richard Russo was in the audience which made me FREAK OUT even more, but I managed to hold it together and give my introduction.

As for Wally Lamb, he could not have been nicer and kinder and his reading was excellent. He read an excerpt from We Are Water which made me cry. I think he must have known what wrecks he had turned the audience into because after his excerpt he read his account of signing at Costco.

After Wally Lamb, I raced over to The Book Rack to listen to Jennifer read from Danceland. Her reading was moving and excellent. So proud of my friend!

Meanwhile, my husband took our son to hear and learn from David Biedrzycki as he discussed The Art of Digital Book Illustration. They had a great time and learned a lot.

After Jennifer’s reading, we headed to Jabberwocky Bookshop to hear Caroline Leavitt read. My god, what a funny, warm, and engaging speaker and reader she is. If you have the chance to hear her read, do yourself a favor and hear her! She was fabulous. <–side note: Ann Hood sat next to us at this reading and by this point I was so in love with her that I had to physically hold myself back from telling her so!

After lunch came the 1PM panel I was moderating called, Finding the Story. On the panel were three excellent writers: Bret Anthony Johnston, Jessica Keener, and CB Anderson. What a great group the are. So generous with their insights into process and craft and all such talented writers. I was honored to share the stage with them and to have this conversation. We had an excellent audience with good questions and even ran out of time before we got to all of the questions. I actually loved moderating a panel which I’ve never done before. It was great fun.

After my panel, we headed back over to Jabberwocky Bookshop to hear Ann Hood speak and read. She was incredible. My girl crush went into overdrive listening to her entertain and amaze the crowd. I can’t wait to read every single one of her books. Team Ann Hood!

Sadly, I was not able to attend any of the 4PM events because by that point I was hobbling due to a poor shoe choice (note: wear comfortable shoes in your anxious, rickety-streeted town. You know better!) and so I had to go home and “rest” (i.e., go to the grocery store to make sure my neglected family didn’t starve) and change my shoes.

I met back up with Pamela and, after dinner, we headed to the Closing Ceremony. which was a wonderful discussion moderated by Lucy Kaylin, editor-in-chief of O Magazine. On the panel were: Richard Russo, Wally Lamb, Andre Dubus III, and Jenna Blum. They were all great speakers and so funny as they discussed their various Oprah experiences. Of the four, I have yet to read Blum’s work but I certainly will now as she seemed really intelligent and funny. All in all, a perfect ending to a great day.

I should note here that while it was raining and cold all day, people came out and enjoyed all of the free events. I am already excited for next year.

The very best part of the weekend, though, waking up this morning to my beautiful family who missed seeing me all day yesterday as much as I missed seeing them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short Story Month Giveaway

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I’m excited that May is short story month. In fact, I’m so excited that I’m going to give away a signed copy of my collection of short fiction, I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND.

Here’s what you have to do: in the comments to this post on my blog, list your favorite short story and tell me why it’s your favorite. I will keep the comments open all month long and choose a random winner at the end of the month (but that person must have followed the rules in order to win).

Check back here at the end of the month to see who won and please do spread the word. Thank you and Happy Short Story Month!

Publishers Weekly reviews I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND

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From the Publishers Weekly review of I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND:

“Much of the appeal of Collins’s fiction comes from the idiosyncratic way that the longer stories unfold, their lurch from subject to subject challenging convention, but possessing an inner logic that conforms to character. Typically, initially disjointed subjects dovetail to resonant climaxes.”

PANK holiday sale — including 25% off I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND

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PANK has a holiday sale on right now (until January 1, 2013).

Check it out:

HOLIDAY SALE: At least 25% off all PANK merchandise. See the PayPal drop down menu below for sale prices.

As a very special bonus, we’re also offering the [PANK] Holiday Bundle for that hard to buy for litnerd in your life. The bundle includes PANK Magazine print editions 5, 6, & 7; an advance copy of Myfanwy Collins’ I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND; a t-shirt; and our sticker and pin combo. All for $40 (a $62.95 value)! It’s at the bottom of the PayPal drop down menu.

Sale ends January 1, 2013.

And I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND is regularly $14.95 but is on sale now for $11 (until January 1, 2013)

Enter for your chance to win a copy of I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND

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 I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND is forthcoming from [PANK] Books in January 2013.

Click here and enter for your chance to WIN one of two signed copies. And please spread the word!

 

 

Hard to Say, by Ethel Rohan

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I do believe that Hard to Say, a painfully beautiful linked collection of stories by Ethel Rohan, will leave you as speechless as it did me. The book begins with a young woman whose own desire not to speak her family’s many secrets chokes her. It is not until she envisions herself speaking, through a dream of bloodletting, that her stories are set free.

Long kept hidden away in the narrator’s secret spaces, the stories burst onto the page with confessions of wrong doing–both that which is done to the narrator and that which she does out of necessity and survival and desire. Indeed, the book reminded me of the first time I went to confession. I remember being disappointed because the priest was not in a booth as I had anticipated. Instead, we sat in a small room together, nearly facing each other. I could not possibly tell him all of my sins face-to-face.  Instead, I told him those I thought he could most easily swallow. Had I been able to speak freely in a dark booth, away from his eyes, I might have told the truth as the narrator does in these stories.

While all of the stories moved me, the one that broke me was the final story, “Mammy,” which is peeled back to the first word and possibly the final word any human being thinks or says and that is a name for mother: Mammy, Maw, Ma, Mummy, Mommy, Mama, etc.  The narrator, leaving her ailing mother in Dublin as she flies back to the US, watches a documentary about girls’ circumcision in a Ugandan village. She is on the plane and her thoughts are, obviously, with her mother, as are mine while I read it. I have been on that plane, flying back and forth to and from my sick mother, wishing for relief from the anguish of it all. And then the final lines which pierced me deep in my heart and continue to:

Then, on the plane, from the TV, those girls’ cries from that hut in Uganda, calling their mothers, Mammy, Mammy, Mammy. Cries that stabbed me, that should have cracked the earth.

It’s a gorgeous book. Read it.

Ayiti, by Roxane Gay

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At the heart of Roxane Gay‘s devastating debut collection, Ayiti, is truth. Whether a language is shared or a language divides, what it offers, when spoken with strength and authority, is an opportunity to share the truth. There is a connection to the desire for truth from the title of the book, which is the Haitian Creole for Haiti, to the final words, which are about more than language. The final words are about that which is beyond language. That which we all share: a desire for love, a release from fear, a necessary need for freedom.

Each of the stories within this book is a slice of heartache and of truth, but the one that struck me most was the one at the very heart of the book–both its physical center and its spiritual center–and that is, “In the Manner of Water or Light.” From the very first words, I was swept into a dark, puzzling, and beautiful world:

My mother was conceived in what would ever be known as the Massacre River. The sharp smell of blood has followed her since.

The Massacre River is both the taker and giver of life. It offers a baptism in blood. And as important as the river is to the players in the story, it is also the keeper of their secrets:

The ugly details are trapped between the fragments of our family history. We are secrets ourselves.

Indeed, “we are secrets ourselves” is at the core of the stories within these books. It is as if each is a confession whispered into a deaf ear, or, conversely, a secret bursting forth, no longer able to be contained, screamed loudly from the tallest mountain, “You will hear me!” These are secrets that need telling. It is in telling and sharing the secrets that people are set free:

I had pictured the river as a wide, yawning and bloody beast, but where we stood, the river flowed weakly. The waters did not run deep. It was just a border between two geographies of grief.

If you had never read anything else Roxane Gay had written, you would certainly know from these stories that she is a truth teller, which she is. She does not hide her face or turn away from that which people do not want told. Ayiti is a brave and beautiful book, filled with truths that need to be told. Read it.

Other Heartbreaks, by Patricia Henley

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It seems an oversimplification to say that Patricia Henley’s gorgeous new short story collection, Other Heartbreaks, will break your heart. But it will. It will break your heart again and again but you will come back to it, begging for more.

You will come back because this is what love it about. The thrill of attraction, the comfort of togetherness, the razor’s edge of disintegration. Love is, in fact, a heartbreak the second it begins because within that second what you know, but do not dare voice or even allow yourself to think, is that someday love will end. Either you will stop loving or the other person will stop loving or, worst of all, one (or both) of you will die.

Patricia Henley knows all of these things about love and these are the gifts that she generously offers us with her stories. And she gives us these gifts with great skill, with great humor, and with a great deal of empathy. She is, in short, a master.

Usually there are one (or sometimes two) stories within a collection that I feel I must push myself through; not so here. Each story was as skillfully wrought and humane as the next. The book is perfectly bookended with two examinations of family’s dealing with loss and.

The first story of the book, “Rocky Gap,” totally knocked me out. The setting is a family reunion at a campground. Innocuous enough, or is it? What we all know about family is that usually when we come together as adults there are many past wounds lingering in the shadows. Same here for this family which is coming together for the first time since the death of one of the sisters. At the same time that the the protagonist is mourning for her lost sister, she is also mourning for the loss of her partner as she watches their relationship disintegrate. And yet, through all of this sadness, there is beauty. One sees a way forward. No matter what, June will survive.

The final stories are a tale in triptych of the March family, within which there is an examination of the parents falling in and falling out of love all leading to the heart of the story, the daughter, Sophie, who has lost her young husband to random violence. Indeed, it is within Sophie story that I found the echo from many of the other stories and that is the biggest heartbreak–the one of love lost too soon. I was reminded so keenly of Gabriel and Gretta in the final scene of “The Dead” where he knows that he can never (and could never) replace the love his wife has lost. It is the same for Sophie; while her heart is opening up again, it may never again be as open as it was with Luis. As it is for many of the other characters within “Other Heartbreaks”–they may be heartbroken but they are not broken. They are not dead. They live and as long as they live, there is hope.

Wild Life, by Kathy Fish

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If you’re like me, when you finish the brilliant new chapbook Wild Life just about every other page will be dog eared. From the prodigal brother eating watermelon in the dark, to the Payless shoe store clerk who may or may not be a child abductor, to the couple with the new bed, you will turn the last page of this book and feel as though you have entered a truly beautiful and brilliant mind. And that mind belongs to the book’s author, Kathy Fish.

Fish’s wry humor, keen vision, and deft language will leaving you laughing one minute and crying the next. She is not manipulative with her words. She does not scream her stories. She does not thrust them down your throat. She offers them to you quietly. She offers them to you as a whispered prayer. In fact, what she does is trust you with her unique and precious gift.

Take, for example, “One Purple Finch” a gentle and unexpected love story that is utterly complex in its beautiful simplicity:

He would make pancakes for her, with berries and honey. And she would life the hem of her skirt. And she would build him a fire. And he would make her a card, drawing a picture on the front, of trees and one purple finch. And they would look at each other at the end of the day and say now what should we do? We should be friends forever and hold each other’s hands and tell each other when we have something stuck between our teeth and trade anecdotes and say oh you told me this before but I love hearing you tell it, so tell it to me again. And you should untie my sneakers when I am weary and I will wear the silky aquamarine robe when you want me to.

All of the pieces in this book moved me in some way, but the one that will not ever let me go is “Spin” which is about a mother and her young child. As a teacher tries to get the mother to “redirect” her child and teach him how to conform to a certain way of learning, she remembers her past life, mourns her imagined present, and learns to live in the moment and the successes that seem small, but are immeasurable. I would argue that this story will push its way into even the hardest heart and that once the reader gets to the end, he will understand this mother’s heartache and her incredible love:

When she finished, she found him lying flat under the sofa cushions. She wondered if she was supposed to unbury him. She sat on the floor and leaned in as close as she could. She felt the boy’s breath on her face. It smelled like apples.

“Hello in there,” she whispered.

This book is a gift and I hope you will read it.

Knockemstiff, by Donald Ray Pollock

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Donald Ray Pollock’s, Knockemstiff, is an exceptionally devastating, unquestionably American, undeniably well-crafted collection of linked stories that, if you dare to finish it, will leave you feeling utterly gutted. And this is a good thing. You should feel gutted after you read it and you should read it.

It’s a brave book, for while it is not about politics it is, for sure, a political book. This is a book about ignorance and violence. This is a book in which children are left un-nurtured and unloved and unfed and unclothed. This is a book in which women are absent or beaten and used for sex. This is a book in which men are mostly predatory and even those who would rather be another way, find they have no choice but follow suit in the predation.

Most importantly: this is a book about the results of poverty. If you grew up in poverty or violence or ignorance or one or the other of these things, you will find some semblance of your reality in these pages. You will recognize your oppressor or you will witness the time you oppressed out of your fear and frustration.

Indeed, this is a book that is sadly relevant in the US today given our current economic climate (not to mention headlines like this one: Between haves, have-nots, an ever greater gulf).

This book is not entertaining, but it is instructive. This book is not beautiful, but it is beautifully written. You will find yourself sucked into the holler so much so that even the voices from these pages take over your thoughts (for example, I killed a mosquito as it bit me the other day and as I did, I thought, “Damn skeeter!”). And still, even within all of this bleakness there is redemption, particularly when the boy from the first story, becomes the man in the final story—the one who makes the choice to walk away from the holler rather than let it kill him.

I can’t tell you that you’re going to love or even like this book–there is language you won’t like and situations you find appalling. You will be grossed out and furious and depressed. You will want to put the book down but find that you can’t. You will wish that you didn’t now know what you know. But I can promise you this: you will never forget this book once you’ve read it and you shouldn’t forget it. Let it live in you until you find a way to help others out of their situation. Let it live in you until you walk away from your own hopeless situation. Let it live in you until you rise up and make a change. Let it live in you.