Congratulations to our finalists for the Anne C. Barnhill Prize for Creative Nonfiction!
Neema Avashia (Boston) Rochelle Harris Cox (Northwest GA) Dorian Fox (Boston) Jenna Korsmo (Tuscon) Jessica Langlois (Atlanta) Elizabeth Lantz (Columbus) Mary Mahoney (New York) Elizabeth Muller (New Jersey) Laura Stanfill (Portland OR) Lisa López Smith (Central Mexico)
We are exceptionally proud to present these writers and their outstanding essays. Out of over 120 submissions, our editors chose these 10 to forward to contest judge Randal O’Wain. Randal has made his choice, and we will announce the winner on Friday, October 11; on that date we will also post links to each essay, along with bios of these talented writers.
Thank you for your support and patience as we developed this contest. Our goal is to keep the spirit of Anne Barnhill alive in the writing world she loved so much, as well as to offer recognition and reward opportunities for writers who “present the finest essays on the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how the two connect over a lifespan.”
It’s always exciting for us at Longridge Review to get publishing news from one of our essayists. Mike Chin’s short story collection, You Might Forget the Sky Was Ever Blue (Duck Lake Books, September 2019), is out this month. Do not miss Mike’s thoughts, ideas, and advice about his work and the writing life . . . and don’t forget to order his book!
Q: You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blueis your first full-length short story collection. Congratulations! The book includes stories about a third grade teacher in Baltimore trying to make sense of the 2016 election campaign to students, a teenage sexual assault survivor making his way through a changed world, and a boy is raised to believe he’s Hulk Hogan’s little brother. Though fiction, they sound inspired by real life. Can you talk a bit about how the genres of fiction and creative nonfiction relate as well as diverge?
A: I’m a big believer that nothing in life happens in a vacuum. Everything affects everything else, and that very much includes the pop culture we ensconce ourselves in, which might include politics, music, movies, television, and even professional wrestling.
Rather than playing coy in a (likely as not futile) effort to make the stories timeless, a number of these stories lean into their surrounding culture from the real world to enrich the characters and setting. The first story in the collection, “Prophecy,” is very much set during the 2016 presidential election campaign and uses social media as a source of chronic tension throughout. The story “Brother” uses Hulk Hogan’s evolution as a public figure as a backdrop for understanding the protagonist’s place in life and worldview.
Q: Book promos say Sky includes experiments in form with a social conscience. What exactly does that mean?
A: Two stories in particular—“Prophecy” and “Better”—lean into collage style structures that jump around a lot. In the former, the story aims to gather a bit of what it was like to be an average citizen during an especially tumultuous moment in American history. Conversely, “Better” uses its snippets to span a lifetime, gathering snapshots across decades that the reader can piece together to understand the whole.
In regards to the social conscience of the book, some of the glue that binds this manuscript includes leaning into uncomfortable conversations around political leadership, sexual assault, how we society treats people from the LGBT community, and more. Rather than taking a ‘there are good people on all sides’ stance, the collection, or at least the characters from these stories, do take positions, and it’s up to the reader to decide whether or to what degree they agree—but at least (I hope) they’re thinking.
Q: Your essay forLongridge Review, The Bionic Elbow: On Fathers, Sons, and the American Dream, has elements in it I recognize in Sky; there may be more. I really love that essay, the way you braid in and out of seemingly disparate experiences like professional wrestling, fatherhood, emerging sexuality, parental expectations, death/loss –somehow you make it all connect. Do you have any special process for this kind of writing, do you plan to do it in advance or do you just write and weave it together as you go?
A: I’ve experimented with this style of writing (most directly influenced by Maggie Nelson) in a number of pieces—fiction, non-fiction, poetry. Typically, I’ve drafted pieces like this in a pretty linear fashion, truly letting my mind wander and make organic connections. I will admit that there’s a deceptively high level of revision typically required after that first draft, though, to buff out the pieces that really are more flights of fancy than essential to the text, and to make connections that feel clear enough to me more explicit for readers living outside my head.
Q: Do you have a favorite story in Sky? What is it and why?
A: While I’d probably call “Prophecy” my favorite for its structure, contemporary concerns, and bits and pieces borrowed from my own life, I’ve probably already spent too much interview space talking about that one. So, I’ll go to the next one down the line, the title story, “You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue.” It connects to the story that comes before it in the collection, “The End of the World,” which ends on a traumatic experience. “You Might Forget” picks up on the aftermath, which I feel is too often given short shrift in storytelling—the more administrative pieces of school officials sorting through a messy issue and how that intersects with someone’s personal experience. It’s a story that was largely born out of the years I spent as an administrator for an educational program, taking those less glamorous behind the scenes tasks and carving some art out of them.
I’m a prolific drafter and feel pretty adamant that, if I like a piece of writing, I’d rather see it out in the world somewhere than sitting dormant on my hard drive.
Q: You publish a lot of writing, with work either in or forthcoming in over 200 publications. What advice do you have for other writers about getting your work out there?
A: I’m a prolific drafter and feel pretty adamant that, if I like a piece of writing, I’d rather see it out in the world somewhere than sitting dormant on my hard drive. So, I make conscious effort to submit regularly and widely, not being afraid to shoot for the stars with the pieces I most believe in, or to take a chance on a less established venue with pieces I’m not as confident will connect with editors. I know some folks prefer to be more selective about where they publish, and I can respect that, but for those who may be more interested in publishing widely, I advocate for getting in listservs and social media groups that advertise calls for submissions you might not come across more organically. There’s such an advantage to placing work with venues that are actively seeking submissions (especially from less established writers) as opposed to only submitting to publications that already have overwhelming submission queues.
Q: What’s the best way for readers and writers to keep up with you and your work? (website, Twitter, etc.)
A: I’m active on Twitter and publicize most anything I publish there. I also try to keep my website up to date, and I update my blog at least twice most months.
Suzanne Farrell Smith’s essay, “The Helping Man,” is nominated by Pembroke Magazine for Pushcart Prize. Congratulations and good luck! This fall Suzanne also had an essay published in Brevity, “If You Find a Mouse in a Glue Trap.” Finally, her essay “Work and Love” is published in Issue 8 of Adanna. Way to go, SFS!
Read our editor Mary Heather Noble’s blog post, On Writer’s Block: Notes from the Kitchen Island. “I’ve tried all kinds of ways to avoid doing this work. I tried moving far away, and when that didn’t help, I wrote and published a few scenes from that childhood path and then suffered the consequences. I’ve tried writing about other things. I’ve tried literally running away.” This is a gorgeous and vulnerable self-examination of, among other things, the mountain climbing we do as children and as adults.
Do you have a question for us? Write to us at Ask the Editor. In December, we will tackle the question, “What qualifies as childhood for your mission?” Read Heidi’s blog post about her authorial choices in her essay, Your Boss.
We ask you to follow our blog! We don’t post there often, but when we do it’s focused information you can use about writing and writers, as well as updates about our journal.
by Essayist and Guest Blogger Heidi Davidson-Drexel
I was not officially a child when I was violated by my boss, a reality which further muddied the mess of emotions I felt about it. I used to struggle with what to call the experience. I was enough of a child at the time to feel molested, but couldn’t reconcile that term with my age. For awhile I referred to it as a controlling relationship- a title modification that allowed me to skim past essential details. But it wasn’t a relationship. It seemed there were no accurate descriptions, words or phrases that fit.
To write about it, I had to allow myself to peer into my inner state at the time it all happened. It wasn’t an easy place to go. But when I finally got up the courage, the overwhelming feeling I had was one of sympathy for my younger self. The internalized guilt and self-hatred had dissipated with the years and I could see the confused young person I was, grabbing onto anything she could find.
This feeling of understanding grew as I worked on it. The barrier between adolescence and adulthood is like a line of buoys separating the shallow end of the pool from the deep end. It’s flexible- easy to cross back and forth. In all of the outer ways, I was like an adult. I started working at 14 and was supporting myself while in college. I studied hard and did well in school. But emotionally, I was still splashing around in the shallows.
When I started out writing this piece, I thought if it as an explanation to some nameless person, some naïve reader who might not understand how such a thing could happen. I wanted to show how easy it is to lose the ground under your feet, how it could happen to anyone. By the time I finished the essay and reread it, it was clear. I had written it, not for some nameless bystander, but for my younger self. For the part of me that still didn’t understand what had gone wrong, and for the parts of me that still felt I had done something to cause it. I wrote this for the child I was, in the hopes that she can begin to move on.
Most of the writers I know are hardcore addicts. A hopeless bunch.
And not in the sense of substances ruling their lives (I’m glad I can brag how most of my close writing friends are pretty healthy people, though we imbibe heartily on occasion). But we all suffer a problem with writing and we’re all agreeably co-dependent upon each other.
When we get together, we don’t encourage healing. We don’t support each other by helping break away from our additions to the written word, our eternally anchored lives to the pen, page, laptop, and desk.
We gather in each other’s secret company, at conferences, festivals, residences, and writers groups, to load up, and stab the veritable needle into one another’s neck all day and all night. In person. Through social media. By e-mail. Via hand-written notes. By the books of poems, shorts stories, novels, and creative non-fiction we produce and circulate like so much underground illegal drug activity. We’re a hot mess, as they say.
We are addicts, indeed. Psychologically. Physiologically. Socially. Culturally. Economically. Religiously. Enslaved to the word, and the word to us. When we engage in these precarious acts, we experience a heightened pleasure nearly as delightful as anything the world offers. This is why we persist in our crazed life choices, come success or failure, clarity or confusion.
We learn to gather up our many rejections like the old adage: At least a bad day of drinking was still drinking (or was that a phrase about fishing?). When we’re not writing, or revising, or submitting, or reading, something feels imbalanced about life. It’s that craving that sends us off kilter until we’re back again doing that tasty thing that preoccupies us waking or sleeping, or in that dazed in-between world.
And it’s in our dreams, too. We dream about that good, sweet high. That one elusive poem we must eventually create. That lovely paragraph we’re chasing. That short story we lost in a fevered dream when coming down. The vision of a story just waiting around the magical corner.
We’re all chasing the same thing and something different all at once. An alchemical cocktail of words discovered by only us in the lonely night, tested swirling in our own bloodstream, boiled down and readied for a hungry world.
“Time, which isn’t like ground at all, washes things up without regard for order or sense. My life comes back to me in various pieces, from Pablum to tombstones, each piece changing the contour of the life I’ve led. I will have thousands of childhoods before time is done.”
Our next submission period will be in the Fall. Sign up to follow us (see the bottom middle area of our home page) to receive an email notification when submissions open.
We are thrilled that Mary Heather Noble has joined Longridge Review as a reader and contributing editor. She is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing Program at the University of Southern Maine. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Geology from The Ohio State University, and a Master’s degree in Environmental Science from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Vermont after living in Oregon for nine years. Learn more about MHN on her website, Mary Heather Noble dot com
Mary Heather recently was named a finalist by Bellingham Review for the Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction for her essay, “Eulogy for an Owl.”
Suzanne Farrell Smith’s essay on mothering twins in the NICU is forthcoming from Under the Gum Tree. UGT is a storytelling project, publishing creative nonfiction in the form of a micro-magazine. Tagline: Tell Stories without Shame
Editor Elizabeth Gaucher’s essay, “Allons, Enfants: A Young Appalachian in Paris,” appears now in the Summer 2016 issue of Still: The Journal.
Gregory Fletcher (NYC) tells the tender yet complicated story behind his personal evolution into manhood. What does that word mean, anyway, manhood? And does it matter who defines it? Can a “real man” be provided for by his grandmother and come to believe in himself in an authentic way? Read this unique essay to broaden your understanding of identity, independence, and love.
Sink or Swim
Rich H. Kenney, Jr., (Nebraska) returns to a harrowing summer filled with perceived monsters, hostile adults, and an unavoidable life-and-death encounter with his own anxiety. Despite all of this, somehow, he weaves mild humor and courage toward a conclusion that will make you proud to be human. Read his essay and be reminded how strong people can be.
Karen McDermott (Los Angeles) There are times when the sheer breathtaking honesty of an essay leaves me very quiet for a long time. “Doll Blanket” is such a work. If you write, you will recognize how difficult it can be to disclose the events Karen describes here, but even more how so it is to disclose the feelings. If you are mostly a reader, you will recognize it as well. Few essays will lay it bare like this one does.
Mariana McDonald (Georgia) reminds us that knowing guilt and even some concept of sin comes early in life. A child perceives danger, reports said danger, a life ends — but the child’s trouble is just beginning. This deceptively simple narrative has all the great themes of unforgettable tales like Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Crane’s The Blue Hotel, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Garden of Eden myth. At the same, it avoids feeling derivative by staying true to one girl’s unique life-changing event. Don’t miss this one.
J. R. Tappenden (St. Louis) shines light on a hard reality, that some of our favorite childhood memories can sometimes be tied to an ugly truth. Gorgeous old airplanes open up the world of flight and freedom. But in the end, they once had a dark purpose. How do any of us balance the beautiful and the dreadful? Once we understand, can we pass on the things we love to those we love in a moral way?
That Good Hair
Bobby Wilson (China) writes about his hair. Or, well, does he? His hair is a part of everything, but as you roll through this fast-paced narrative, at some point you will start to realize that hair is the vehicle on which you travel, and from which you see the writer’s experience. Early lines like, “My brother and I embarked on eight long years of hair purgatory,” made this an essay one we couldn’t resist. Being “full Black” makes finding a barber a priority. Wave amplitudes. Cornrows. Hairlines. Tapers. Tweezers, razors, gel, doo rags. Good hair. More than anything else, Wilson explores what it means to relax and learn to love yourself.
Sharon Lyn Stackpole (West Virginia) studied painting and art history at West Virginia University under the tutelage of the renowned professor and art historian Marian Hollinger. Her warm and delicate work glows on the pages of Issue 4.
Issue #3 went online last week. Did you miss it? Catch up here with the vibrant murals of artist Carlos Culbertson, as well as these wonderful essays from an array of talented creative nonfiction writers:
Rebecca Chekouras (California) writes with the hard light of truth about her brother’s life and death. Discovering a photograph of the two of them together as very young children sparks a cascade of memories about who he was, and of who he became. This is not exactly a ghost story, but it haunts all the same.
Ryan C. Daily (Chicago) wants a home. It sounds simple enough, but is finding your place ever an easy thing? Ryan finds herself compelled to map her childhood living spaces and tries to connect them. When she ends up where she started, the clarity of the last lines took our collective breath away.
A Closet of One’s Own
Janet Garber (New York) shares a beautiful memory of where she first discovered the eternal gifts of imagination. This is a delightful and poignant reflection on how much a child craves her own space, or as Janet calls it, “my own true home.”
Tom Lin (Ohio) presents a narrative with visual structure that not only informs us how to read it but also seems to subtly mimic the loneliness and staggered footsteps of the title creature itself. This is a powerful, complex essay that lingers. By examining his childhood impressions of Godzilla, Lin also opens the door to his memories of his grandfather, of the island of Taiwan’s history, and the legacy of the atomic bomb.
Ana Christina Peters (South Korea) has never forgotten one of her father’s most powerful pieces of advice: Always walk away from a fight. Can a child of the Vietnam era grow into an adult who can follow this advice? Can anyone? Ana writes about witnessing a brutal fight between two fathers in the neighborhood, and its reverberation in the bodies and minds of the children who witnessed it.
Emily Rems (New York) turns her considerable writing talent to one of childhood’s most insidious experiences: being repeatedly molested by someone who should be helping you. At the tender age of 11, Emily finds herself regularly alone with a perpetrator hiding in plain sight. Readers must confront with the writer the discomfort, disbelief, and distress of realizing she’s not sure why it started or how to stop it.
The Bucket Boys
Allison Spector (North Dakota) tells a true tale of childhood peril — “but not too much” — in this rollicking and occasionally unnerving recounting of two young girls determined to challenge the boys on their turf. This pitch-perfect narrative will have you thinking about what it means for any of us to stand up to a threat, be it real or simply perceived. Who’s playing whom?
Over the Limit
Margaret Redmond Whitehead (Brooklyn) ponders a question we all ask sooner or later: When we have to move on, what stays with us, and what do we leave behind? This is exactly as simple and straightforward and complicated and murky as it sounds, and Margaret writes with compassion and depth about it all. Her experience with refugees, her literary reading background, and her personal family history all inform this empathetic and very real essay.