“When I Pulled Over on the Side of the Road” by Katey Schultz
This craft essay by Katey Schultz is proof that inspiration doesn’t follow a particular timeline. In her case, a story percolated for over decade before she saw it take shape. What resulted was “Wait for Me,” which appeared in the summer 2020 issue of the Missouri Review and was a finalist for the 2019 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. You can read the story here.
What matters about the above side-by-side photos is not that they’re blurry or that the handwriting is illegible. What matters is that eleven years ago I was still waitressing two shifts a week and hadn’t published my first book but was so desperate to write down these words that I grabbed whatever I could find.
The blurry image is the new wine list I was trying to memorize. The handwritten image is my scribbles on the back of that wine list, and if you dare attempt to make out the words, you’ll see that, oddly, I wrote from the far right corner, over to the left (rather than our standard composition direction of left to right.
So many years later, this sheet of paper is still tacked to my bulletin board as proof that sometimes writing maxims are actually true: You have to let time pass. The story will reveal itself through drafts. Write whenever and wherever you can. Just start; worry about finishing later. It’s OK if you don’t know how you’ll get to the end.
If you’d told me those things the afternoon eleven years ago when I pulled over on the side of Interstate 26 in North Carolina and started writing, I would have rolled my eyes. Not because I didn’t believe them (well, maybe because I didn’t believe them). But because I had yet to experience just how deep the roots of story can go or how successful its final bloom can be.
For at least seven or eight years, I did nothing with that sheet of paper other than to move it from bulletin board to bulletin board, file to file, wall to wall, as my life expanded around me. I moved a few times. I got married. Bought a house. Had a kid. Went to a residency. . . .
And there, at Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts’ Pentaculum artist residency, “Wait for Me” unspooled. I had the wine list with the scribbles in my folder of other similar scraps and notes. I had reread it a week or so beforehand, in anticipation of the uninterrupted work time a residency affords. When I sat down to write, I didn’t even have to take out that wine list. The voices were already there, waiting. The activity of the opening scene appeared as vividly as my own hands in front of me. The characters—somehow I knew their gender roles should be reversed from my initial scribbles, that the girl would bully the boy, not the other way around—were talking faster than I could type.
But I’m not going to lie and say that “the rest is history.” That’s a cop-out, and, besides, it glosses over the very best of what happens for writers when inspiration, discipline, time, and alchemy line up. Which is to say, I opened up Google Maps, switched it to satellite view, found a small town in West Virginia, moved the screen around a little bit until I found Morgantown, and then a not-too-distant large swath of forest and a lake. Now I had a setting I could work from, manipulate, and make my own (fictionalizing some bits, borrowing other bits).
From there, another maxim proved true: Landscape is character is plot.
At least, for me it is. Because as soon as I hear the voices of my narrators or characters in dialogue, I have to make their feet touch the ground in order to believe whatever they’re going to do next. And as soon as their feet touch the ground, they’re in reaction to the world around them. After that, plot really gets going.
By the end of that residency, I had a draft of the story not too terribly different from the version named Finalist in the Missouri Review’s Jeffrey E. Smith’s Editor’s Prize.
KATEY SCHULTZ is the author of Flashes of War, which the Daily Beast praised as an “ambitious and fearless” collection, and Still Come Home, a novel, both published by Loyola University Maryland. Honors for her work include the Linda Flowers Literary Award, Doris Betts Fiction Prize, Foreword INDIES Book of the Year for both titles, gold and silver medals from the Military Writers Society of America, five Pushcart nominations, a nomination to Best American Short Stories, National Indies Excellence Finalist recognition, and writing fellowships in eight states. She lives in Celo, North Carolina, and is the founder of Maximum Impact, a transformative mentoring service for creative writers that has been recognized by both CNBC and the What Works Network. Learn more at www.kateyschultz.com.
Blurred Words: Weird Al & Colliding Worlds
By Allison Coffelt
If you’d asked me a week ago about Weird Al Yankovic, I would have said it was time to give up the ghost. Weird Al is one of those seminal (artists? singers? comedians?) people whose work has spanned generations. He’s iconic. Most of us under the age of 40 have a Weird Al song they remember from when they were growing up. Maybe it was “Eat It” or “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi.”
Weird Al hadn’t been funny to me for a while, but that just changed. Here are three things that drew me back to Weird Al – a sentence I never thought I’d write – and they all have to do with his new video “Word Crimes.”
1. Weird Al: Normalizing my behavior since 2014.
Last Sunday, while sipping coffee, listening to Weekend Edition, and gazing out at the crappy lot of the body shop behind my apartment, Tamara Keith’s interview with Weird Al began. I was reaching to switch the radio (could Weird Al possibly have anything new to say?) when he started talking about correcting grammar. He said he would be driving around, see a road sign, and fix the wording in his head. I, too, do this. When I’ve asked other friends who love words if they slip into this habit, they look at me like I’m sick. I’m not sick. And thanks to Weird Al for being the one to prove it.
Let’s not look too closely at that logic.
2. Your Dad sends you the video.
Another reason you may, like me, need to give Weird Al some credit for his spot-on-ness with this video is when friends and loved ones send you the link: “Literacy’s your mission!” the song says, “There are dancing question marks in the video!” your friend says, “I thought of you immediately!” your dad says.
There’s also a section in the song where Weird Al discusses the Oxford comma, which I dearly love, regardless of what Vampire Weekend says. This viewpoint, I understand, is contentious. If someone thought to send you the video, you probably have your own opinion on the matter and you probably begrudgingly admit that either/either is acceptable.
An added bonus: Weird Al’s word rules make an exception for Prince. As they should.
An added added bonus: You can finally explain what you’re going to do with that English degree. I quote: “You should hire/ some cunning linguist/ to help you distinguish/ what is proper English.”
3. The music video is in kinetic text.
Man, I love the design of this video. Kinetic text, or a fancy way of saying those videos where the text becomes the movie (like ShopVac ), is not only cleverly done in this video, but also fitting. Animated words: how better to show the emphasis on the right syllable?
Well Weird Al, you got me.
Like the terribly catchy beat of that song, the thing I can’t get out of my head now are questions of what is permissible, what is stickler, and how our language —the thing that unites and binds and evolves with us— is changing.
I’ve been thinking about this because the other day at The Missouri Review, we were discussing the role of blogs and social media in the literary world. One person likened blogs and to pop music— they’re fun, fast, digestible, and have a short shelf life. It can be great and it’s its own thing. Literature, we said as we swirled our brandy in embossed snifters, is like classical music. It takes time. But in the weird space that is the internet, these things are colliding, and we’re still figuring out how they feed and harm each other.
I’m fascinated when pop culture concerns itself with words, language, or literature because it’s a collision of the instantaneous and the ancient.
The challenge to offer curated, thoughtful, unrushed content is steep. It takes a lot of resources and time. That doesn’t mean, though, that readers don’t also want something salient, quick, and fun.
I think there’s room for both. Just as we’ve seen a boom in articles-as-lists and computer-generated material (think Buzzfeed and financial market data), we’ve seen an uptick in long-form reporting and the slow reveal of stories (think The Atlantic and Breaking Bad). It’s a trend that’s crossing media sectors, as John Borthwick points out in his recent article on Medium.
So, the question becomes one of sourcing. Who will provide each? Can some outlets provide both? What will be the effect on and for readers? We’re still trying to figure out the answer. I think the experiment where pop and classic cohabitate is worth watching. In some instances, it’s a question of what happens when proper grammar gets a remix.
The Shapeshifting Literary Journal
An article at the Guardian by Ben Johncock last week provided some commentary on those literary journals that have struck out into Twitter and Facebook, and other such media, in order to target readers in novel ways. Johncock writes in praise mostly of those journals that have adapted completely to the existence of the Internet, distributing their content via electronics alone. He cites several journals I’ve never heard of, perhaps because they are British, though the Atlantic Ocean really shouldn’t restrict me from seeing them, considering the worldwide reach of a journal published online.
Johncock’s article set me thinking all weekend about the implications of journals that have established blogs and presences on social media like Twitter and Facebook. It’s not simply that new journals, and particularly electronic ones, are establishing social media accounts; many of those print journals that have been around for years, such as this one, have done it, too. Even as I made breakfast yesterday, and observed on Saturday that I should wash my car, I was thinking about this.
When a literary journal establishes a blog, and when, like this one, it is managed and contributed to by those staff members and interns who help make the journal function, it constitutes – it seems to me – a reversal of the dynamic that the literary journal is used to functioning under, in which potential contributors submit their work in the hope of seeing it printed. Although TMR still, of course, does that, it simultaneously maintains this space, where content is provided by those who, more passively, or at least much less visibly, help to select new content for the magazine (editing is, of course, hardly a passive activity).
Working for a literary journal, at least in the case of TMR, is no longer a matter only of reading potential content and helping to determine whether it is suitable for publication. It has become a job in which one writes under the aegis of the same print journal that others are working very hard to be published in. I don’t want to suggest for a second that writing this blog post is in any way equivalent to publishing work in any literary journal, let alone TMR – the difference in prestige alone is a vast one. And the blog post is a genre unto itself, one that has no direct equivalent on the pages of literary journals; those who look for what we elsewhere call creative nonfiction, or essays more specifically, in blog posts, are looking in the wrong places. A blog post needs to be timely in a way that the typical essay isn’t; the need to integrate images into a blog post is more urgent than in more traditional prose forms; and a blog post can be sloppy and still accomplish something more readily than an essay can. So I hope, anyway, and also, I feel like paragraphs have an altogether different identity in a blog post than they do in print – but I’m straying.
Staff – and editors in particular – have always had a limited role in producing content for the journals they publish, with an editor providing an introduction to a given issue, or foregrounding a particular issue’s feature. I think of this blog as a sort of extension of that. Even though our blog posts aren’t usually in direct reference to the magazine, their essential role is to support, or draw attention to, the magazine. These things I write come out of my head, but they’re publicly available thanks to, and on behalf of, TMR.
What interests me most about the fact of the staff of a literary journal writing on behalf of that journal, as I’m doing now, is that in this small way, the literary journal – or this one and a handful of others – has become a little more like a different kind of magazine, or a newspaper, in that the staff working on the journal have the dual role of being staff writers, albeit in this tertiary space. I don’t know entirely what to make of that, except to declare how it interests me, that as newspapers and magazines fold all around us, not only are altogether new publications and blogs taking their places – or edging them out and helping to bring about their demise – existing publications like TMR are also expanding in these small ways to help fill in some gaps. They’re changing shape, even if you wouldn’t know it by looking at their print manifestations alone.
One last thing that I find quotable in Johncock’s article are two very good questions, concerning the ways in which new publications are establishing electronic forums for publishing short stories. He writes, “Could we be in a place now where technology has brought us full circle? Where that which took us away from stories is now set to bring us back to them?” The suggestion that technology might have run its course as a tool for distraction, and that we’re now figuring out how to make use of it more intelligently – to provide literature in a new fashion, for example – is very exciting, to put it as vaguely as I must in order to end this post.
Robert Long Foreman is The Missouri Review’s Social Media Editor.
Off They Go
The end of July also means the end of our summer internship class. We’ve had a wonderful group that was with us for eight weeks – way too short – and they’ve done a tremendous job on putting the finishing touches on the new issue out now and the autumn issue, which will be arriving in September. In this space, over the course of the next few weeks, you’ll read interviews our interns have conducted with previous contributors to TMR, the first of which was Olivia’s conversation with Tom Ireland. As always, we hope that a few interns will get the opportunity to return in autumn or spring.
Every few weeks, our intern staff turns over. But this time of year also brings massive turnover with the departure of key graduate editors and staff. After several years with TMR, Lania Knight accepted a position with Eastern Illinois University and hotfooted it out of CoMo. The inclusion of audio recordings of each and every piece we publish was the brain child of Lania and our previous managing editor, Richard Sowienski, sparked by a random “Hey, did you ever consider …?” conversation in the hallway years ago. She helped write the grant, build the studio (which is in room 54 of our building. yes, it is Studio 54. yes, really!), master the software, discovered the voice talent, conducted print interviews with writers like David Sedaris and Paul Eggers, worked with NPR affiliated across the country, and made our audio recordings what is today. She’s left a massive imprint on us all here, and we’re grateful for all her time here. Check out her fiction here.
This year, Stephanie Carpenter often appeared in our offices at odd hours with a large stack of essays sitting haphazard on the coffee table. She’s been gracious with her time as a senior reader for us as another set of smart, critical eyes for the prose we consider. She also worked as our contest editor back in 2007-08. You can read one of her stories here. She’s headed back to her home state of Michigan where she’ll start at UM-Flint in the fall and teach Tom Izzo how to run the motion offense.
Dan Stahl has been “editorial assistant” with us for almost two years, but that title doesn’t do justice to what he has meant to us. Dan has done just about every project conceivable here, from manuscript reading and editing, research projects, and even filling in as our office manager for six weeks with just a moment’s notice. As the Swiss Army knife of TMR, he’ll be terribly missed.
Finally, our poetry editor, Marc McKee, has accepted a one-year appointment down at Warrensburg. He’ll have the chance to leave his fingerprints on Pleiades, another fine journal from deepinthehearta, and educate the youngsters on how to write awesome poetry. Speaking of fine poetry, remember that Marc’s first full-length collection, Fuse, will be out from Black Lawrence Press in 2011. As poetry editor, he’s championed a wide-range of wonderful poets that have appeared in the last four issues and had their work appear on our website as our Poem of The Week feature. Or to use an analogy that Marc and I will enjoy, he’s been vintage Dominique Wilkens to my Doc Rivers the past six months.
So, bon voyage, y’all. A short blog post won’t be enough to tell Marc, Stephanie, Dan, Lania, and our entire intern staff how much they’ve meant to us. Their work and friendship has made my transition into TMR easy. For our readers, their influence over the last several years is in the pages of TMR and the great interviews, stories, essays, and poems you’ve read – and, yes, listened to! – for years. Good organizations are only as strong as the people that work there, and because of them, we’ve been fortunate enough to have not been not good but great. Thank you!
Michael Nye is the managing editor of The Missouri Review.
Crash Into Me
The advanced copy of the summer issue just arrived on our doorstep. Which means your copy will be shipping in the next few days. We hope that it goes this week, but we hit a bit of a snafu with the boxes. Typically, our issues are 192 pages, but this action packed ditty has 208 pages, which means our mailer needed to find slightly larger boxes than normal, hence, a short delay.
(Digression: My buddy Dave and I love baseball. Whenever we’re at a game and it’s tied after nine innings, one of us yells “Free baseball!” One of the beauties of baseball is that it is a timeless game: there is no clock so the game ends only at its own pace. Some sports fans, of course, don’t like this and wish the game was faster. Not us. Now, of course, “Free Literature!” doesn’t have quite the same ring, but hey, you get the idea …)
Our summer issue is titled “Crash.” We have new fiction by Wade Ostrokwski, Becky Adnot Hayes, Devin Murphy, and Nathan Hogan’s first published story, “The Church at Yavi.” Our essays are M.C. Armstrong’s fascinating look at Ken and Faye Kesey’s life after the death of their son in a school bus accident, and Sharon Solwitz’s examination of her struggles with her husband as he suffers through the late stages of multiple sclerosis. Also, new poems by Benjamin Grossberg, Jonathan Johnson, and Cubs fan John W. Evans. We also have a terrific Found Text feature on the letters of James Stern, and poetry editor Marc McKee sits down with Natasha Trethewey to talk poetry, New Orleans, and LeBron James (okay, I made that last one up).
A big Thank You to all our contributors, staff, designers, and printers: the new issue looks wonderful! I know our readers will soon agree.
Michael Nye is the managing editor of The Missouri Review.
Blue Boy selected to premiere at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
Sixteen years ago we published a remarkable coming-of-age short story by Kevin Canty, which was later included in his fiction collection A Stranger in This World. This year, that story, “Blue Boy,” will come to life on the big screen at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival. This short film is one of only 46 shorts and one of only 8 student films selected to be screened. bcpid1475276001?bctid=16772536001
We also look forward to reading Canty’s upcoming story collection, Where the Money Went, due out from Random House this summer.
Real-life tragedy as story idea?
Eric Daniel Metzgar’s Reporter profiles New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof’s work in the Congo. The film, screened last weekend at the True/False Film Fest, concentrated on Kristof’s relentless pursuit to find the face of the Congo. He found that face attached to the 60-pound body of a 41-year-old woman displaced by the warring lords of the Congo. Her name was Yohanita. I say “was” because she died a few weeks after Kristof, the film crew, and two assistants to Kristof – Leanna Wen and Will Okun – found her.
The film directs attention to the problems of how people respond to the need for aid. Kristof cites multiple studies revealing people are less likely to get involved when presented with a scenario of need for two or more individuals or when presented with mass numerical statistics. However, when people are presented with a personal story, the likelihood for aid greatly increases. So, humans are humane, right? We want to connect on a personal level, right?
But what about us? What about the writers and the reporters like Kristof? It seems like sad, tragic events become story ideas. Kristof travels from village to village, asking refugee after refugee for a sick a person. Finally, he stumbles upon Yohanita and the look on his face seems so indifferent. Wen, a medical student, immediately asks for a hospital. Her face is filled with worry in mere seconds. Kristof and crew took Yohanita to a hospital after much reassurance to the villagers and family. The film shows Kristof writing in his column, “How can you walk away from a human being who will surely die if you do so?”
Even so, Kristof is conflicted by the big picture. In the same column noted above, he continues to write, “Instead of spending a few hundred dollars trying to save Yohanita, who might die anyway, we could spend that money buying vaccines or mosquito nets to save a far larger number of children in other villages.” What is more humane? Attempting to save the dying woman in front of you or raising awareness about the hundreds and thousands dying all around her?
I refuse to believe we, as writers, lose our hearts and souls to the story idea. I believe what Kristof does is incredible. However, I can’t help but wonder, as Kristof walks to his jeep and waves farewell to the villagers and says to them, “I hope things get better,” does he really mean it?
On the intersection of docs and lit magazines
In addition to the dozens of docs screened during the True/False Film fest, a number of workshops and classes are offered. Wanting to deepen my knowledge of the industry, I checked out a couple, including “Hybrid Cinema: A Filmmaker’s Guide to DIY, Web and Self-Distribution.”
Jon Reiss, director of Bomb It, a doc about the “battle for public space throughout the world” (or graffiti), led the presentation. I was struck with the similarities of marketing a literary journal and marketing a documentary film. At one point, Reiss stated that when the doc was completed, the filmmaker was only half-way through the process. He or she must get it out in the public. I think, in some broad way, that’s true of a literary magazine. After we’ve accepted the final prose or poetry piece for our journals, we’re ready to put our feet on the desk, lean back in our office chair, and congratulate ourselves on putting together another fine publication. But as wonderful as our magazines may be, we haven’t done our job fully until we’ve reached the largest audience possible given our budget, personnel, and time constraints.
For many in literary publishing, marketing may be the least favored part of the job. As Reiss said early in his presentation, he went into filmmaking because he didn’t want to go into business—but that career choice turned him into a businessman. Likewise, I’m sure many of us feel the same way about marketing, but if we want our journal to succeed, we need to make smart choices.
Reiss uses his blog (http://jonreiss.com/blog/) to raise attention for his films and long-term audience development. You can check out his blog to see what he’s doing in this regard. And if anyone is interested in some of his specific blogging tips, comment below and I’ll add a “part two” later in the week.
Video Feature: Speer Morgan Talks About the Early Days of TMR
As we continue our expansion into different forms of online media, The Missouri Review is pleased to introduce you to own first video posting on You Tube! In this short feature, TMR Editor Speer Morgan talks about the early days of the magazine.
Two of the best
When I was sorting through the mail last week shortly before leaving for Thanksgiving break I spied our copy of Best New Poets 2007. As I flipped through the pages two names stood out, so I wanted to take a moment to congratulate these individuals–Elizabeth Langemak and Brett Foster–both former TMR interns.
Good job and best wishes!