They publish short fiction, novel excerpts, literary criticism, and creative non-fiction. They also accept pitches for reviews and essays. General submissions are currently open for Issue One, so check out Issue Zero and the submission guidelines; that piece you’ve been planning to send out into the world might just be a good fit for this magazine.
I do hope to come back here with a lengthier post sometime soon. I also hope each and every one of you who still happen by here from time to time is well.
I did it! I came back here to type something before letting another, entire year pass!
You may not see that as an accomplishment per se (especially since it’s been a few months 🤫), but in this fishbowl life I now lead, I’m counting every remotely positive act as a win.
I actually came back here because I realized I hadn’t updated my Publications page in a while (and I actually had things to add to it 🙌🏾). But doing so immediately stirred a bajillion thoughts into activity. Among them?
How well does my old work hold up? Why is it so hard to allow artists to change? Why is it so hard to allow people to change? Why does a greater number of publications inspire faith in that writer? What kind of writer/person am I really?
While that last one is maybe a bit too involved for this platform, it won’t hurt to briefly consider those other nuggets. FYI, I don’t expect to make any major breakthroughs here; I’m just recording my thoughts as they slide by.
How well does my old work hold up?
I don’t think many writers consider the “timelessness” of their work as they’re writing it, which can actually be quite useful. Most of us have enough weighing us down during the drafting process without the added pressure of the possible ways in which our work will be scrutinized by future readers.
We can never predict the turns the world’s thinking will take years down the line. Besides, not thinking too hard about the zeitgeist you inhabit allows for a more authentic portrayal of it. Readers will get a peek at the concerns of the day, even if you’re writing something fantastical, as the most prominent anxieties of the world we’re living in tend to creep in whether we want them to or not.
It’s also beneficial to view past publications as a scrapbook, not only of where you were as a writer at the time, but of what was going on in your life & head when you wrote the piece in question. This is actually how I treat my tattoos. I can look at any one of them and remember exactly where I was emotionally, and why I chose that particular image. When viewing our work as a time capsule, it can be amazing to see how far we’ve come since. However, it can also be cringetastic to come across constructions, methods, and (worst of all) ideas that have become outdated in your work, especially when you consider yourself open-minded and forward-thinking.
When this happens, there are one of two paths you can take after interrogating these old ways and ideas. You can either grow and change/realize how much you’ve grown and changed, or you can double down. This is not to say that whatever the prevailing opinion is at the time of review is necessarily the right one. Whether it is or isn’t depends on you, and who you are now in relation to who you have been. Have you found better ways to communicate your ideas? How do your techniques/ideas/etc. affect your readers? Are you excluding other people’s experiences? Why and to what degree? How important is all of this to you? It’s completely sensible to operate on a case-by-case basis and consider these questions accordingly.
Why is it so hard to let artists/people change?
We’ve all heard the term “sell-out,” right? Sometimes — when someone has gone from producing something soul-bearing and gorgeous to pooping out “products” that are barely as substantial as a sugar cube, only to make millions off the latter — the term can feel spot-on. But I actually think this term has been hella misused, and is often more indicative of our demands on others than of any disappointing behavior on that person’s part (at least if we’re talking about creative output). I have often encountered people who use the term “sell-out” as soon as someone stops making things that resonate with them. Entertainment, no matter what form it takes, is generally something we use to comfort ourselves. What strikes a chord with us is hugely dependent on our emotional state and the experiences that have made us who we are. We can grow apart from our favorite creators in much the same way that we grow apart from the most important people in our lives. It doesn’t have to mean that either one of us has betrayed the other — we’ve simply evolved in different directions.
When a story, song lyric, painting, or other piece of art hits us just right, it makes us feel seen. Known. This stranger, who we will likely never meet, somehow knows the truest version of us without our having had a single conversation. This experience can have the effect of forging a one-way bond between consumer and maker, which can then lead to the illusion of ownership. Because we have invested money and/or (more importantly) time in the consumption of someone’s craft, we as consumers might start to believe that we have the right to dictate the path this person’s artistic evolution takes, and that we have the final say on which output of theirs is “good” and which is “bad.” All of this (for me) leads back to that strange phenomenon of a person centering their own experience of something as the MOST valid.
This gets more complicated when we look at two-way relationships with people we actually know. When someone hurts you, it leaves a deep impression. Logically we know, from the experience of living our own lives, that people might do things that they later regret once they’ve experienced more of the world and broadened their way of thinking. However, we experience a palpable disconnect from this fact when we’re on the business end of regrettable behavior. Regardless of how much time has passed, if we see the person who hurt us again, the very first memory that will leap to mind is likely of the pain they caused. Even if they appear to behave differently, there will always be that little, wretched voice in our heads that says it’s only a matter of time. Any mistake they make from that point on will be judged as a reflection of who they truly are rather than a negligible error any normal person might make. I’ve been thinking more about this lately. It can be difficult to balance emotional maturation with not wanting to be made a fool of.
Which brings me to the tendency to withhold forgiveness. From creators of things we love to the people we love (or once loved)… What is it that allows us to acknowledge our own growth while rejecting everyone else’s? The ego as protector? Sure. But there is (of course) a lot more to all of this, and I don’t have the space/time/etc. to go into it properly.
Why does a large number of publications inspire faith in a writer?
This is an easy one, I hear you say. It’s because if multiple bodies have deemed this person’s work worthy of publication, that must mean it is worthy. And obviously, even if that’s true, the inverse — that anyone who isn’t widely published isn’t worth reading — isn’t necessarily true. Duh, I also hear you say. Yeah, I know. But as a writer, that second part is a thought my brain snags on every once in awhile. Here’s a PSA for me and for you: It’s OK to be where you are in your publishing journey.
I used to have this little disclamatory (I totes made that up) phrase at the top of my Publications page: I’m working on growing this list but, for now, have a look at what’s here so far. I noticed it while I was updating the page today, a forgotten apology to anyone who might stumble across the paltry number of offerings listed there and scoff. The expectation of a good writer is that they will be published often, even before they’ve published a book. But some writers don’t submit to many literary journals for reasons that are entirely their own. Or maybe a writer has submitted to tons of journals, but those journals weren’t the right fit for one reason or another. Or maybe the writer was abducted by aliens riiiight before they clicked “send” on a piece they were planning to submit. We can only judge the work available to be read as either good or not good based on our own parameters, but that judgment is ours. We can never know all the reasons why there isn’t a great, big, fuck-off list of credits to someone’s name, even if they try to tell us in as honest and self-aware a way as possible. No need to feel ashamed if you notice that someone else has published more often than you. I’m sure you have your reasons. And, you can always decide to hunker down and start blasting out submissions at a higher rate (once you’ve found the right places to submit to). Before you know it, your list of pubs will be something people have to scroll through. Or you could decide not to, because doing so is not every writer’s style or mission.
Basically, the moral of today’s post, kids, is that we’re all complicated little squiggles whose lines overlap endlessly. All you can really do is give people — and yourself — the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best. And keep writing.
Anyone who has wandered back by here since my last post (where I lamented having taken so long to post again. Treading familiar territory, aren’t we?) is likely fed up with my shenanigans. To that I say, fair enough.
I’ve spent the last few months working toward a self-imposed deadline to finish the short story collection I mentioned the last time I was here. It’s changed direction a few times since I started working on it, but now it’s “done” and in that place of being looked over by another set of eyes before I do another revision/editorial pass on it. I’m pleased with where it is right now, and even more pleased to have finished it after spending an insane amount of time worrying that I’d never again have an idea worth pursuing. Good times.
I’ve thankfully left that particular mental abyss behind (for now).
I’m writing this on the fly. Just a quick update. I’m still figuring out the next big steps I’ll take in my life, but I feel good about where I am right now. I’ve joined the staff of a literary journal as a fiction editor and am really enjoying it. Our reading period is well underway, so I’ve been reading a lot of interesting stories and being forced constantly to reevaluate what I think makes a story great, which I absolutely love. I always want to stay fresh when it comes to my opinions on…well…everything to be honest. I think it’s important to interrogate your own views regularly and to be able to articulate (without borrowed opinions) why you believe what you believe. It’s so easy to slip into the opinions of others as if they were our own without even meaning to. No judgement here — I’m including myself in this. So, I try to check in with myself and reflect on any strongly held beliefs alongside any info I’ve lately received until I’ve determined anew where I stand. It can be frightening to realize how little we actually have control of; beliefs are an exception I’m very grateful for.
My little fur-children are well. Still butt-faces, but healthy, (seemingly) happy butt-faces, so hooray! 🙌🏾
Even though things have opened back up in different parts of the world, I still mostly have friend-dates online (primarily bc the majority of my friends live elsewhere). The latest thing I’ve done with friends is watch Channel Zero, Season 1. All I can say about that is…someone deserved a big ole award for costume design (and quite a few characters deserved Darwin awards, but that’s a different conversation. Ma’am… why are you going into that basement alone? 🤨). I’ve been reading as many books as possible, too, but have sometimes found it awkward to balance between reading for the journal, writing my own work, and reading published work. The latter has taken the biggest hit, but I’ll never stop picking things up. My favorite recent read is Craft in the Real World, by Matthew Salesses.
It’s not a how-to book on writing so much as a theoretical exploration of what craft does and can mean in relation to culture, and a refutation of the idea that “pure craft” exists. It’s an excellent continuation of a discussion other, similarly concerned authors of color, like Toni Morrison in Playing in the Dark (one of my absolute FAVORITE books), have contributed to in which cultural identity is definitively linked to the craft of writing, as well as the more inclusive ways in which writing can and should be evaluated moving forward. I especially enjoyed reading about this subject from Salesses’s perspective as a Korean-American writer and educator. I can’t recommend this one enough.
I hope things have been going well for you, the person reading this somewhat haphazard collection of thoughts, and I also hope to come back here sooner than before with even more to say.
I’m working on a new project now. A short story collection. I won’t say too much about it here, but I would like to say a little about what the process of working on it has given back to me.
I spent a very long time working on the novel I wrote prior to what I’m writing now. Years of developing the characters, the story, and improving my skill as a writer led to the completion of a project I was very proud of. But I made a big mistake: I hung all of my hopes on that one book. I went on submission with it for quite some time, but no dice. I actually have a pretty good understanding of why my novel hasn’t been picked up, and I don’t have any negative feelings about it. However, when you pour so much of yourself into something that doesn’t go as far as you had initially hoped, it can make you a little gun-shy when it comes to starting something new. I finished the book in August 2017. I did of course go back through it to make edits and small revisions before submitting it as part of my doctoral thesis in October 2018. But after that, I wasn’t able to finish another story for quite some time. It took until March 2020 for me to begin a new story that I would actually complete.
Creating anything takes a lot out of you. But it takes even more to put that thing you created in front of new sets of eyes and wait for someone to give it the green light. If anyone reading this right now is going through that process right now, don’t be discouraged. This is all part of it. And it’s OK to take some time between projects to re-evaluate where you are. You’re allowed to REST before starting something new. It took a long time for me to stop feeling guilty about not yet feeling up to following through on a new story. In fact, I often feel guilty anytime I’m in transition. I always feel like I should be farther along my path to success, and I forget to be grateful for what I already have. I forget to be happy that I’m back with people I’ve missed and love very much. I forget to appreciate the unique opportunity I’ve been given to grow and change in a loving environment. Not everyone has those things.
But now that I’ve spent some time working through some of my more anxiety-producing thoughts and feelings, I’m in a much better headspace. I am now quite near the end of something new that excites me and feels good to work on. I’m back to enjoying the process again, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Not only that, but I am glad to have that first submission period under my belt. Now I’m a little wiser and even better prepared to dive back in when the time comes.
I just wanted to come back here and tell you that, in case these are words you needed to read.
I love being alone. However, in the midst of enforced isolation, I now take less and less pleasure in it.
It makes sense. No one wants to do something just because they have to. Half the fun of being alone when you don’t have to be is knowing that you could be doing a million other things with a million other people, but instead choosing to spend that time with yourself. I’m still grateful to be in a position of relative freedom. I can do what I want when I like, and there’s nothing like that. I’ve discovered, though, that with an abundance of time comes mental pickiness. I could’ve read at least ten books in the time I’ve been sequestered on my own, but I’m finding it hard to get through even one. Friends of mine have said the same thing. Now that we have all this time, none of us wants to do the things we used to struggle to find time for. It’s as ridiculous as it is logical. These activities are no longer treats of stolen time we get to indulge in around the planned mundanities of life. The indulgent has become mundane.
What, then, is the antidote?
Well… for me, it’s been the things that, if life were normal, I would have to do. Writing, for example, is something I would and will do no matter what. I need to keep writing if I don’t want to wake up one day to find I’m suddenly terrible at it. But other things like searching for and doing jobs definitely keep me tethered to reality even though reality has changed. I may not always remember what day it is, but I make a point each day of being productive in big and small ways. Doing the dishes. Working on commission. Cleaning the cat-box and sweeping up after. Each activity is a peg that keeps the tent from blowing away.
The other day, I revisited the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Fever To Tell, an album I’d loved in high school. Every song sounds like it was recorded in someone’s garage. It’s messy, screamy, and frenetic with the occasional moment of quiet. It’s the perfect reflection of the hormonal roller coaster I was on at the time. Even now, I can listen to it and remember how free I felt jumping around the living room of our 2-bedroom apartment when my mom wasn’t home, fists mauling the air, before drinking a bunch of Monster or Red Bull to calm down (because back then, energy drinks made me sleepy).
Listening to Fever To Tell sent me down a high school/undergrad music rabbit hole. I listened to the other Yeah Yeah Yeahs albums I’d loved (Show Your Bones, and It’s Blitz!), then on to The Vines’ album Winning Days, with its psychedelic beauty. It’s always been one of my favorites to harmonize to. I used to lay on my back on the floor, breathe out the notes and watch them float up to the ceiling. Then an old favorite I’d almost forgotten about: Hot Hot Heat. You’ve probably heard the song “Bandages” about a billion times; it’s been used in commercials and to make grocery shopping slightly more interesting. The albums Make Up the Breakdown and Elevator were in constant rotation in my room, my car, and my mom’s car whenever I rode with her, much to her chagrin.
Music has always been incredibly important to me. But these albums, and this period, marked the first time I consciously thought of certain albums as part of my identity. Unlike middle school, where the main objectives were to make my friends laugh and escape the notice of bullies, high school was about figuring out how to separate who I had decided I was from the mass of my peers while forging connections with other kids whose weirdness complemented mine. I miss hearing a song and knowing it was a piece of me. I miss gathering tunes like seashells to complete my Who Am I? tapestry. I miss believing there would be a moment in the future when that tapestry would be complete.
It was strangely comforting to think I would someday be a finished, unchangeable version of myself. Comforting because it meant knowing something, anything, for sure. Of course now, the idea of such an existence horrifies me. I’m so grateful that the process of growing and changing won’t stop until I’m dead. And even then, everyone’s ideas of me will continue to grow and change as the stories of those who knew me and the stories I’ve written all meet and overlap for the first or the hundredth time. People will learn things they never knew and a new tapestry will form.
For now, I can take comfort in the knowledge that those pieces of me from years ago are still there, shining in the dark to guide me back to myself when the path ahead gets hard to see. Hearing the song “Amnesia” puts the same beatific smile on my face that its victims wear in films and soap operas. Maybe they’re remembering something, too. Something more important than their names.
I definitely didn’t think the order to stay indoors would effect me as much as it has. I like hanging out with my friends, but I also really love spending time on my own. Maybe it’s an only-child thing? Actually, it’s probably an introvert thing. Or both. Anyway, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. But I nearly had a conniption when I woke up yesterday and realized it was already Wednesday. I actually struggled to remember what I had been doing the day before.
I said in my last post that I teach ESL online. However, I haven’t had any classes in the last few days. I’m still quite new to the platform, so it’s less likely that I’ll get booked to teach, which means I’ve mostly been left to my own devices each day. One thing this period of self-isolation has taught me: I need to get better at managing my time. It’s easy to do when I’ve got something to plan my day around (like teaching). But sometimes, when I don’t have a plan for the day, I end up sitting in the middle of the room thinking about all the things I want to get done… and doing none of them. Or only doing bits and pieces for a few minutes at a time before saying, “I’ll just watch a YouTube video,” and the next time I look at the clock it’s 5 hours later.
Today, the things I want to do are:
1. Read. Right now, I’m reading You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, by Alexandra Kleeman. I was soooo excited back in February when I finished a book in a day and a half because it felt like an important part of me had come back. Now, in the midst of self-isolation, I’ve reverted to being scatter-brained and reading only a few pages at a time before my shamefully short attention span expires and it’s YouTube time. I am determined to finish this book before Saturday ends.
2. Write. I’m working on a new short story, which is exciting. I’ve also started a new novel, but I want to see where the short goes first. It’s hard to explain how delighted I am by the discovery that I can actually write more things, hahaha. I’ll probably write a post delving into this more deeply because… Yowza, what a feeling.
3. Exercise. In my YouTube trawling, I’ve found some great videos of exercises you can do at home and NOT in front of a massive window where strangers on the street can walk by and watch you drown in your own sweat. I really want to take advantage of this.
4. Organize my stuff. I have piles of clothes. I also have a broken dresser, no wardrobe, and a gang of moths who truly don’t want me to have nice things. I also have a cat who likes to sleep in said dresser on top of my clothes. Last week, he threw up in there and it was the grossest wake-up call EvAr. I’ve found hiding places for some of my clothes, but not all of them. I also have bags full o papers (old mail/manuscript pages/notes/useless garbage) and the tiniest goddamned shredder known to man. I also-ALSO have piles of books lying around, but no extra shelf space at the moment. Why stuff? How can fix? I need to buckle down and Marie Kondo my life.
5. Write a blog post. Hey! I did one!
Really though, I know it’s no crime not to get everything on your to-do list finished. Especially in a time of global crisis. In fact, this is probably the perfect impetus for all of us to figure some things out. And if figuring things out means falling into a time hole where nothing and no one exists for a while, do it. Who knows… it might help.
How are you getting on during all of this? I hope you and yours are safe, healthy, and able to remember what day it is.
Over and over, I’ve toyed with the idea of blogging again, but somehow felt I should have more to show for myself if and when I did. The briefest rundown of what’s happened in my life since my last post is this:
I got a literary agent.
The novel I wrote is currently on submission to publishers.
I no longer work at Foyles.
I am an ESL teacher.
My literary agent is actually a former Foyles co-worker. She told me when we both still worked there that she was planning to start her own literary agency. She also asked if she could take a look at my book when it was finished. I told her sure, and continued to write. When I did finish the book, I queried a bunch of established agents because I thought that would give my book the best possible chance. I liked my co-worker, and her taste in books, but wondered if we might get shut out by publishers because of her newness to the field. However, after receiving a few rejections, I decided to formally query her. I did want to know her opinion of the book even if we didn’t end up working together in the end. She ended up being the first agent who seemed to be as excited about my book as I was. When we had our first meeting as agent and potential client, I felt like we clicked. She understood my vision for the novel and already had plans in place for it. That was when it hit me that working with someone new could be really great. Not only was her enthusiasm encouraging, but she had a modest enough number of clients that I didn’t have to worry about getting lost in the shuffle. Also, she seemed nearly as hungry for the success of my book as I was, which is a great quality for an agent to have. As of now, we’re still plugging along together, and I’m very grateful to have met her as a fellow bookseller.
So my novel is on submission. My story is a tricky one, so I’d already anticipated this part of the process taking some time. And with the current state of the world, I imagine it will take even longer. But that doesn’t trouble me. Every story needs the right home, and however long it takes to find that home, it’ll be worth it.
I was in the UK on a student visa. Near the end of the time I’d been allotted, I applied for (and was granted) a year-long extension. However, that ended without me securing sponsored employment. And without permission to remain, I couldn’t continue working at Foyles. So I’m in the UK as a visitor now. As it is, visitors from the US are allowed to be in the UK for up to six months at a time, so here I am. I’m still job-hunting (another thing made difficult by the current state), but in the meantime, I’m doing a bit of ESL teaching online with a US-based company. I’m also looking into freelancing in whatever way I can. So yeah… keep those fingers, arms, eyes, toes….whatever you’ve got… crossed for me to find sponsorship, plz? Kthx.
Oh and also, I’m working on something new. I don’t know how it is for you other writers out there, but I had a serious crisis of confidence as my time on submission lengthened. It created a creative block in my mind. Writing is the thing (along with reading) that has defined me for most of my life. But not having the story I’d worked so long and hard to tell get snapped up immediately made me wonder if I should even continue (despite knowing that the nature of the story in question precludes this). I know this seems to directly contradict what I said a couple paragraphs back, but I was experiencing both points of view simultaneously. I never stopped wanting to write, and I whole-heartedly believe in finding the best home for a story, but at the same time, it’s always going to be at least a little discouraging not to have someone grab you by the shoulders and scream “THIS IS WONDERFUL! I WANT TO PUBLISH THIS!” It’s par for the course, this fluctuation between confidence and fear. It’s part of what makes this line of work challenging and exciting. And the hurdles make it all the more satisfying when you finally pick up a pen or sit at a keyboard and start to feel your fingers flying as fast as they can to get the words down.
I hope all of you are well, and that I can get back to making this a regular thing. I mean, what better time is there?
I’ve already mentioned my obsession with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency here. A recent episode, the fourth in the second season, had the primary villain saying something quite interesting to a character he was trying to persuade to join him.The woman he hopes to convince says that she never meant to get mixed up in all the crazy stuff that’s been happening. That she’s a “nice person.” The villain’s response?
“NO YOU’RE NOT! No. You’re. Not. The wand wasn’t drawn to you because you’re nice. You’re far better than nice; you’re interesting.”
I can’t get that sentence out of my head. You’re far better than nice; you’re interesting. If you’ve written a compelling story, these words likely describe your protagonist. Gone are the days when all heroes are weirdly god-like beings who can do no wrong. This is the heyday of the antihero.
An antihero is defined as the protagonist or hero of a tale who may possess some, but not all of the qualities typically associated with the heroes of old. Courage, physical strength, empathy, mercy, and even sometimes a random, unknown something that makes them The Chosen One. There are more, but you get what I mean. The hero is an all-around “good” person whose every quality except maybe one are traits that the general populace would consider desirable.
The antihero might have one or two of those traits, but their actions aren’t driven by a need to “do the right thing.” They do what they do because they want to. They might have a personal vendetta against someone who wronged them in the past. They might want money, power, fame, a fresh start, or simply to be left alone by society. Heck, they might do whatever they do just because it feels good to them, including murder. This puts the antihero perilously close to crossing the line into villain territory, which is exactly what makes them so interesting. Their motivations are not always clear. The means used to reach their goals are not always above board. They are muddled. They are complicated.
While the hero reflects what we aspire to, the antihero reflects what we are (with maybe an upgrade or two). Which makes them easier to identify with and root for than your run of the mill hero. What’s there to care about when you’re following the adventures of someone who always wins? It’s true that, if written well, even stories starring classically heroic protagonists will put you in suspense. But there’s something terrifying and exciting when you know the character you’re reading about could fail miserably, or that them reaching their goal could spell absolute doom for every other character.
The antihero factors more into their decision than whether or not something is “right.” In fact, they may not care enough or at all about the consequences of their actions… unless those actions further complicate their own lives. They might accomplish great things, things they’ve always wanted, only to be haunted by those same accomplishments. One of my favorite antiheroes is Victor Frankenstein, a scientific genius who succeeds in creating life from death, but must immediately face the many anxieties associated with creation, foremost of these the responsibility of the creator for their creation (and in this case, the creation’s horrific actions) despite existing apart from it.
What I mean by language that imitates life is words put together in such a way that you immediately recognize the emotional experience they’re meant to portray. One of my favorite things about reading is recognizing a character’s emotional experience as my own. When I can point at the page and say “I know exactly what that’s like!” That’s a golden moment, one that I try to produce in my stories as often as possible. That, to me, is what makes a story immersive. People connect with what they know, and it’s the writer’s job (however fantastic the tale) to give the reader an entry point into the story, a foothold.
For my critical bit, I am (re)reading a bunch of Stephen King. I’ve begun with The Shining, a book I’ve actually never read before. In Chapter Four, Jack Torrance’s son, Danny (who is waiting outside for his dad to get home), has his first vision of the awful events to come at the Overlook Hotel. As the vision fades, Jack’s VW pulls into view, and Danny is still utterly shaken by what he saw in his mind.
He went to his daddy and buried his face in Daddy’s sheepskin-lined jacket and hugged him tight tight tight.
Not only does the lack of punctuation in the sentence add to the sense of urgency Danny feels — the words staggering one after another toward some invisible exit — but the repetition in the end — “tight tight tight” — drives home the reality of Danny’s desperate relief at seeing the man he loves most and views as his protector right there in front of him in the aftermath of a hideous vision. This is a thing that Stephen King is REALLY good at. He infuses his stories with bits of emotion that seem pulled directly from the fabric of reality. And the moment is so small, but it’s something any person who is coming down from indescribable fear in the arms of a loved one can relate to. Especially as a child (that “tight tight tight” immediately says “under-the-age-of-ten” to me).
Here’s another one from the end of one of my favorite novels, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves :
Fern stood heavily and came to me. She placed her own large hand opposite mine, fingers curling slightly, scratching, as if she could reach through and take the poker chip. I signed my name again with my free hand, and she signed it back with hers, though I couldn’t tell if she’d remembered me or was simply being polite. Then she rested her forehead on the glass. I did the same and we stood that way for a very long time, face-to-face. From that vantage point, I could see her only in teary, floating pieces — her eyes the flaring of her nostrils the sparse hairs on her chin and rimming her ears the tiny rise and fall of her rounded shoulders the way her breath painted and unpainted the glass
This is one of the only moments in a novel that has ever made me cry. Everything about this evokes movements and emotions one would recognize, especially considering the characters involved (one of whom, Fern, is *spoiler* a chimpanzee). Fern “standing heavily”, her fingers “curling slightly” are recognizable to anyone who has seen a chimpanzee move. What follows is an emotionally familiar moment: the narrator making herself known — baring herself in a way — and, after receiving a response, being hopeful and unsure about what that response means. Then — THEN — the “teary, floating pieces.” UGH! THIS is something that anyone who has ever cried (aka most humans) and tried to see through their tears, will recall. You catch a detail here, another one there… And the fact that each detail is begun in lower case & without punctuation which, similarly to the Stephen King excerpt, implies a lack of a clear beginning or end to the details given, conjures up what the world is like through the blur of tears. Through that lens, every detail you catch is equal. And then Fern’s breath “painting and unpainting” the glass…
I mean, c’mon, people.
What are your favorite recognizable moments in fiction?