Posts Categorized: Fiction

Inside IR: Meet the Editors

This week, IR’s prized and plucky Fiction Editor Rachel Lyon, shares some of her favorite journals with unique pursuits and reminds us that we all still need to read Moby Dick.

Photo sources: Tom Neely, Vanessa Michelle, Indiana Review

Where are you from?
Brooklyn, New York.

Favorite issue of IR?
31.2, Winter 2009, because it was the first issue I saw. It’s as old as my studentship at IU, and it introduced me to the work of writers like Michael Martone and Dan Beachy-Quick, whose work I still follow. Plus, I love that wicked rabbit on the cover.

Favorite non-IR journals?
I love the Canadian journal Geist. It’s funny, Canada isn’t that far away, but reading Geist you get a real sense of a different culture. I’m also interested in journals that are dedicated to more specific projects, like Alimentum, a journal that showcases work about food, which Deb introduced me to; Memoir, which pushes the boundaries of traditional memoir; Fourth Genre, which focuses on creative nonfiction; or Camera Obscura, which has some beautiful fiction and photography.


What/Who is on your reading wish list right now?
I am itching for summer, when I’ll have the time to finally read Moby Dick. The short passages that I have read are stunning. I can’t wait to read it from beginning to end.


What do you hope to see next for IR?
I’m interested to see where we go in the next five or ten years with digital literature, interactive written work that is only available online. I think digital literature offers some really interesting possibilities, and I will be following IR long after I graduate to see how we eventually develop those ideas.

2011 Fiction Prize Winner & Runners-Up


Announcing our winner of the 2011 Fiction Prize


Elise Winn

Davis, California

& Runners-Up:

“Eight, Nineteen, Twenty-Seven”

Natasha Sunderland

“Last Night with Cicely”

Kyle Winkler

Congratulations to our contest winner, Elise Winn, our runners-up, Natasha Sunderland and Kyle Winkler, and all our fantastic finalists. We’d also like to extend a huge thank you to our final judge, Kevin Brockmeier, and all of our contest entrants, for making our 2011 fiction contest a success!

Dialect and Bias

“Well… yawl have looked long enough. What you think about them?”

“We been watching… who they now?”

“Displaced Persons…. Well now. I declare. What do that mean?”

“It means they ain’t where they were born at and there’s nowhere for them to go—like if you was run out of here and wouldn’t nobody have you.”

“It seems like they here, though… if they here, they somewhere.”

The above is excerpted from Flannery O’Connor’s story “The Displaced Person,” published in 1953 in the collection A Good Man is Hard to Find. Since O’Connor’s death in 1964, the way we use dialect in fiction has changed significantly. The dialect in which O’Connor wrote her characters’ dialogue was complex enough in the 1950s. Sixty years later, it seems to me that the use of dialect is a dying practice—not least because with each passing decade it’s become increasingly racially, politically, and socioeconomically problematic. Dialect can also signal the contemporary reader to read a character as ‘other,’ which in turn can take that reader out of the story and discourage identification with the character.

But dialect can also be powerful. Nothing conveys a character’s voice and tone with as much immediacy. And in a time when reading has become an essentially visual experience—the text we read online and on our phones is compressed, abbreviated, translated into symbols—dialect can encourage the reader to connect with the written word on an aural level.

Visitors to the site The Dialectizer can input text and have it translated by a computer program into a number of dialects, including Jive, Cockney, Elmer Fudd, Swedish Chef, and even Hacker (the last of which I suspect isn’t a dialect at all, since it’s only ever typed, not spoken…). Imagine reading the following in a story, a familiar joke I ‘translated’ into a dialect the site calls Redneck: “Whuffo’ did th’ possum crost th’ road? To git t’t’other side.” In the work of a contemporary author, I imagine that little line would come off as satirical at best, offensive at worst. For the writer, though, particularly during an era when creating dialect is as simple as inputting text into a Web site, it can read as lazy characterization.

Ultimately, I suspect that the problem of dialect is just one facet of a much larger one: Good dialogue—like a good man—is hard to find.

What’s your opinion of dialect in fiction? Is it an outdated practice? Or can it be used wisely? We’d love to know your thoughts!

National Novel Writing Month

Today I ran into a colleague of mine who looked particularly haggard. It being the rear-end of a long and grueling semester, I thought nothing of it at first. But after watching her fall asleep during office hours and noticing the black pies pooled below her eyes, I asked how things were. Great, she assured me. I must have looked at her skeptically though, because she proceeded to explain that on top of her teaching and coursework, she has undertaken quite the task: writing a 50,000 word novel by the end of November. This means a little more than 1,600 words a day–no small feat! The novel must be new (no copy pasting from older writing) and all the original work of the author, and more than one word. Other than that, no rules, except the clock!

As I heard this I wondered a) at her sanity and b) at the type of writing a project like this fosters. On further reflection though, I can’t help think this is a pretty neat national campaign, especially in a culture less than obsessed with the written word. The value, I think, becomes less in finishing a 50,000 word masterpiece in 30 days, and more in putting up a valiant effort. Many people never finish, and only one wins the official contest, but the benefits are far greater. Making writing a habit, approaching it as a creative challenge worth pursuing, embracing it as a way of life–all things National Novel Writing Month fosters–are things I believe in.

I’m not a fiction writer but a poet, so the idea of writing 50,000 words scares me silly. That being said, I think I can learn from my fellow writers–part of writing is putting something on the page every day and believing in one’s ability to write something grand. It’s about writing as part of a community and encouraging each other in creative pursuits. About the powers of chocolate and caffeine and the inspiration procrastination can lead to. We’re halfway through November, so I don’t think I’ll be writing a novel this month, but I will be writing. Every day.

Tell us about your novel writing experience, or get going. Only 14 days left!