Posts Tagged: fiction

Interview With 2020 Don Belton Prize Judge Charles Yu

The Don Belton Prize is open until June 30th! In this interview, IR talks with prize judge Charles Yu about his writing influences, humor, and what makes a great novel.

CHARLES YU is the author of four books, including the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which was a New York Times Notable Book and named one of the best books of the year by Time magazine. He received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award and was nominated for two WGA awards for his work on the HBO series, Westworld. He has also written for upcoming shows on AMC and HBO. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, and Wired. His latest book, Interior Chinatown, will be published by Pantheon in January 2020. Check it out here.

Lots of us have “writerly obsessions.” How do you think about returning to subjects & themes in your work?

My thinking on this has changed over time. At first, I didn’t even know I had obsessions. Then after I’d written a couple dozen things, I started to see patterns. It was: hmm, what’s going on here? A little bit like every morning I would set off on a walk, and then realize I always ended up at the same park. The obsessions didn’t go away. I started to worry. For a while, I tried to get away from my usual topics, thinking they were limitations or that I would burn out my readers and myself if I kept navigating the same territory. Then, more recently, I hit a new phase. I became comfortable with my obsessions. It’s not that I don’t want to continue to break new ground or try things. I definitely do. But my obsessions have been with me for so long now. I’ve invested in them, and they’ve invested in me. Writing is hard enough, and I think most writers are very lucky to get even a little bit of territory to which they can lay any kind of claim. My topics are my topics; they define me, and I’m grateful for them. And as I age, maybe I’ll even gain a new obsession or two, or a new perspective on the ones I have.

You’ve written short stories, TV episodes, novels, and more. Can you tell us how you think about genre & medium when you write?

The thing all of those genres and media have in common is they depend on character and story. So that comes first. Viable ideas don’t present themselves that often. So when one does peek its little head out of the dirt, I try not to scare it away with the tagging gun. I’ve got to coax it out of the ground, get it to emerge fully and show itself. Once I’ve got the idea firmly in grasp (although sometimes they still get away), I can try to think about what kind of story is this? What genre or form feels right to cage it? Have I taken this analogy too far? Maybe. 

As for TV vs. prose, I was and am a fiction writer first, so words are the material I am most comfortable with. Television is a visual medium, so I have to think in images. 

Many of us are struggling to do creative work right now. What’s been helping you think creatively lately, even if it doesn’t manifest as writing?

Walks. Reading. Finding ways to have less noise and more perspective. Not easy, though—at the time I’m writing these responses, I’m 94 days into lockdown. Somewhere around day 70, I started to feel a bit foggy. It’s been a struggle. I’m thankful to have had assignments in this time—nothing like the pressure of a deadline to focus the mind.

What do you look for in a good novel?

Voice. Which for me can come from one or many places: choices with diction or grammar or syntax that perturb and excite. A liminal space—feeling like I’m in an envelope of consciousness, a permeable barrier between my thoughts and the text. That might sound a bit obscure or elliptical. What I mean is I love novels where my mind melts into the minds of the characters, and vice versa. 

Any advice for aspiring satire writers out there?

Ha! No.

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2019 1/2 K Prize Winner

Indiana Review is thrilled to announce that the winner of our 1/2 K Prize is Emily Lawson for “Coal Hollow Fire, UT.”

The prize was open to any piece under 500 words. We want to express our appreciation to everyone who submitted and made this year’s prize a success!

2019 1/2 K Winner

“Coal Hollow Fire, UT” by Emily Lawson

“The writer really impressed me with how much was built–nostalgia, regret, danger, intimacy–into this short piece that utilized sparse, beautiful language. There was such a contrast in the icy, distant language that they used while describing something so hot, so dangerous that it made me read it several times.” — Megan Giddings

Finalists

“Autopsy,” “Between Hospital Visiting Hours,” and “I Drop a White Pill in My Sink,” by A.D. Lauren-Abunassar

“How to Make Breakfast” by John Paul Martinez

“hymns to the word” by Carrie Jenkins

“Touch” by Eric Burger

Stay tuned for more prize and submission opportunities.

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Fiction Feature: “Self-Portrait” By Halimah Marcus

 

Self-Portrait

 

Going to the Frick was Mabel’s idea. The purpose was for her and I to get to know one another—me, the new wife, her, the old friend. Or not that old, really. She and Daniel had become close in the last year, which was unusual, given his moratorium on new friendships. Friends were demanding. Friends required time. Friends were a threat to the next drawer-bound novel.

            On the Q train he stood above me, feet apart, my knees between his. Daniel never sat on trains unless they were empty. How he considered the needs of others before his own, before mine, it made me feel inferior but I also respected it.

            “I used to have a company pass to the Frick,” Daniel said. That was back when he worked at the hedge fund, before he saved enough money to quit. “Maybe it still works.”

            I held the back of his knee and grinned up at him. “Either way,” I said.

            The three of us met on 70th street on a lukewarm spring day. I wore a short skirt with a crochet scarf—I didn’t like the outfit but suspected Mabel would, based on pictures of jewelry she’d made that I’d seen on her website, crafty stuff. If Daniel was anxious I couldn’t tell—anxiousness was not one of the qualities he displayed visibly. Those were limited to anger, satisfaction, and resolve. Most days, lust wasn’t even on the list. He made love almost entirely with a straight face, buried the lede on orgasms.

            As we milled about the galleries it was difficult for all three of us to stay together, so I drifted apart to the far wall or the next room. Whenever I looked for Daniel he seemed always to be with Mabel, their tolerance for each painting exactly matched. I sulked by pretending to be more independent than I felt, charting my own course through the wooden and white rooms.

            Truthfully, I wasn’t all that interested in paintings. I was practical—I appreciated culture but I didn’t confuse art as passion and I think Daniel liked that about me. I left room for him to be the creative one.

            Eventually Mabel came and brought me to stand in front of Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait” where Daniel was waiting. It was a brushy number with a lot of affectionate self-loathing in brown paint.

            I thought I was standing next to Daniel but then somehow Mabel was between us. “Peter Schjeldhal says this is the best painting in all of New York,” she said.

            I let her stay there. “And what does he say is the best pizza?”

            Daniel intervened. “I think he posed it as a question—is Rembrandt’s ‘Self-Portrait’ the best painting in New York?”

            “Well, I think it is,” Mabel said.

            “Have you seen them all?” I couldn’t help it.

            “At least the permanent collections.”

            We sidestepped to the adjacent painting, which was also a Rembrandt, and I asked her to send me the article. At least I was trying. “The Polish Rider” had more hope to it, an out-of-sight sun that was either rising or setting and a white horse that caught the light.

            “I will,” she said. “And I brought something to read about this one. But I’ll save it for dinner.”

            “You’ve made quite a syllabus.” A comment that Daniel, poor guy, let me get away with.

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Fiction Feature: “When They Spoke” By Katherine Romba

 

When They Spoke

            When cockroaches started speaking, most people thought that they were imagining things. Someone would encounter a quiet conversation between roaches in front of the refrigerator. Or would hear one talking to itself in the back of a drawer. Or would even happen upon a roach perched on a baby crib, squeaking out a lullaby. And that someone would shake their head, chuckle, and continue with their day.

            Yet only a few days after this had begun, enough encounters had been documented to convince people that roaches could now speak. Children began chasing them and packing them into jars, while scientists ran them through a battery of tests. Talk shows sparked controversy on the phenomenon. “Isn’t it interesting that these insects—which are the most likely of all living creatures to survive a nuclear holocaust—have now developed the ability to speak?” mused one expert. Incredulity turned to curiosity—and suspicion. But the roaches never spoke under duress, whether at the hands of an interrogator, scientist, or little boy; in fact, they never conversed directly with people at all.

            Until the fire. The fire started in a subway tunnel—some said that the cockroaches themselves started it, while others believed that failing electrical wires were at fault. No one could deny, however, that it was the cockroaches that saved hundreds of people from potential disaster. Even before the alarms could alert subway personnel, even before the thick black smoke began pouring into the tunnels, swarms of cockroaches had collected onto the two neighboring subway platforms and had begun warning the waiting passengers. Voices normally disappear quickly into a subway’s cavernous spaces, but when the cockroaches spoke, in unison, their voices simply became louder and clearer. All of the people under- ground escaped safely—although thirty-eight roaches died in the rescue.

            After the fire, suspicion changed to approval and gratitude. But it was unclear where to direct these feelings, because the cockroaches had suddenly disappeared. People, ready with praise, searched the dark corners of their apartments. And when they found no cockroaches to coax out into their homes, they became unsettled and then increasingly disconsolate. Questions quietly plagued them. What had they in fact experienced? What had it all meant? What had they been given, and why had it been taken away?

            And in a desperate attempt to regain it—whatever “it” was—people began treating with reverence any other insect they could find. Spiders, ants, centipedes. People took down sticky fly traps, swept away boric acid, left cobwebs where they were found. Crumbs were summarily left out on counter tops. Yet the attachment people formed with insects seemed lost on the insects themselves. Moreover, these insects, no matter how ardently venerated, no matter how dotingly cherished, never spoke a word, and never saved a life, so far as anyone could tell. They simply continued doing what they had been doing: searching for food, creating nests, and dying rather ignominiously on kitchen floors, in bathtub drains, and in the crevices of window sills.

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