Concerning Craft: Alan King and His Sources of Inspiration

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and shares some insights on writing well. Our latest comes from Alan King, who writes that his “creative process” is a “meditative one.” “Poetry still asks me to prove myself, to take it to the next level,” King reflects, and he makes that push in part by “pull[ing] inspiration from two contemporary poets,” Patricia Smith and Tim Seibles, a.k.a. (to King) as Rogue and Iceman.

King’s poem “The Journey” appeared in LPR’s Winter 2018 issue. (In the video above, King reads his poem at LPR’s issue launch.) He is the author of Point Blank (Silver Birch Press, 2016) and Drift (Willow Books, 2012). A Caribbean American whose parents emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago to the U.S. in the 1970s, he is a husband, father, and communications professional. He is a Cave Canem graduate fellow and holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine. King is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

Two weeks ago, I read at the Oliver’s Carriage House in Columbia, Maryland. I was among the contributors helping to launch Little Patuxent Review‘s Winter Issue.

It’s exciting when the list of contributors for a publication I’m in is a reunion of sorts. The reading was no different.

I enjoyed rocking the mic podium with the Black Ladies Brunch Collective. I also got my first face-to-face meeting with folks, who until that moment, I only knew on Twitter and Facebook.

After the reading, thumbing through the pages, I smiled at the Editor’s Note:

“I’d even go so far as to say that poems, stories, and essays” – LPR’s Editor Steven Leyva writes – “when paired with the striking iconography of various visual arts, form an aegis against ‘a boogeyman’s appetite for innocent things.’”

The “boogeyman” quote is a nod to my poem, “The Journey,” which appears in LPR’s latest issue.

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LPR Wins Recognition

What do Salon.com, Vanity Fair, and the Little Patuxent Review have in common?

Answer: all three got the same ranking in the Bookfox blogger’s ranking of the top literary magazines in the USA. Bookfox based his rankings on the number of appearances and mentions in the annual anthology Best American Essays.

https://thejohnfox.com/ranking-of-literary-nonfiction/

Pushcart Nominations 2017

LPR celebrates its writers for all of their imagination and craft. The editors have had the delightful challenge of selecting pieces for the pushcart nomination.  Here are our choices. Congratulations to all of you!

WINTER 2017

Poetry:
“Black Light for Etheridge Knight”  by Peter Marcus
“The Wind Makes It Impossible” by Kendra Kopelke

Fiction:
“Fly the Car to Mars” by Beth Gilstrap
“Locked Out” by Jeremy J. Kamps

Nonfiction:
“Runaway” by Cynthia Greer

SUMMER 2017

Fiction:
“The Laws of Motion in the Heavens and on the Earth” by K.E. Butler
“Mongrel Wood” by Ilya Leybovich

Poetry:
“Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Clarinda Harris
“Sea Witch” by Margaux Novak

Lisa Biggar: A Good Story

As fiction editor of Little Patuxent Review I am often asked, “What do you look for?” The answer to that is: a good story. But what is a good story? We all have different tastes, different opinions, but what makes art Art? What is it that elevates a piece from okay to good? The fiction readers for LPR tend to agree on about ten stories out of the hundreds we receive each reading period. What is it that elevates these pieces?

I would say that first and foremost is the voice. The voice of the narrative—be it first, third, or second point-of-view—must engage the reader. The voice must draw us in and transport us, make us believe that the story is well worth the read, that there is indeed a story to tell that matters, that will enlighten us in some way. In short, it must make us believe.

Lisa Biggar

Second, the story must come off as seamless—as one breath. This does not mean that a story must be written all at once. When you write you are tapping into the imagination, the subconscious, the muse, and this can be exhausting; so shorter writing periods, I believe, are more effective than extended sessions. But it is important to stay in the dream, to return to that story each day, even if it is just to review what you have already written. Too often stories seem to lose steam or an ending is tacked on for the sake of ending the piece. In my own writing, I find endings to be the trickiest thing, as they need to come organically from the piece, and this often takes time. Writers are so eager to get that story out there, to hit that Submit button, that they do not give that ending time to manifest. I can’t stress how important it is to give your story time. Worlds are not made in a day.

Lastly, good stories are complex. Complex characters. Complex, often layered plots. We are not looking for rewrites of the Hallmark Channel movies. Love stories are fine, but the characters must be ones we haven’t seen before, and their trials must be unique to them. The same holds true for stories that deal with sickness and death; write us a story we don’t know, that we have never heard before. There are only so many themes in the world, but the takes on these themes are boundless. Consider the four stories published in the Summer 2017 issue of LPR; all of these stories deal with loss in very unique ways.

Finally, a good story stays with us. It embeds itself in our hearts. It touches that something we call soul and becomes an everlasting part of us. That may sound like a daunting task, but if you continue to hone your craft and give the creation time, you may surprise yourself again and again.

Bio: Lisa Lynn Biggar is the fiction editor for LPR.  She received her MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is currently working on a short story cycle set on the eastern shore of Maryland. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Main Street Rag, Bluestem Magazine, The Minnesota Review, Kentucky Review, Newfound, The Other Stories Podcast, and is forthcoming in the winter issue of The Delmarva Review. She teaches English at Chesapeake College and co-owns and operates a cut flower farm on the eastern shore of Maryland with her husband and four cats.

Desiree Magney–Writing from the Heart, Shaping it into Art: How Memoir Evolves into Prose

 

LPR’s publisher, Desiree Magney, offers some insight on writing narrative and memoir.

Little Patuxent Review is always searching for captivating true stories. But having a great story to tell is just the first step to writing a compelling memoir or personal narrative. What makes a memoir stand out? What gives it appeal? What makes it relatable to a larger audience? How does a good story become a work of art?

Elements such as a narrative arc, character development, dialogue, incorporating sensory detail, scene writing, and musing all contribute to making a good story a work of art, just like in fiction. But in memoir writing, the narrator is you, and the story to tell, uniquely your own. And in telling the story, a good narrator shows the reader how events created a conflict, a change, a transformative moment. We see the narrator grapple and muse and come away with some kind of reckoning of the situation. And even though the reader may never have experienced circumstances like the writer has gone through, the reader can relate to it at some level. The reader is on a journey with the narrator and sees the bigger picture.

The relevance to the reader may occur in myriad ways. For example, there may be a commonality in circumstance. In, “White Shoulders,” a story I published about my mother’s lifelong favorite scent and her decline and passing, readers may be able to relate to the link between scent and memory, to the illness or death of a dear one, or to a daughter’s guilt as she sees her mother slip away. In circumstances where a reader may not be able to relate to the specific story, there may be a larger relevance or lesson to learn. For example, perhaps not many readers of “Taking Flight,” a story I wrote and published about my daughter’s decision to study Arabic in Amman, Jordan, soon after the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, could relate to those precise circumstances. But anyone with a child can relate to the struggle of parents to let go of their young adult children, especially when fear for the child’s safety feels overwhelming.

Desiree Magney, LPR Publisher

Vivian Gornick in The Situation and the Story says, “Truth in a memoir is achieved not through a recital of actual events…What happened to the writer is not what matters; what matters is the large sense that the writer is able to make of what happened. For that the power of a writing imagination is required.”

In a class I teach at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland, I delve into more of the elements that make a story engaging to a reader. My other favorite books on craft are: The Story Within: New Insights and Inspiration for Writers by Laura Oliver; Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction by Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz; Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg; and The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

Our editors are looking for stories that are true, well written with all the elements mentioned above, and that connect, as memoirist Cheryl Strayed says, “to the greater, grander truth.” Send us your story.

Desirée Magney is a former practicing attorney who writes narrative nonfiction and poetry. Her nonfiction has been published in bioStories, Bethesda Magazine, The Delmarva Review, The Washington Post Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine (Washington Voices column), and The Writer’s Center – Art Begins with a Story. Her poetry has been published in Jellyfish Whispers and was included in the Best of Anthology, Storm Cycle, published by Kind of a Hurricane Press. She is the publisher of Little Patuxent Review and teaches at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

10th Anniversary: The lightning bug versus the lightning: thoughts on word choice

This essay was originally published on November 20, 2015. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.

Author Matt Tompkins. Photo credit: Kori Tompkins.

Author Matt Tompkins. Photo credit: Kori Tompkins.

Please meet author Matt Tompkins, whose story “The World on Fire” appeared in Little Patuxent Review’s Summer 2015 unthemed issue. The ebook version of Souvenirs and Other Stories (Conium Press) goes on sale today. He works in a library and lives in upstate New York with his wife (who kindly reads his first drafts), his daughter (who prefers picture books) and his cat (who is illiterate). And now, Matt Tompkins:

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” – Mark Twain, in a letter to George Bainton, 1888

I think the sentiment is as applicable to our daily communications as it is to literature: word choice matters; precision and specificity of meaning are important (if frequently overlooked). In a text-heavy culture, words are often all we have to connect with one another. But it also begs the question: how do we select the right word, rather than the almost-right? I don’t claim to succeed every time, but there are some things I keep in mind, while writing and revising, to increase my odds. Here’s a sampling:

NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 17: Food.  https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/17-winter-2015/

10th Anniversary: A Partial List of the Voices I Stole

This essay was originally published on August 21, 2015. It is being re-shared in support of LPR’s 10th Anniversary celebration.

Tyler Barton. Photo credit: Natalie Morgan Sharp.

Tyler Barton. Photo credit: Natalie Morgan Sharp.

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.

An excerpt from “Lease,” which appears in Little Patuxent Review’s Summer Issue:

What Miss Allens don’t realize is eleven is just two ones next together. Mean, she don’t know basic maths. One and one is two. Followed by a zero means twenty. So I walked right up through her yard, past the sign advertising the bike and slapped a Jefferson in her left hand. She spit into her bucket mean the way she does at strays, and she crumbles it up, tosses it at me. Starts shoutin.

  1. Holden

If you really want to hear about it,[1] I have this complex about third person narrators. Who the hell’s talking to me, and where the hell are they?

These are questions I started asking myself a few years ago, when I was first trying to write, feeling a need to justify my tendency toward the first person. There was something repulsive to me about reading a story or novel and picturing the words coming from a writer, narrating from her desk, or—god help me—his favorite coffee shop. I wanted the words to come from somewhere (that at least seemed) real-life. When a character is a narrator, I see them talking to me—something people do every day in my real life. They’re right there. It’s as if I just happened upon them.

NOTE: If you enjoyed this essay, please check out LPR’s Issue 18. https://littlepatuxentreview.org/issues/18-summer-2015/