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petefrommephotoBy Kieslana Wing

In 2008, we featured a piece of fiction called “Concentrate” by Montana writer Pete Fromm in issue one of our third volume. “Concentrate” is the tale of a young, poverty-stricken mother who reconnects with her family in the process of trying to invent a product that will bring them prosperity. Directly after publishing this piece, Silk Road conducted an interview with Pete, which focused on his craft and the stories he was working on at the time.
Five years later, he has a total of six published works available, and has won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s Book of the Year award four times. Yes, four. In addition to all of that, two of his novels have been converted into films. “Dry Rain” is a short film adapted from the award winning collection Dry Rain Stories. More recently, the movie “As Cool As I Am” was released in June of 2013, starring Claire Danes, James Marsden, and Sarah Bolger. This book/movie is a coming-of-age story for main character Lucy Diamond. Since he seems to have been busy these last few years, we thought we’d check in with him and talk about what it’s like to have one of his stories converted into film, as well as what he’s working on now.

SR: Your book, As Cool As I Am, was recently converted into a film that was released this past June. How involved were you in the creation of the film based on your book?

Pete: Not at all.  Gin Spragg, the wife of the writer Mark Spragg, both friends of mine, asked if she could write a screenplay and try to sell it.  They’d worked together on previous screenplays of his novels, and I said, Sure.  So, she wrote it, let me read it, and I figured that would be that.  But she managed to sell it to a producer, who managed to sell it to a production company with the money, and they managed to attach the director and the actors, and, after several years, much to my surprise, it actually began filming.

SR: Has the adaptation of your book into film changed the way you approach writing at all? If so, how?

Pete: No, not at all.  Having a movie made out of a book is a lot like getting hit by lightning.  It just happens.  As Cool had been out seven or eight years when Gin asked about it.  Ten by the time filming started.  I’ve got a new novel, If Not For This, coming out next year, have worked on several other projects since as cool, am well into another novel right now.  Truthfully, I haven’t thought much about As Cool, book or movie, in a long time.  It’s always on to the next thing.

SR: What did you enjoy about the process of your book becoming a film? What was surprising about seeing your work on the screen? Would you do it again with future works?

Pete: Well, getting paid is always nice.  Always a surprise.  But the best part was Gin setting things up so my two sons, Nolan and Aidan, could be extras in the high school scenes.  I took them down to Albuquerque, where it was filmed, and we could not have been treated better by everyone on the production.  We spent a couple of days as tourists, watching the whole enterprise, then they spent a sixteen hour day being part of the filming.  It was fab.  There was a lot of separation between the book and the movie, so seeing it on screen was not particularly strange, more like watching someone else’s work, which is really what it was by then, first Gin’s take, then Max’s (Max Mayer, the director).  I would do it again, but I’d be interested in taking a shot at the screenplay, which seems like an interesting and difficult form to take on.  I’d like to try it for the challenge.

SR: What advice can you give greenhorn writers who hope to one day have their book made into a film?

Pete: Forget the film.  Just write the best book you can, then spend a few more years making it better.  If someone somehow takes an interest, all the planets align, and it makes it out of the maze and into an actual film, just take it.  Until then, just work.

SR: What projects are you working on right now? Do you have any book tours coming up?

Pete: As I said above, I’m working on a novel now, have another coming out next fall.  I’m sure I’ll be touring then, for If Not For This.  There are stories, a nonfiction book in there as well.  I write every day, whether anyone is buying or not, so the stuff builds up.

SR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Pete: Just to say again, don’t be a hopeful writer, hoping to make it to the big screen.  Be a writer, working every day, day after day after day, and see what happens.  For any kind of happiness to come from writing, I think the joy’s got to come from the writing, from watching people come alive in your mind and on the page, not whatever happens to it all afterward.

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By Tabitha Blankenbiller

Silk Road forked into my writing life path two years ago. I was halfway through the MFA program at Pacific University—far more polished and disciplined than I had been coming in, as someone who wrote while mistaking vagueness for intrigue, and couldn’t name off three memoir-writers even if my Nordstrom credit line depended on it. Still, I had two semesters of heart-letting and insomnia-spirals yet to learn from, and I was fluorescent green to the writer “business.” By entering the Pacific community I had a few literary journal names, like Tin House and Ploughshares. I had a fresh new Submishmash account (rest in peace, best web name ever lost!). But I had no idea how these literary journal entities worked, exactly. Who was reading our work? Why the long response times? What did a yes or a no mean, and what did a receipt of either reflect upon my writing?

In the first few months of working alongside editors Tammy Dietz and Hannah Pass in Silk Road nonfiction, I quickly learned that:

  1. Journals get a ton of submissions. On Writer Island, as we are alone in our spare rooms and offices and hall closets combing through Google for possible homes for our work, it feels as if we’re the only ones doing so. I remember thinking with my first round of submissions I sent, there can’t be THAT many people sending stuff to Hayden’s Ferry Review. I have to have a good shot. I didn’t even see most of the submissions that were sent to Silk Road; the fantastic staff of junior editors sifted out the best to be sent up to the editing staff. Only a small fraction of favorites came across my screen, and of those, we may have accepted one out of every ten. For that reason, I began to feel slightly less awful as the form rejections started rolling into my email box. Although the perspective may have worn a bit after the 20th.
  2. A No is rarely a verdict that the writer is terrible. The vast majority of the time we passed on a piece, it was for reasons along the lines of content or style not fitting in with the journal’s vision, or perhaps not working with the other nonfiction pieces we’d curated for the issue already. I read writing from many people whose work left me spellbound, and downright jealous, but ended up passing on for reasons described above. The theory was later proven from the other side, when pieces I had rejected from some journals were enthusiastically snapped up by others. Good writing has a place. It’s just a bear sometimes to find where it is.
  3. I love editing almost as much as I love writing. I’ll never forget the giddy joy I got from pressing Send on the first acceptance letter I wrote. Working to edit and restructure the piece into its final published version filled me with all the pride that drives people to do good work. I helped! It’s addictive.

I’ve had two bustling years of experience with Silk Road journal, lessons I’ve harnessed to propel forward: into my first journal acceptance letter of my own, my graduation, my finished manuscript, and my new job as a full-time editor. And as my latest learning curve, I’m stepping out with fellow Pacific alumni (Tiffany Hauck, Kase Johnstun, Charlotte O’Brien, and Sean Davis) to start a literary journal of our own, Spilt Infinitive. Spilt Infinitive is a journal that strives to represent new and underrepresented writers by publishing gritty, honest, scene-driven work. We crave scenework and substance, and a story above a situation. Pieces that are smart, funny, surprising, bizarre, yet profound are our favorite finds. I’m sad to be exiting Silk Road, but thrilled to pass along the good editing karma I learned here to this brand-new adventure, one I’m helping to carve with my own hands (or at least typing fingers). Our first issue is up on our website, http://www.spiltinfinitive.com, where you can download it directly onto your Kindle. The issue has work by outstanding up-and-coming writers, including Pacific alums Autumn Sharp, Jaydn DeWald, Laura Henley, and Leigh Camacho. We’re also accepting submissions for our second issue, and we welcome your poems, stories, and essays. Our guidelines and submission links are available at http://www.spiltinfinitive.com/submissions. Finally, my secret-delicious Spilt job is Woman Behind the Social Media Curtain, so please come see the Tweets (https://twitter.com/SpiltInfinitive) and Facebook posts (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spilt-Infinitive) that make me laugh uproariously to myself.

Best of luck to all Silk Road staff and submitters in the coming year! And thank you for all the challenges, questions, and joys you’ve blessed my time with. I’m sure our literary paths will be crossing again shortly.

Luisa A Igloria

By Valerie Horres

Luisa A. Igloria’s poem “Status, News Feed, Most Recent, Last” can be found on page 51 of Vol. 6.1 and viewed online: http://silkroad.pacificu.edu/LuisaIgloriaStatus.pdf

The Interview

VH: What there some particular event that sparked the creation of this poem? What was the inspiration for this piece?

Luisa A. Igloria: I’m going to have to confess that I initially wrote this poem as part of a submission for another journal’s call for Facebook-themed poems. I wrote two for that submission, but they didn’t interest the editors at that journal, after all. I continued to work on the poems, though–this one in particular engaged me most because I liked the mixture of tones emerging in it: upbeat, perhaps in some places a little cavalier or a wee bit punk, maybe even borderline irreverent, but also increasingly, toward the end, earnest and wistful. The title is of course self-explanatory: “Status, News Feed, Most Recent, Last.”

VH: How did you go about picking the images for the poem? Was there one that you started with and the rest follow? What was your process to create this poem?

LAI: This second question is related to the first one–so I’ll continue by saying that after I decided to write the poem as an abecedarian, other decisions seemed fairly easy to manage. I knew that because of the subject of the poem–which is in part the sheer welter of information that comes through the specific social networking experience that is Facebook, and also the randomness of such information–I wanted to arrive at some satisfying emotional justification for all the different images that came into it.

Picking images was easy–I simply looked at my Facebook news feed when I was writing–the poem gives away the date (June 01 last year) I was working on it; and it’s true that on that day a number of news sources (New York Times, etc.) ran the headline of the story about sculptor/visual artist Louise Bourgeois’ death.  I didn’t lift lines whole from other people’s status posts – but I think I worked in some of the typical threads one might encounter there – those that write environmental/nature-themed posts (Earth Hour), those who write about where they’ve recently traveled, those who play games (Farmville etc.), gush about tv shows (Glee, etc.)

The last few lines of my poem echo a sentiment that many other poems have written of in their own way and in their own time — about the weird or wonderful serendipity of human encounters, and that despite the odds, they can and do happen.

VH: You write “O agony and ecstasy, our lot on this blue-green/ planet.” Are those two feelings the only ones we can experience? Is there a way to lessen the agony and extend the ecstasy, or is there reason for experiencing both?

LAI: You ask, “are those two feelings the only ones we can experience?” I like to think not; only, they do seem to define some of the extremes of human experience. I believe in nuance. But in this particular line or part of the poem, I think I’m speaking to the idea that the reason we recognize one state is because we also know the other. I don’t know if there is something in my particular upbringing or background that has predisposed me to such a worldview, but I believe that all experience is yoked to its opposite; that we are capable of deep feeling to me signifies that we have also opened ourselves deeply to everything that life might offer of both pleasure and suffering. We need to experience both because our understanding would be imperfect and untrue if we only knew one state. Is there a way to lessen the agony and extend the ecstasy? I don’t know that a formula for that has been discovered — but I think that poets try to find some respite, or some way at least to meet experience more deeply–in language.

Luisa A. Igloria is the author of Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame), Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005), and eight other books. Luisa has degrees from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. Originally from Baguio City, she teaches on the faculty of Old Dominion University, where she currently directs the MFA Creative Writing Program. She keeps her radar tuned for cool lizard sightings. To visit her website go to http://www.luisaigloria.com.

By Valerie Horres

Our whole lives are about making connections: connecting to other people, connecting one thought to another. We gather up information like strands of silk and weave them into a spider web—every idea and image connects so that when one fiber is plucked the entire web vibrates. All of the data collected in our brains informs and deepens our understanding of the thought or concept presently on our minds.

So when we read a story like Beowulf and hear the one sword that can defeat Grendel’s mother is so large and heavy that only Beowulf can wield it, we automatically think of King Arthur and Excalibur legend. We remember how important it is that only one person can draw Excalibur from the stone, and as a result we understand the magnitude of Beowulf being the only person able to wield the giants’ blade. Likewise, when we read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, reading another story from the time period will help in understanding how England society functioned in those days, and help us comprehend the motivations and actions of Jane Austen’s characters.

No matter what, stories and poems can used to deepen the understanding of another story or poem. It could be using contemporary pieces to help explain the time period in which a story is set, or it could be contrasting a historical text with a modern tale in order to exemplify how the culture or landscape of a place has changed. It could be juxtaposing two texts with the same themes—all of these methods will assist readers in understanding the texts they are studying.

So why not make use of this phenomenon in the classroom? Why not widen the lens students use to comprehend literature? Read the rest of this entry »

Picture by Nick on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/people/nics_events/)

I thought I would take a little break from our typical blogging format to talk about the kinds of things editors think about. One of those things is troublesome word pairs. And there are hundreds of them.

 

The General Problem with Troublesome Word Pairs:

The problem with troublesome word pairs is that either the words sound exactly the same, but are spelled differently, or that people get them wrong so frequently in speech that it “just sounds right” to say (and write) them wrong. I once read a story about a writing teacher, who exasperated by one her students’ frequent confusion over burrow and burro, wrote on the student’s paper that he didn’t “know his ass from a hole in the ground!” Ouch.

As an undergraduate, I wondered why I had to keep my “Discrete Math” class on the down low, a class that I often missed because I came down with a few serious illnesses that term and felt “nauseous.” Of course, back then I was a biology major, so I had an excuse. Right? Not really. It is important for writers, be they mathematicians, biologists, or doctors writing notes for their poor, mono-stricken patients to have a clear understanding of the usage of these five troublesome word pairs.

discrete/discreet

nauseous/nauseated

straight/strait

enormity/enormousness

around/about

 

discrete/discreet

What the Experts Say

First, let’s get a solid understanding of what the dictionary has for the definitions of these two words:

Merriam-Webster

Discrete: (adj): constituting a separate entity: individually distinct <several discrete sections>

Discreet (adj): having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech: prudent; especially: capable of preserving prudent silence

Ok, so what I gather is that discrete (as in my math class), deals with distinct and separate elements. The other discreet reminds me of Victorian ladies who have the good judgment to not talk about unsavory topics while in polite society. Read the rest of this entry »

Tammy DietzBy Senior Nonfiction Editor

Tammy Dietz

http://tammydietz.wordpress.com/

 

In efforts to lead memoir writers away from too much “telling,” many writing instructors encourager us to consider our experiences in the form of scene.

“Think of your life as though it were a movie,” a few instructors have told me.

“But I can’t remember all those details,” I’ve replied to these instructors (and myself).

“You don’t have to,” my instructors said. “Show—don’t tell—and in doing so the emotional truth will be conveyed.”

For me, this guidance helped loosen the Truth Leash enough so that vivid scenes could emerge and by golly, those instructors were right about arriving even closer to an authentic rendering of experience. I’m here to say that if you’re writing narrative nonfiction for Silk Road, please embellish upon what you remember exactly. Don’t make up events. That’s going too far. But do enhance remembered events with sights, sounds, and smells—even if you have to make them up.

That said, there comes a time in narrative nonfiction when reflection is necessary as well. Great narrative nonfiction balances showing with telling—show and tell. When evaluating Silk Road submissions, I look for scenes that draw me into the writer’s experience so deeply that I feel as though I am behind their eyes. Lock-step with these scenes, I must also be drawn into their hearts through reflection that can be in either the story moment (what the narrator felt and thought at the time of the scene) or in the authorial moment (what the narrator feels and thinks at the time of writing the scene).

Some writers to whom I’ve given this advice have asked for a ratio. What percentage do I show, and what percentage do I tell? The short answer on this is, maddeningly: it depends on the subject and the style of the piece. Striking the right balance between showing and telling isn’t easy to do. Many writers struggle to keep pacing tight, voice consistent, and action compelling while pairing reflection with scene. But the best narrative nonfiction does just that.

Tammy DietzBy Senior Nonfiction Editor

Tammy Dietz

Early on during graduate school, right here at Pacific University, I reluctantly attended a poetry lecture delivered by Ellen Bass. I say reluctantly because at the time I held deep-rooted and uninformed suspicions about the relevance of poetry to creative nonfiction (my area of focus). But Ellen single-handedly changed my mind about the connection between the genres and also gave some of the best nonfiction writing advice I have ever received. She said that great poems often reveal something surprising for the reader, or better yet, surprising for the writer.

If you discover something while writing, you’ll do well to help the reader experience that discovery with you. And then, they will experience something while reading.

Honest exploration of past events will give you the opportunity to see yourself in a different light. You are a character in the story you are authoring. As an author, you will have heightened awareness about that character who is—you.

It’s all very circular and sometimes mind-boggling, but if you are doing this with an open heart, you will learn something about yourself. I promise. And when you do, tell or show us what you learned. Reveal your character’s vulnerability and capacity for change. Let the author be the voice of authority. Let the reader in on your discovery and you will earn their trust.

Josie Sigler

This year Silk Road nominated four pieces for Pushcart Prizes. This is the first in a series on our nominees.

Read “Breakneck Road”

Josie Sigler tells the story behind the story of “Breakneck Road”:

This story has its inspiration in both Michigan and Maine, two states I love and have lived in on and off for most of my life, despite my general predilection for rambling. There is an old abandoned dirt road on Mount Desert Island in Maine called “Breakneck Road”; it was built in 1777 and people use it now as a hiking path. One winter, I walked there often, and knew I’d use the name in a story someday. On the days I didn’t walk, I jogged along the road near a small power station on the island. A good friend had just had a baby, and I had been marveling about how tiny he was. Near the station, an empty Coke box sat for days on the side of the road untouched by the plow. The very first time I saw it, I thought: that baby would fit curled up in there. Even having thought that such a thing could be possible, I had to slow my pace each day and glance down into the box; I felt very strongly this strange responsibility to the could-be baby. The feeling of “Breakneck Road” was born in the split second before I experienced the relief of finding the box empty each day.

I set the story in Michigan once I had an inkling of the plot partly because Joe is based on my dad, who is as married to the mitten state as it’s possible to be. My dad was a single dad for awhile, and Joe’s somewhat bumbling care for the baby mixed with his utter commitment to doing the best he can with what he’s got is what’s really at the heart of this story, what I hoped to convey. But I had also been wanting to write about the people who live at the temporal, economic, and geographical edges of the industries for which Michigan is famous. This was partly inspired by an article I read about a man who hunts and sells raccoon meat in Detroit now that the wilderness is taking back the more decayed parts of the city. Joe’s career as a thief, easily my favorite invention moment in writing the story, was inspired by my wish to demonstrate how logical the choices of so-called criminals are when you consider the stark divide between being middle class and poor in America. I loved writing the lines about thieving being a family trade, passed down from generation to generation, just like any other family business. Joe’s father, who by most people’s standards isn’t much of a father, has given him the skills he needs to survive and be a good father.

Last year’s Fiction Editor Aaron Kier reflects on Silk Road‘s history working with Josie Sigler:

While an associate editor at work on Issue 4, a moment of magic happened: a story entitled “My Last Horse” by Josie Sigler landed in my inbox. The more I read, the more I was transported – to a place both rugged and frail, populated with characters fiercely independent and inextricably bound together, through a narrative unique yet immediately familiar to my soul. It was the most deeply human and touching story I’d encountered in a long, long time. And it broke my heart.

So, a year later, while reading as Fiction Editor, without realizing it, I was searching for something in the submission piles that was eluding me. I was looking for magic. Which finally prompted me to do two things. First, I reread “My Last Horse,” and after I’d finished weeping, I searched out an email address for Josie Sigler and dropped her a note asking if she had a story she wouldn’t mind sending us. She sent four. Every one filled with her distinctively gritty yet musical prose, telling tales unexpected and hard-hitting and rooted in the depths of human failing and redemption. In some ways, “Breakneck Road” was merely the best of the four – because if page counts and shameless favoritism hadn’t prevented it, I’d have published them all. Ultimately, what won us over in this story is precisely what sold me on Josie Sigler in the first place: unquestioned belief that even the most bankrupt, broken and seemingly unworthy are transformed in the face of real love. Therein lies the magic.

Josie Sigler’s stories and poems have appeared in Water~Stone, Copper Nickel, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Harpur Palate and others. Her chapbook, Calamity, was published by Proem Press. Her book of poetry, living must bury, winner of the 2010 Motherwell Prize, was published by Fence Books. Her story “Deep, Michigan” received a special mention in the 2009 Pushcart Prize Anthology. She was recently awarded the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency for 2011 for her short story “El Camino” (published in Roanoke Review). She writes a lot about the several stranded Midwestern towns in which she grew up, the cities that came after, and the Maine island she calls home.

Last week’s blog began a discussion on the Yi language, but this week I think you should hear it. Visit

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXGHXZ0ZX_M


Picture from YouTube video

In the video, Aku Wuwu reads the poem “Calling Back the Soul of Zhyge Alu” in the Nuosu (Northern) dialect (translated by Mark Bender of OSU, who is not the speaker in the video). He is wearing a traditional wool cape worn by the Yi people in Sichuan.

The poem, when read by Aku Wuwu in the Yi dialect, is so passionate, and although I don’t understand the words, I can sense the emotion from the sound. It would be hard to interpret this poem as a poem of wonder or that it has a sense of peace. Rather, it is a poem of longing and passion.

—Tanna

I hate to say what is and what isn’t a characteristic of a group of people. I sat down to write a short bio for the Silk Road blog on THE YI (all caps) because of the featured poems by Aku Wuwu in Vol. 5.1, but I’m having a hard time—and I have been making attempts since the middle of September.

The hardest part is that the Yi are a diverse people. Although China identities the Yi as the seventh biggest ethnic group in the country, the Yi are actually a collection of different peoples that the Chinese government has grouped together. What the groups of Yi share is that they tend to be farmers, sheep herders, goat herders, and nomadic hunters. They live in the mountainous regions of southwestern China, and stretch as far south as Vietnam and Thailand.

Because of their diversity, I can’t tell you who the Yi are. I can’t pin them down. However, with Aku Wuwu’s poems as a starting place, I will say something about the Yi language (which not all Yi speak). It belongs to the Tibetian-Myanmese group of the Sino-Tibetian language family and is composed of six dialects. One might expect with the amount of variation amongst the Yi people, and with how far their territory ranges, that dialects would also vary. The Northern dialect, with 1.6 million speakers, is the largest of all the dialects, and is what Aku Wuwu speaks and writes his poetry in.

As a grammar nerd, I was pleased to learn that although these dialects are wide-ranging, they all follow the sentence pattern of “Subject + Object + Predicate.” Or, for the extreme grammar nerds:

“[M]odifying nouns and some pronouns precede the headwords; modifying numerals and adjectives are put after the headwords; the words expressing negative senses are put before the monosyllabic headwords or after the disyllabic headwords; overlapping a monosyllabic verb or adjective indicates asking questions.”

—Zhu, Yuan-fu (Clark). “Drinking and Its Culture among the Yi People in Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture.” 2006. http://www.uregina.ca/hri/VRFZhu1.shtml (accessed 10/30/10).

The Yi script developed as a syllabic script (the old Yi language), which formed in the 13th century. The old script contains approximately 10,000 words with about 1,000 as words of everyday use. This old Yi script was reformed in 1974 after the liberation for use in books and newspapers since the old script was not consistent in word form or pronunciation.

I’d be curious to know in what tradition Aku Wuwu writes—if he follows the old way or the reformed way. I’d also like to know if Aku Wuwu sees the reformation as a loss of the old ways, too, since the new language as been remade from the traditional to fit a modern mold.

References:

http://lt.china.com.cn/e-groups/shaoshu/shao-2-yi.htm

http://www.uregina.ca/hri/VRFZhu1.shtml

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