September 26th, 2012
The new issue has shipped and should be available in bookstores any day. Here is an [un-updated] list of where to buy the journal or subscribe online.
Congratulations to Adam Peterson whose story “It Goes Without Saying” in Camera Obscura 3 is listed as a notable story in this year’s Best American Short Stories.
Many thanks to all the new subscribers. Your support is very much appreciated.
Number 6 is in the aether, and when it takes a shape, I will post it here.
July 6th, 2012
The Autumnal 2012 issue of Camera Obscura Journal of Literature & Photography has now been curated and will include stories by Tamas Dobozy, David Ellis Dickerson, Anne Valente, Nathan Alling Long, Emily Koon, Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi, Jennifer Spiegel, and Keith Rosson. This fifth installment is due in late August, the perfect time for one of those great American summer road trips, and, if you pick up a copy, you will find yourself in the Orca Motor Inn of Wisconsin Dells where Keith Rosson’s intricate story “Hospitality” unravels:
“The orca is a monolith crafted in plaster. It rises from the roof of the motel, twenty-seven feet from base to snout, its flesh ridged and bumped, flaking paint to show its psoriatic underpinnings. Spattered in birdshit new and old, it has become the physical embodiment of all of Sam’s worries and loathing. It is as if the Orca Motor Inn were some sea that the beast was dissatisfied with. Its once-white belly is now yellowed and cracked, its fins sun bleached gray, it looks less majestic – what his father had presumably been hoping for when he’d built the motel forty years ago – than Mesozoic, something ancient and wrath-like and more than a little scary…”
There are 24 rooms in the Orca, most of which are now unoccupied, but Anne Valente’s archivist has probably catalogued everything that has ever happened in each one of them. “The Archivist” begins:
“Julie Powell: 587,436,974 breaths, from the first choking, light-filled gasp to the last exhalation, a dimmed sigh in the darkened oncology corridor of Lincoln Memorial. 91,467 kisses, a low number, her husband a man who shunned her affections, though Julie made up for this on the side with their part-time maid, a secret she kept until the moment of her death, alongside 44 others: that she’d cheated on a chemistry test in the eleventh grade, glancing over Eugene Harrold’s shoulder, that she hated her mother’s famous lemon cookies, that her husband only made her orgasm twice, though she pretended in shrieking climax more times than she’d been able to count (956 on file)…”
The issue will also include the powerful work of over eighteen photographers to be mentioned in a week or so.
More updates soon…
June 12th, 2012
The competition continues to grow, which makes culling the list of exceptional work increasingly challenging. As we try to do for every contest, our judges vary in style and focus. Judging this competition were Laurie Klein and Kerry Jordan, as well as Michael Gilbert whose work has been featured at the International Museum of Photography and is collected internationally as part of the collections of Epson, Canon, Hahnemuhle, Olympus, Mitsubishi, and Kodak. In 2006 he was a featured photographer at Photokina, the worlds largest photography event. (links to the work of these exciting photographers can soon be found in the darkroom).
The winner of the Camera Obscura Journal summer 2012 prize for professional photography is:
Heather Evans Smith for her image “The Midway”
Editor’s Choice for professionals is Larry Louie for his photograph “Sewing”
The winner of the Camera Obscura Journal prize for non-professional photography is:
Hugh Jones for “into the stream”
The Editor’s Choice in this category goes to Pierre Hauser for “On the Edge”
For the complete list of results (along with some images of previous winners).
Many of the finalists will be included in the upcoming Camera Obscura Journal due out in August of 2012.
Here are the guidelines for the Winter Photography Competition (already underway).
May 14th, 2012
We are hard at work with the difficult task of narrowing down the photography entries to the finalists, which will be announced soon. As usual, we received many striking images to consider and the competition is stiff. Many thanks for your patience. We will announce the finalists in the next week or two.
While you wait on the results of the photography competition, here’s a peek at the fifth installment of Camera Obscua Journal as it begins to take shape with the addition of Jennifer Spiegel’s “Killing Castro,” a story in her forthcoming collection THE FREAK CHRONICLES form Dzanc Books.
“By the time she got to Havana, she didn’t care anymore.
But, in Cuba, Erin held her breath and exhaled slowly. She watched the black-skinned people speaking Spanish; she stepped back to let girls in short-shorts and garish make-up walk in front of her on cobblestone streets; she shied away from striking men with heartbreaking eyes who looked like bullfighters, artists, or paupers; and she marveled at prehistoric taxi cabs squeezing through dense traffic like bumper cars. When her eyes traveled the depth and breadth of the eroding colonial architecture—ready to wash into a salty tropical sea that flushed against the island in slow, steady rhythms—Erin caught her breath the way one would as if a rumble in the earth’s underbelly rippled underfoot. She heard music, and words came into her head that maybe didn’t fit: calypso, fusion, flamenco, mariachi. The music was everywhere, and it was Latin, African, Caribbean. Listening, her eyes wide, her face sedate, Erin felt as if she were on the precipice of apocalypse. Cuba felt like the end.
By the time Erin got to Cuba, though, killing Castro wasn’t her mission.”
Jennifer Spiegel has an MA in Politics from New York University, and an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Arizona State. She teaches college classes. “Killing Castro” is included in her collection, THE FREAK CHRONICLES (Dzanc Books 2012). LOVE SLAVE, a novel, is forthcoming from Unbridled Books (September 2012). She lives with her husband and two kids in Arizona. Please visit her at www.jenniferspiegel.com
more updates soon…
December 7th, 2011
Adam Peterson’s story “It Goes Without Saying” appears in the Summer 2011 issue and was the recipient of the Camera Obscura writing award for that issue. Associate prose editor Tim Horvath had the opportunity to ask him some questions, which are posted below.
TH: I’ve always had this fantasy of becoming a travel writer, and part of what I love about your story is how uninhibitedly it leaps into the head and body of Tom Trotter, a world-weary veteran travel journalist who lies, distorts, conflates, drinks like a Hemingway impersonator, and basically confirms the truth of what his first editor once told him, “There’s no truth in travel writing.” Have you traveled extensively? Have you tried your hand at the genre? How did you access Trotter’s voice and perspective so convincingly?
AP: Well, I’m glad to hear it’s convincing. I was never sure. I mean, I’ve travelled—including to Munich, the setting of the story—but I’ve never tried my hand at travel writing or really any non-fiction. I suppose that’s why Trotter’s version of travel writing is so loose on facts. Deep down, I probably don’t believe anyone wants to write the truth.
Travel writing seems especially fraught to me, wallowing as it does in that distinction between the “real” trip and the “ideal” trip, to prepare the reader for their own journey or to take them on one they will never make. Those are two very different goals, with two very different relationships to the truth, and I can’t imagine having to balance that dynamic while maintaining some kind of ethos.
Which is why when I read, say, travel writing in the New York Times, I’m always fascinated by what the author culls from what must have been far more complex human experiences. Even the bad stuff—a cold meal, getting lost—seems selected to present some kind of connection with the reader based less on the truth and more on some true feeling. Like, all of it on some level reads like the author saying, You too have been far from home.
TH: I’d like to zoom in on the opening in particular, because the story really drew me in. It starts, “He was nothing if not the consummate local. If a people were boorish he was boorish, if courteous then courteous. In Beijing he was anonymous, in Tokyo he was serious, and in Doolin he was a baritone. And, heavy and drunk at a picnic table in Munich, he was in a state of permanent appetite. A fly sentried the golden, salty chicken from which he tore a leg as the Germans around him licked the grease from their fingers and dried them on their shorts. So he too let the juices run down his chin then chased them with cetacean gulps of beer until his face shone…”
In its rhythms, this possesses the authority of a 19th century novel rather than a contemporary short story–the opening of A Tale of Two Cities comes to mind. I also love how words like “sentried” and “cetacean” reveal a writerly mind, one who will favor the striking turn of phrase over proportion and proper usage every time. I wonder if you could talk a bit about how the opening came about, how it served you in propelling the story forward, and whether there are other authors whose openings you would put on the walls of a Literary Museum, seek to emulate, etc. Also, is there a Literary Museum? If not, why not? We have to go to every dead author’s house individually–why?
AP: I enjoyed writing that opening for a lot of the reasons you mention. It was as close as I got to being a travel writer myself, maybe, and I tried to think back to being in a beer garden and was surprised how clear my memory was on a physical level yet sort of muddled on a personal level. What was I thinking about? What did I want? Was I happy? Granted, the beer probably didn’t help those perceptions, but It gave me some perspective on who Trotter was and what he would write about, why he might be able to so easily manipulate the story of a trip in that sort of blur. There’s this illusion of constant motion in memories of a journey but really it’s the same 24-hour day, same you.
And, yeah, I definitely then set out to sort of mimic that style you see in older novels set outside the author’s home country. Maybe not as far back as all that either: Henry James, E.M. Forster, Ford Madox Ford, Malcolm Lowry, etc.
Ford and Lowry can have wings in my literary museum.
And the answer to why we don’t have literary museums is probably all wrapped up in our sort of gossipy relationship with writers. We want to see who they were, where they did it. Their houses or offices might carry some residual genius—as if just existing was their greatest work—whereas a museum carrying Faulkner’s coffee mug only offers a coffee mug smelling of whiskey.
This personal relationship with an author was the genesis of the story, by the way. I was fascinated by how much mileage non-fiction writers could get out of dropping a personal detail here or there in otherwise unrelated stories. It was actually Bill Simmons, the sports columnist, who made me start thinking about that. Is that embarrassing? I’m not sure. In any case, I didn’t want to write about a sportswriter (thank you, Richard Ford), nor did I want to imply Bill Simmons made up his wife. Though I remain unconvinced.
TH: I first learned of your work through the Cupboard, which publishes excellent chapbooks–I haven’t been disappointed yet. But while this story has its heels pretty firmly dug into mimetic realism, I feel as though the Cupboard books tend to steer pretty far afield of that. One of my favorites, A Brief Encyclopedia of Modern Magic by Michael Stewart, could pass itself off as a reference book, including entries on eccentric apocryphal magicians one wishes had lived, along with tricks you can do at home involving metaphysical impossibilities and murder. Obviously, your aesthetic taste is fairly wide-ranging. Do you even think in these terms when you approach your work and your editorial selection process? How fluidly do you move back and forth between mimetic work and that in which the artifice gets right up in your face?
AP: I used to be really concerned with this, and I’m happy to say that I was able to let it go a long time back. For a long time I had two short story manuscripts in progress, one realistic and the other about vampires or whatever. I eventually just had to grow up a little bit and ask myself what it was I honestly liked about the authors I was reading. It wasn’t just the oddity of someone like Kelly Link nor was it the emotional realism of someone like Madox Ford, it was something that went beyond those easy classifications. Or maybe I just didn’t want to choose. But at some point I gave up, and once I got beyond that paranoia of type, I think I naturally found my own relationship with the world. Most of my work now settles somewhere in between straight realism and, well, the “artifice” as you say. Or maybe individual pieces skew further one way or the other, but the things that interest me—fissures, obsessions, the hysterical—create a feeling that renders the other discussion irrelevant. That’s what I hope, anyway.
All of which is to say that like all of us, I probably just realized it was more important to figure out what I wanted to say whether than if it should be said with farmers or ghosts.
Even “It Goes Without Saying” feels that for me despite its mimetic qualities. There’s nothing supernatural about it, of course, but it still feels a little schizophrenic to me in a way, or at least it doesn’t solve all of its mysteries or end with a Carver-esque epiphany or whatever.
And now that I’ve said all that it seems clear to me that I still favor the odd or surreal, especially editorially. It just feels like a more appropriate representation of the world to me, most days.
TH: What’s something non-literary that impacts your work in surprising ways?
AP: I’m embarrassed by how hard of a time I’m having answering this question. My instinct is to say that I probably divide my life pretty strictly between literary endeavors and, well, life. I mean, read a lot of news, am interested in politics, teach, follow some sports teams, make Thanksgiving plans, and do all that other stuff people do. I never write about it though. Not really. Although “It Goes Without Saying” did break my rule about never writing about writers, I doubt I’ll ever be Stephen King in that regard or anyone else who really mines their life. Stealing a setting is about as far as I’ll go. Writing is pretty much me and my imagination, I think. And I say that knowing I sound like an asshole. I sort of want to answer “Illness” but that seems pretty literary to me.
TH: What are you working on currently? What can we look forward to?
AP: Looking forward to any of this seems like a terrible idea but:
I have a novel manuscript that’s been through a few drafts now and seems pretty close to me. And by “close” I mean, “close to me moving on.” It’s got one more shot to become the thing it’s going to be before I start another. I mean, I like it and maybe something will happen to it, but it’s not keeping me up nights anymore, if that makes sense.
I also have a short story collection more or less ready and a short short collection of about 75 pieces that I hope to get to 100.
As for completed projects, I have a series of prose poems coming out from SpringGun Press this February called The Flasher and another series of prose pieces coming out from Dzanc called [SPOILER ALERT] co-written with the lovely Laura Eve Engel. So…look forward to all that? Sure, why not.
*As a side note regarding Tim’s question about a literary museum, in the past year, I have received a lot of information on something called The American Writers Museum. Though I do not think it exists just yet. http://www.americanwritersmuseum.org/
December 5th, 2011
“The Rural Trio” by Rui Pires of Portugal takes top prize for professionals in the Camera Obscura Journal Photography Competition. His winning image will appear in the forthcoming issue which will hit bookstores in January. Nenad Saljic wins for the amateur category with “Matterhorn: Sunset Clouds.” The editor’s choice award goes to Saeed Rezvanian for his mystifying photograph “Before The Beginning” in the professional category (which will also anchor the cover of this issue) and Nenad Saljic gets the amateur editor’s choice nod for his Matterhorn series.
Thank you to our judges Carl Caylor, Cheri McCallum, and Carol Andrews Jensen for your commitment to our endeavor in support of professional and amateur photographers around the world.
As far as notable standouts, a complete list of finalists can be found here Results. They all qualify as notable.
As always, thanks for all the enthusiasm and support.
The Vernal issue of Camera Obscura Journal will hit bookstores sometime in January.
Guidelines for the current contest with a deadline of March 15, 2012 can be found or here .
November 16th, 2011
We don’t yet have the winners in the Camera Obscura Journal Winter 2011 Photography Competition, but the following finalists’ images are now in the hands of the judges. We had some tough choices to make with so much great work submitted. Many thanks to all who entered and for your support in helping us provide a needed platform for artistically accomplished and technically superior photography. The results for the competition with a deadline of September 15th are listed below:
|Brian T. Silak – “Fall Tree”
|Andrei Iliescu – “Cinema Show”
|Julie Ziesemann – “ourself concealed”
|Chan Kwok Hung – “Working In The Morning”
|Mike Haley – “Pas de Deux”
|Cynthia Walpole – “Green-crowned Brilliant 8562”
|Tina Jokitalo – “Fly away little bird”
|Bill Brokaw – “Christina the Redeemer”
|Saeed Rezvanian – “Before The Beginning”
|Saeed Rezvanian – “Inside”
|Nicola Taylor – “Music for those who listen”
|Nicola Taylor – “La Que Sabe”
|Rui Pires – “The Eagle´s Girl”
|Rui Pires – “The Rural Trio”
|Jennifer Georgescu – “Sand, Stones, Dead Leaves and Bones”
|Tom Wundrak- “Woman by the window reading a book”
|Fabio Affuso – “Antoni Lobetti”
|Manuel Cosentino – “Behind a Little House (Series)”
|Stephanie Saclolo – “of deception or deliverance?”
|Guilherme Stoner – “No bar, no woman, no life…”
|Anna Rowser – “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream”
|Nenad Saljic – “A church inside a church 1”
|Nenad Saljic – “Into the Mist”
|Nenad Saljic – “Matterhorn: Twilight Clouds”
|Nenad Saljic – “Matterhorn: Sunset Clouds”
|Nenad Saljic – “Petrified 1”
|Nenad Saljic – “Solitude 4”
|Dennis Hodges – “Fall” from the series 1 tree 4 seasons”
|Dennis Hodges – series – “A modern relationship”
|Dennis Hodges – “Urban flamingos”
|Sabato Visconti – “The Boy that Stayed and the Boy that Went”
Thanks again. More news to come.
November 4th, 2011
I know that many of you are patiently awaiting the results of the current photography competition, since the October 20th date has come and gone with no announcement. This delay only underscores the amount of fantastic work we received and the difficult task of arriving at our finalists and ultimately our winners. The caliber of work that continues to participate is very heartening and will make winning this competition grow in significance. That said, I hope we can announce the finalists and winners by November 20th. Keep checking the blog for updates.
September 30th, 2011
As the fourth iteration of Camera Obscura Journal begins to take shape, it is only fitting in our celebration of language and imagery that we will showcase, in Winter 2011, Angela Woodward’s inventive story, “Erehu,” which is worthy of multiple reads and includes the emergence of what the author calls a primordial feminine language. It begins:
“Because she was one sister among six brothers, or because she’d had a powerful vision in her sleep, she woke with the conviction that every word she uttered had been crafted for her by men. Men had invented words without consulting her or her ancestress, Eve. Like stuffing dirt in her mouth, they had forced her to utter their own grimy constructions, for which she held the utmost contempt. For them, [rock], [kneecap], were the necessary ones, while what was important to her was the ache that came from kneeling on the cold chapel floor. In her own, feminine tongue, [andrador] was what signified that bone-bruise, or [dornadro]—she would decide at her leisure.”
Angela Woodward is the author of the fiction collection The Human Mind (Ravenna Press, 2007) and the novella End of the Fire Cult (Ravenna Press, 2010).
We are also happy to include Abby Geni’s story, “The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr,” of an unforgettable summer at camp and the arrival of womanhood.
“There were eight of us in the cabin, all Jews from the north side of Chicago. A few girls had been to Camp Reeds before and spoke knowingly and loftily about what the rest could expect, the campfire songs, canoe races and marathon games of Capture the Flag. There was the usual scuffle over who would get the bunks closest to the window and the counselor’s room. One or two girls had never been to sleep-away camp at all and were full of anxious questions about the latrines.”
Abby Geni’s stories have received first place in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open and the Chautauqua Contest. Additionally, her pieces have appeared or are forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Chautauqua, The Indiana Review, New Stories from the Midwest, and Confrontation, among others. In the most recent Best American Short Stories, her work was mentioned in the “Other Distinguished Stories” section. As a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she was awarded the Iowa Fellowship.
More updates as they develop.
August 23rd, 2011
Shane Oshetski had the good fortune to ask Vincent Czyz some questions about his story “The Nameless Saint” which appeared in Camera Obscura’s third issue. This short story is also a chapter in a novel called THE UNLUCKY LOVES OF MILANA NODRAVNA, which is told in the form of 10 short stories/chapters and many have been or will be published (“The Three Veils of Ibn Oraybi” was published by AGNI ,”The Gypsy Charm” was published in March of this year by Louisiana Literature, and “Moon of Drunken Mists” will be published by Wasafiri (London-based) in March, 2012).
Czyz was born in Orange, New Jersey, “home to two world-class boxers I know of: Two-Ton Tony Galento, known as the Orange Nightstick (back in the ’40s he knocked down Joe Louis in his bid for the heavyweight title), and my older brother, Bobby, a two-time world champion.” In 1993, Czyz began visiting Turkey and since has spent a total of nine years in Istanbul. These two elements seemed to have had a role in the creation of “The Nameless Saint”, the story of a fighter’s search for his father through a country populated by Turkish tribes and Gypsies. I asked him about this along with questions about the writing life. What follows are his answers in their entirety.
Camera Obscura: One of the reasons I love this story so much is that it so successfully transports me into this place and time.
Vincent Czyz: That’s good to hear because I throw in with those authors who believe their primary task is to create a world. If that’s not a cliché by now, it should be.
CO: I was surprised to learn afterward that the country and the tribes here are fictional given the richness of detail and the mixture of real peoples like Gypsies and Slavs with fictional ones like the Taztas. Why did you choose this blending of the fictional and the real instead of writing about a real Turkic tribe in a real place or fictionalizing everything?
Czyz: The problem with writing about a real Turkic tribe is that there isn’t one to my knowledge that is still shamanic—and that is a key theme running through these stories. (There may be a few in Siberia, but that was not a setting that interested me.) The Slavs in this story are fairly fictional as well—they are not Polish per se, or Russian or Serbian, etc. It’s a generic label. This is because there is no single country that fit the geography and history that I needed as a framework for these stories. Instead, just as most characters in fiction are an amalgam of several actual people, my fictional country is amalgam of Eastern European and Balkan nations. Again, the idea is to create a world—not to write a history book. For me, this means making the world as believable as possible and adding accurately portrayed “real” elements is one means toward that end. There are of course several others.
CO: I’m assuming it took a great deal of work to imagine and build the countries and cultures these characters inhabit. Can you tell us about the process you went through in the creation of their world?
Czyz: Fortunately for me, I lived on and off in Turkey for a total of about nine years. This meant frequent trips to other Balkan countries as well as to Eastern Europe. Before I ever began writing these stories, I was immersed in Balkan culture and, during my travels, saw some of the effects of the clash between Turkic and Slavic cultures as well as between Islam and Christianity.
Once I started writing, I stacked up a dozen or more research books, including a history of the Russo-Caucasian Wars, first-hand accounts of Gypsy life (I could write a few of my own about Turkish Gypsies), and a history or two of Central Asia. I did thousands of pages of reading and while some readers have said, “Oh, this isn’t like that …” or “That isn’t like this …” that’s primarily because there are times when I took poetic license. It is not, as I said, a history book.
CO: What do you feel all this research gave you in the creation of this world?
Czyz: It gave me invaluable insight into the mentalities of the peoples I was trying to portray, numerous events and incidents to use as plot devices, and the details necessary to create a believable world.
CO: Is there something in particular that draws you to the clash of Turkic and Slavic cultures and/or the clash of Christianity and Islam?
Czyz: An abiding melancholy in both cultures, I think, is what piqued an artistic interest in their conflict. Curiosity about one’s ancestry is typical enough, and this is what first motivated me to explore Slavic culture (I’m part Polish). Both at the family level and on a national level, Poland’s history is in many ways, one of loss and lament. With Germany on its western border and Russia on its eastern, Poland was for centuries caught between the proverbial hammer and the anvil. And to make matters worse, the Mongols and the Turks swept westward, adding a new list of invasions. The hordes were at first brutally successful. But as the machinery of war changed, they suffered devastating defeats, and in the 19th century, the Russians were no less brutal in their conquest of Central Asia. This is the point in history where “The Nameless Saint” takes place; the Turkic nations are mostly under the Russian yoke. And so their songs take on deeper tones of melancholy as they grieve for their broken empire and wax nostalgic over the centuries when their armies were all but invincible.
The clash between Islam and Christianity in the vicinity of Eastern Europe is best embodied by the history of the Russo-Caucasian Wars—still going on really in Chechnya. The stories and actual events that come out of these wars, including the kidnapping of two Georgian princesses and the untimely death of Russian author Mikhail Lermontov, put to shame the plot of the typical pot-boiler. I think it’s fair to say I was spellbound by the heroism on both sides though appalled at the loss of human life and the suffering inflicted.
CO: Along with the larger world, I also loved the smaller world of bars and bar fighting in this story. Your brother is a two-time world champion boxer, so did you draw upon experience to create the fighting culture in the story or did you have to invent that as well?
Czyz: Very little invention there. I was an amateur boxer for about five years, and, as kids, my brothers and I grew up in a rough section of East Orange, NJ—in fact, all of East Orange is pretty rough. The fighting sequences are based mostly on my experiences in the ring, at ringside, and to a much lesser degree, on some of the street fights in which I’d been involved.
CO: Action is difficult to do well in fiction and the fights in this story are exquisitely rendered. I assume you know a thing or two about fighting in general, but can talk about your process of writing Brosnik Yelenich’s fights?
Czyz: Very glad you enjoyed the fight sequences. There is no question in my mind that without having actually boxed, I would not have been able to do the fight scenes quite so believably. With the exception of the first brawl, Brosnik’s fights are matches with rules. For the most part, therefore, I gave him opponents with distinct styles and of course he has his own style as well. From there it was a matter of imagining two fighters with these styles—and some were certainly drawn from memory. The Old Mongoose that Brosnik faces was based on a boxer named Jose Cruz. Everyone in the gym called him Mantequilla (Butter) because he was that smooth—very hard to hit. He had a way of rolling away from punches that I never forgot. Nikusi is a classic tall, rangy, boxer-puncher—the kind that always gave me the most trouble. As a fighter, however, Brosnik is not modeled on me at all; he’s actually a version of my younger brother, who was also an amateur fighter.
CO: There has been a lot of debate if the often given advice that writers should ‘write what they know’ is good advice at all. As a writer who draws from experience but also from research and imagination, do you feel you ‘write what you know’?
Czyz: “Write what you know” is advice for writing 101, that’s about it. Once you find your voice and figure out how you want to tell your stories, it doesn’t matter if you know the topic or not. Of course if you’re not familiar with your subject matter, you will need to do research. But if you can’t write what you don’t know, you’re a craftsman, not an artist—someone fit to write instruction booklets, not novels or short stories.
CO: Were there any authors or specific works that inspired this story?
Czyz: No particular authors, no, but the misery of the lower classes is certainly inspired to some extent by Dostoyevski’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, a book that I found valuable as a document of the Russian psyche but which I did not enjoy reading. I like to say writing it was the crime, and reading it is the punishment. I’m joking of course—it’s a great work of literature.
CO: How about your writing in general? Who do you count among your influences?
Czyz: Samuel R. Delany, William Gass, William Gaddis, Paul West, Julio Cortazar, Jorge Luis Borges, Guy Davenport, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are the main ones.
CO: On your website (http://www.vincentczyz.com) you say you gave up your job and tried to live off your fiction and, “Boy did I learn”. For those of us fool enough to think this might one day be a possibility, can you tell us what it is you learned?
Czyz: I would be happy to because I cannot stress this enough: you will NOT make a living from writing literary fiction any more than you will one day walk into a deli and pick up the winning Powerball ticket. Theoretically it’s possible, but it’s sheer irresponsibility to base any decision in your life on making a living writing serious literature. My first novel, Ghost Dancer, received a rejection from Michael Pietsch (he acquired and edited David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest) that offered so much praise, my agent and I were sure it was a matter of time before Ghost Dancer was picked up for publication. Quite a few more rejections came in, many so good they could’ve been used as backcover blurbs, and yet several agents and quite a few years later, it is still waiting.
Another example: In 1989—yes 22 years ago—I submitted a story called “Straightsville” to Esquire Magazine. An editor wrote a very long rejection in which he informed me that it had made it to the final editorial meeting but in the end had been voted down because it was not deemed “New York enough” (this is ironic because at the time, and for years up to it, Esquire had insisted “Literary excellence is our only criterion.” Or maybe it was “merit” …?) The editor who wrote the dissenting opinion was angry or I would never have known what had happened. “Well,” I thought, blithely enough (a pun on the name of the editor at the time, Will Blythe), “if I missed by a hair with Esquire, someone else is sure to go for it.” Nope. After 22 years it is still making the rounds—and while it often gets commented on, I think it’s racked up around 40 or 50 rejections.
The moral of the story? Don’t quit your day job!
CO: So if a job is a good idea to sustain yourself as a writer, then what do you feel is necessary to sustain your fiction?
Czyz: My former publisher, Gil Roth, answered this question so well, I’ll quote him: “If you can quit writing fiction, you should.” In other words, if you are not obsessed with writing, you may as well move on to something else. If you can’t quit fiction … then it’s an addiction you can’t get along without, and you don’t need to contrive schemes to “sustain” it. I have never understood writers who have to force themselves to write. If you have to force yourself, you should be doing something else.
* We are providing the first half of Vincent Czyz’s The Nameless Saint, which includes a section missing from the print version (due to an oversight during production) with apologies to the author. Please enjoy this excerpt and considering picking up a copy of Volume 3.