Camera Obscura Journal Volume 3

July 14th, 2011


Camera Obscura Journal Journal of Literature & Photography Volume 3 is now in bookstores. This issue features short stories by Adam Peterson, Vincent Czyz, Leslie Pietrzyk, J. Caleb Winters, Gerri Brightwell, Chidelia Edochie, and Barret Baumgart along with the photography of twenty-two artists, inclding Chan Kwok Hung, Rafal Maleszyk, Claudio Allia, and Patrizia Burra.

Here is an updated list of stores carrying this issue (there are also a few Borders stores not listed yet). Stop by and grab a copy. Where to Buy

Thanks again to our photography judges: Joel Grimes, Carol Andrews Jensen, and Carl Caylor.

The Fall Photography Competition is now underway. The competition is stiff so send us your best!


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And the Winner Is …

May 25th, 2011

Congratulations to Rafal Maleszyk whose photograph “Sunflower’s Army” wins the Camera Obscura Journal Photography Competition for the Summer-Fall 2011 issue. Kalliope Amorphous wins for the amateur category with her haunting image “The Bottom of the Sea.” The editor’s choice award goes to Bonnie Jones for her series “He Took the Butter” in the professional category and Hugh Jones gets the amateur editor’s choice award for “Traces, Grand Canyon.”

There were many standouts including Chan Kwok Hung’s “Harvest Day” and Svetlana Batura’s “Mental Equilibrium,” which gave the judges a dilemma, one that I hope they will have again in the future. Matt Walford’s intriguing construction “Library Sentinel” will land on the cover.

Thank you to our judges Joel Grimes, Carl Caylor and Carol Andrews Jensen for your commitment to our endeavor in support of professional and amateur photographers around the world.

A complete list of finalists can be found here Results.

As always, thanks for all the enthusiasm and support.

The Summer-Fall issue of Camera Obscura Journal will hit bookstores by July 1. See the contributors.

Preorder Vol 3 or subscribe here.

Guidelines for the current contest with a deadline of September 15, 2011 can be found or here .


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Coming Soon – Summer 2011

April 6th, 2011


Though it sometimes seems as if the scattershot diversions of the digital world have minced our attention span into nothing more than an assortment of interest spasms, that short stories are growing ever shorter, leaner, so much so that minimalism is now a blank page, the longer story is still alive and well. Since great stories, as the characters that inhabit them, come in all sizes from the microscopic to the gigantic, they are all welcome here. In its third issue, Camera Obscura is delighted to include a few stories, mentioned below, on the longer end of the scale, including Vincent Czyz’s bare-fisted novelette “The Nameless Saint,” which begins:

“It was the hour when the lamplighter, toting a ladder over his shoulder, made his tedious rounds; when workers slogged through the streets as though souls on their way to purgatory; when bones turning to dust in graveyards unexpectedly shifted like a heap of logs burning on the grate. This was not the quarter of Samirska lit by theaters and cafes, cabarets and fine restaurants—a quarter smiling like a crescent moon in the dusk—here the restaurants had bare wooden floors and for a drima offered a bowl of cabbage soup or, for a few more, greasy stew and a slice of black village bread. Here, mounted gendarmes patrolled the streets in pairs or not at all.”

Vince Czyz is the author of the short story collection Adrift in a Vanishing City. He was the recipient of the 1994 Faulkner Prize for Short Fiction (the honorable Allan Gurganus judging) and two fellowships from the NJ Council on the Arts (1991 and 1994). His writing has appeared in Shenandoah, AGNI, the Massachusetts Review, Louisiana Literature, the Southern Indiana Review, and the Boston Review. His fiction has also appeared in Turkish translation. He is the 2011 Truman Capote Fellow at Rutgers, Newark.

We are also excited to add to the Summer issue, the work of Adam Peterson. His story entitled “It Goes Without Saying” is excerpted below:

“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 and his pants looked as if he’d passed the afternoon crying rather than drinking stein after stein of the helles to hunt his thirst.”

Adam Peterson is the co-editor of The Cupboard, a quarterly prose chapbook series. His fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cincinnati Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on a novel.

We have also add Gerri Brightwell to the table of contents for the summer issue with her story “A Long and Distinguished Career,” which begins:

“On the very day the father promised he’d take the boy out a storm blew in on a furious prairie wind. Dense clouds blotted out the afternoon, rain scattered off the windows, and the young trees fencing in the front yard bent close to snapping. The wind pushed at the door and the father had to hold onto it as he stepped outside. Already the doormat was sodden. He hadn’t bothered with shoes, and in a few moments the soles of his socks were wet and cold. He stood there anyway while rain rushed at the ground, breathing in the smells of wet, bruised vegetation and the chemical taint of molecules rent apart. There’d be no going out this afternoon.”

Gerri Brightwell is a British writer who lives in Alaska with her husband, fantasy writer Ian C. Esslemont, and their three sons. She teaches in the M.F.A. program at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and has two published novels: Cold Country (Duckworth, 2003) and The Dark Lantern (Crown 2008).

Here is a recent review of the previous issue, Winter 2010, in The Review Review

More to come soon as the issue comes together. The Summer Issue is slated for release in June 2011.

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A Preview of the Upcoming Summer Issue

March 4th, 2011


After getting the Winter issue out the door with a hearty reception at AWP this year, our next issue is finally starting to take shape with the addition of J. Caleb Winter’s story “Faith and Burning.” In an intricately rendered world, a familiar, rural America, Winters veers off the main road for peek behind the the cultural woodshed.

“Days after I graduated, Lee Creek spilled from its banks and overran the hollow.  It must have poured all of the rain somewhere on a ridge, because I stood under a cloudless sky and burning sun, and I watched the creek that then looked like some giant rising lake, sweep hay wagons and trailers downstream and snap them against trees.  Water rose up the tiny knoll our home was built on but never touched the foundation, and as my mother wept while the creek receded, it seemed a miracle our house was spared.”

J. Caleb Winters is Humanities Professor at West Virginia University. He earned his MFA in Fiction from Boise State University, and worked as Assistant Editor on The Idaho Review. “Faith and Burning” will be his first published story. His work has been nominated for Best New American Voices and received Honorable Mention for the National Society of Arts and Letters Fiction Prize.

Also scheduled for Camera Obscura’s Summer issue is Leslie  Pietrzyk’s “Ghost, 1899” excerpted below:

“The dead pass through the living the way sunlight passes through a window.
You think you heard someone say that once, and now it makes no sense.  That’s not what it’s like, not at all.  What it’s like can’t be explained.  That dampness in your bones.  That’s close.”

Leslie  Pietrzyk is the author of the novels Pears on a Willow Tree (Avon) and A Year and a Day (William Morrow).



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An Interview with Scott Nadelson

January 14th, 2011


Shane Oshetski had the pleasure of a conversation with Scott Nadelson, the author of “Backfill” which appears in Camera Obscura Journal’s second issue. The story follows a man working on a construction crew, so I thought I’d ask Nadelson about work within this piece as well as the often hard labor of writing stories.   

 Shane Oshetski: Part of what stuck me about “Backfill” was that it put the characters job in the forefront of story, something fiction doesn’t seem to do often. What lead you to write about work?

Scott Nadelson: It’s true, a character’s job is often background in stories, something to provide context for conflict, but in this case the job is the conflict; Robert’s identity is tied so closely to his work that his struggle over who he is has to foreground the job. The job and the character have become inextricably linked.

 Most of my stories begin with some nugget of autobiography, but this one was different. Much of the credit for “Backfill” goes to my brother-in-law, who used to work in underground construction. When my wife and I first got together, he would come home from work and tell stories about the job, and I was fascinated first and foremost by the specific language he used, a kind of code that seemed so particular to this kind of work: “backfill,” “mainline,” “pipe-layer.” It was all vaguely sexual, even homo-erotic, but even more, it gave these guys a way of distinguishing themselves, almost like an insider handshake. I was also intrigued by the images he described, and the constant presence of danger that was a buzzing undertone to the daily grind. As soon as he described the former rock quarry filled with all kinds of refuse—some of which had the potential to cause real harm—I knew I had to write a story about this world. The image was just too rich with metaphoric as well as physical possibility for me not to find a way to use it, even if I didn’t know how.

 SO: Robert is a college graduate who chose to work construction and to me, the story doesn’t just use work as a lens though which we get to know the characters, but it seems concerned also with the meaning of different kinds of labor. What interested you about this?

 SN: This is really the key to the story, I think. My first few attempts at writing it didn’t get me anywhere, in part because I couldn’t quite access this blue-collar world. I’ve done very little manual labor, skilled or otherwise, and couldn’t quite imagine the life of someone who knows he wants to work in a construction job from early on. But as soon as I discovered that Robert is really a white-collar kid who longs for the perceived “realness” of a working-class life, I had his number, especially when part of his motivation is to impress a girl from a similar background. This longing is an emotional state I not only can access but can inhabit quite easily. And once I understood that Robert is simultaneously outsider and insider in his working world, then the story became about how the character defines himself, how he constructs his identity on somewhat false premises, and then finds that he has become someone he no longer wants to be.

 And yes, there are different kinds of work at play in the story, and Robert is good at some and not so good at others. He works hard at his job but not at his marriage; when presented with the hard work of relating to and empathizing with other people he often fails, or doesn’t try. He wants the simplicity of numbers and straight lines and can’t deal with the messiness of emotions. I wasn’t aware of it while I was writing, but now I can certainly see that I was influenced by Philip Levine’s poem “What Work Is,” which is one of my favorites.

 SO: Speaking of the hard work of emotions, there is the scene between Robert and Lisa at dinner where he tries to present himself as someone she might take back into her life. Their dialogue contains an amazing range of emotions and intimacy. What did it take for you to be able to inhabit both of them deeply enough to write this?

 SN: Compared to the rest of the story, this scene came out fairly easily, though not in one shot. In early drafts, Lisa was entirely closed off to Robert’s attempts to win her back all the way through the scene, and it ended up being pretty flat. In subsequent drafts I spent a lot of time imagining what might bring her closer to seeing him the way she’d seen him in the past, what might shake her resolve, and in understanding her more deeply I saw that it was his physicality more than anything else that connected her to him. Above all, he was a body to her, a smell, a source of laughter, but now she wants something richer, more complex. She’s still drawn to his physicality, enough to waver in the scene, and that makes it all the more painful, I think, when she gathers herself at the end of it and remembers what she wants. The drunk high school girl was in the scene from the very first draft, but I didn’t really know what she was doing there; in the end, she becomes the trigger for Lisa remembering that she has grown up in recent years, that she wants a more mature life than the one she can have with Robert.

SO: The scenes on the jobsite with this crew are wonderfully detailed. What kind of research did you have to do in order to write them or is this drawn from your own experience?

 SN: Again, I mostly credit my brother-in-law. He’s a good storyteller, and when he’s interested in something, he can talk about it in incredible detail (you should hear him talk about Burning Man, which he attends every year). I hardly had to ask any questions. I thought about shadowing him on a jobsite, but once I had an idea for the story in mind, I decided instead to let my imagination fill in the gaps. By then I knew I wanted to set the story in New Jersey, where I grew up, rather than in Oregon, where we live. So I thought a lot about the people I knew growing up who would have worked on construction crews, imagining how they would speak, and also picturing the kind of neighborhood they would have been digging. When I was a kid, there was a lot of construction in my area of New Jersey; the suburbs kept expanding westward, and I spent a lot of time walking around newly cleared areas that were soon filled with enormous homes. Once I was able to picture the place clearly, and had a few voices in my head, along with my brother-in-law’s details, I was able to start piecing the world together. It took a lot of drafts, though; maybe fifteen or twenty to really fill it out.

 SO: That is a lot of drafts. Do you often write so many?

 SN: Not always that many, but usually anywhere from five to thirty. It often takes me dozens of false starts before I find my way to the end of a draft, so by the time I’m finished with a story I may have re-written the opening fifty times or more. I have come to really love the revision process, which for me is a process of filling out a skeleton with muscles and skin, etc. On each subsequent draft I know the story better, so my timing gets sharper, my details more precise; I know where to linger, where to hold back. It’s what I imagine it must be like for a musician or an actor reworking the same piece on stage night after night; you start to internalize it, become part of it, so that it comes out more naturally with each new rendition.

 SO: Something I really enjoyed about this was how much we get to know about the individual lives of this crew even though their roles in the story are relatively small. What compelled you to give us their lives in detail?

 SN: I’m glad it comes across that way. This is something I’ve spent a lot of time focused on over the past few years: to make my minor characters feel as real and fleshed out as possible even if we can’t access their thoughts and even if they don’t spend a lot of time on center stage. Especially in stories with a central character who is stuck in his own internal conflict the way Robert is, minor characters can be incredibly effective at creating drama. But they can’t just be tools of the writer, props that serve a purpose. If they’re really alive, and have their own agendas separate from the central character’s, then they can be dynamic forces in the story. I knew early on that Walsh was going to needle Robert and bring out an ugly side of him, but the big surprise for me as I wrote was the role Teo ended up occupying; his loss and his anger parallel Robert’s, and in the end it’s really Teo who nudges Robert into a new understanding of himself, his marriage, his identity.

 SO: You are a creative writing teacher at Willamette University, how has your job influenced your writing?

 SN: Teaching writing has made me a more astute reader, which in turn makes me a better writer. Because I have to stand up in a room in front of eighteen eager undergrads who will ask thoughtful and unexpected questions multiple times a week, I constantly have to rethink my assumptions about fiction and take each piece I read on its own terms. After having done this for a number of years now, I’ve gotten pretty good at being able to figure out the basic structures of a story on a first or second read, and even with stories that are far from realization, I can see their multiple possibilities fairly quickly. This has been incredibly useful in my own drafting process; my early drafts have gotten messier, because I now trust that I’ll be able to figure out what to do with them in the revision process, as long as I pay close enough attention to what possibilities the draft has put into play.

 My students’ energy and enthusiasm also just feeds me on a daily basis, and when the writing isn’t going well, they help remind me how much I love engaging with literature, both as reader and writer. 

 SO: You are already the author of two collections of stories, are you working on another or is there a different project in the works?

 SN: I have a new collection, Aftermath, coming out in September. All the characters in this collection—which includes “Backfill”—are living in the wake of momentous events—the rupture of relationships, the dissolution of dreams—and the stories focus on their attempts to move on with their lives and adjust themselves to their new circumstances. I’ve also been finishing a collection of autobiographical essays that explore longing, failure, and the construction of identity.

 SO: Short story writers often hear (or are told) not to expect to publish collections these days and if they want to be read, to write novels. Since you are now on your third collection, how did you manage to stick with the form?

 SN: It’s true, there’s a lot of pressure to write novels, which I find frustrating, particularly as it’s a pressure that comes from a market-driven idea of art-making. If the same principles applied in visual art, artists would only paint large, decorative, abstract paintings, because those are what sell most. At times I’ve forced myself to work on novels, in order to satisfy these outside pressures, but in recent years I’ve come to accept that my material and my temperament are best suited to the long story and the novella, so that’s just what I have to do, even though those aren’t what most agents and publishers (and I suppose readers) want. And these are forms I really love. My favorite stories are those that have the expansiveness of novels—James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues,” Peter Taylor’s “The Old Forest,” Eudora Welty’s “June Recital,” Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”—and my favorite novels are those that have a story’s compression. Mostly, I have been very fortunate that the publisher of all three collections—the wonderful Hawthorne Books—has generously put up with my devotion to the short form, despite its harm to their bottom line.

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Contributor Update

December 17th, 2010

Congratulations to Chan Kwok Hung for winning the National Geographic photo contest with his striking image “Buffalo Race.” This image was also selected as a finalist in the Camera Obscura photography Competiton and is featured in our second issue along with more of his work and the photos many other great photographers. The complete list of finalists for all Camera Obscura’s competitions can be found here.

Buffalo Race by Chan Kwok Hung

“Buffalo Race”  by Chan Kwok Hung – Copyright © Chan Kwok Hung

I would also like to congratulate Henriette Lazaridis Power whose  novel Clean Monday will by published by Ballantine Books. Clean Monday follows a young Greek/American woman who travels to Greece during the abandon of Carnival to collect a family inheritance, only to discover her estranged mother’s role in the family’s misfortune during WW II. Henriette’s story “Uruguay”  appears in Camera Obscura’s Winter issue.

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Pushcart Nominations for 2010

November 30th, 2010

We were honored to publish some great stories this year.  For 2010, which includes both issues, Camera Obscura Journal has nominated the following stories for the Pushcart Prize:

“214” by Nani Power

“Sanscript” by Kane X. Faucher

“Backfill” by Scott Nadelson

“A Way out of the Colonia” by Rosebud Ben-Oni


The photography competition for the spring 2011 issue is now underway.  The Winter Issue will be available in mid to late December.


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An Interview with Rosebud Ben-Oni

November 24th, 2010

Meredith Doench recently had the opportunity to ask Rosebud Ben-Oni some questions about her work.  Her answers are included in their entirety below.  Rosebud Ben-Oni’s story “A Way Out of the Colonia” has been awarded the Camera Obscura Journal writer honorarium for the second issue due out in mid-December.

My first reading of Rosebud Ben-Oni’s “A Way Out of the Colonia,” a selection from her novel entitled The Strange and Sad Disappearance of Oni Montoya, left me nearly breathless with the sheer panache of the language and images. Here’s a teaser from a section where Oni, a young child, observes her family:

“Since her mother had fallen ill, she noticed changes in her grandmother: how she stayed out most afternoon and evenings visiting friends as the sick woman tried to sleep, wheezing and moaning softly, forgetting that she could be heard in the desperate, despairing quiet that had fallen over their house. A viscous silence that trembled and stiffened with every cry and moan, and chased everyone away from each other in that household and the old woman could no longer bear it. It was a silence that even her grandfather, the guts and guardrail of the family, could not penetrate, wiggle past its congealing borders with his knowing fingers, which, that morning, could catch only a fatal ray of light from the gloom and shine it, dully, into Oni’s eyes.”

Doench: Why did you choose to set “A Way Out of the Colonia” in Matamoros, a border town ?

Ben-Oni: The identity of a Mexican bordertown is problematic; the transience, violence and instability of its character are sometimes romanticized and often demonized. But it is also a place to live in the lyrical, as well as find inspiration and affirmation of the human will.
     Before the rise of the drug cartels, to those living in the states from California to Texas, the bordertowns of Mexico took on two faces: daytime trips to eat at restaurants and shop the markets for families and to go clubbing and bar-hopping at night for teenagers and college kids. Often, bordertown s aren’t thought of as the “real” Mexico, as these are places one is otherwise passing through. One rarely thinks about those who live in the bordertown s, perhaps those from the interior of Mexico or other Latin American countries, who hoped to cross into the United States, looking for a better life. Instead, certain U.S. companies decide to bring the work to them by constructing maquiladoras– those industrial factories which employ mostly women whom these companies believe are more likely to show up to work on time and less likely to complain or form unions.
     When the maquilas came, so did the colonias, these rickety, makeshift neighborhoods that are not recognized by the Mexican government. Rarely if ever do they have access to running water. Electricity, when and if acquired mostly through illegal means, often starts fires. If instability, chaos and desolation thrive in bordertown s, then their nucleus is the colonia. Here the periphery of the periphery is the heart. And yet when writing of the colonia I also wanted to show how imagination and the need for the sacred also thrive. By the sacred I really mean a profound belief in the lyrical. To not only have a voice, but for that voice to have a wide octave range, to experiment with language, to play with words and context itself. To appropriate the mundane and re-envision its place in an ever-changing, ever-challenged/-ing environment. Each colonia could be gone tomorrow, either by a hurricane, an electrical fire or sudden action by the government to tear it down (as it happened to Oni’s mother and her family).
     So in that physical is temporary and precious, and only by remembering, reinterpreting and understanding the colonia’s instability in such an unstable place like a bordertown can we then understand these people who are themselves affirmations of life. Because while in the U.S. most have grown used to adapting their environment to suit them, Oni, her family and the others in the colonia still must adapt to the colonia. And in writing the story, this family, in doing so, actually becomes more lyrical because adaptation calls for imagination and invention.

Doench: As I read the story, I was completely taken by Oni; the child’s perspective and voice allowed me to see Matamoros through her eyes rather than a political lens. What struck me is that Oni is surrounded by conflict and loss. Why did you decide to tell the story from Oni’s perspective?

Ben-Oni: Bordertown s like Matamoros– especially the poorest sections like the colonias– might seem like no places for the lyrical or children, but where else does imagination thrive most than children? Oni, because she’s the daughter of a gitana (Spanish Gypsy) and an unknown father, is an outsider among the already marginalized. Pale, knobby-kneed, with legs and arms too long for her body, she physically stands out. And then on top of that her family feels that they are above living in the bordertown ; for instance, her mother won’t wash her clothes with the other women in the canal, and Oni isn’t allowed to swim there with the other children, either. The residents are somewhat suspicious of the family because their Spanish is different, they dress differently, and like most gitanos, they want to remain a raza (race) apart. On top of that, Oni looks different from them (they are tall, dark and robus), which makes her stand out even more. While Oni’s whole world is her family, she knows that she does not belong completely to them, or to the community, or to the land beneath her feet. Her entire identity is wrapped up in being on the defense, and this creates a state of heightened awareness, sensitivity and understanding. Circumstances force Oni not to grow up too quickly, but to become a sort of introspective, outlaw poet who uses her voice to navigate the perilous ways in the colonia, and hopefully, one day, out of the colonia.

     Like most children, though, as the youngest member, she is the family’s hope and future. Her family, particularly her mother and grandfather, want to impart hope for a better life. In the rest of the novel, her mother envisions her daughter by going to the search of opportunity, and yet as one finds out in this particular story, the reason why the family is in the situation that they are in is in part due to what the U.S. has done to the border. In a day, Oni learns this very quickly, among other realities possibly awaiting her, and it was very interesting to write from her perspective, especially in the changing relationship she has with her grandfather whom she thought of indestructible. That, of course, changes too.

     In spiritual Jewish literature, there is this word luz. I first learned it in Spanish as “light,” but according to Rabbinical legend, it is an indestructible bone somewhere located in the body. I like the duality of this word crossing languages as the stalwart qualities that Oni believed both her mother and grandfather to have becomes undone in a matter of a day and yet in the light of this realization of who they are– outside the identities of mother and grandfather—shines a new light on what Oni must see (and therefore do), herself, outside of her family, as young as she is, in the action of bathing her mother.

Doench: The scene where Oni bathes her sick mother brought tears to my eyes. How does the role reversal of mother and child speak to the theme of the story?

Ben-Oni: Oni’s mother is the kind of woman who’d send her own death before a firing squad. She’s not the type to cling to life, which in itself is an act of courage. She’s comes to know continuous struggle itself as a way of life. But rather than becoming dispirited or giving up, she will fight to the very end with everything she’s got—and she’d rather do it alone. Her father— Oni’s grandfather— mistakes this kind of tragic dynamism for stubbornness, and a matter of pride. But at the heart is a woman who has come to believe in the eternal struggle and rising against it—as both the means and the end. These are the cards that she has been dealt, although she doesn’t want that same hand for her daughter.
     But Oni is a strange, melancholic child. She’s greatly affected by her environment. She’s very sensitive to her environment. I recently read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul, in which he describes the melancholy of the city in the terms of huzun. It’s a Turkish word, with an Arabic root, which Pamuk has taken from Sufism as undergoing a profound spiritual loss while simultaneously maintaining a sense of optimism. I myself render it as a similar theme: the assertion of the will, of life itself, while acknowledging that through this assertion, something equally precious will be lost.
     This reminded me the Cale ideas of duende and pena negra. It is deeply-rooted in Cale culture—and I use “deeply-rooted” somewhat tongue-in-cheek— this idea of land and pain. After the Cale were more or less forced to settle in Spain, broken from their traveling ways, they found they were forced onto a land which really did not belong to them. So, in response, they created cante jondo, the Deep Song, in which one laments the loss of land and love as well. Often, it comprises a singer simply singing ‘ay’ or a like-sound in a harsh, grating voice that is the opposite of anything melodious. Most people find true cante jondo—which is not performed before a paying audience like flamenco, but usually among family and friends, and on the spot, spontaneously— hard to listen to, and harder to watch, as the face is contorted in ways that you simply have to see for yourself. While Oni is not in Spain but Mexico, I believe that she’s in the same predicament concerning a land that does not really belong to her. Unable to locate a sense of home and identity, as young as she is. So home becomes the family. It must be. Even as it is crumbling all around her. In the impending loss of her mother, who wants her to be strong and take charge, she engages in the ultimate act of both love and betrayal, as her mother, again, doesn’t want help. The idea of the colonia itself, in transient a place as a bordertown nonetheless, is huzun, as even in the most hopeless places, life springs forward, most unconscious that it is doing so. But this is what Oni’s mother wants her to be conscious of, to see, and in wanting her to see, it is both the passing of her knowledge of life—perhaps too soon, but she doesn’t have time— as well as an assertion of a tremendous will. Oni, for her part, because of her innate melancholy, understands her mother’s message only when she imposes her own will on her mother in an act both terrible yet intimate, tender yet forceful. For a child to see a scar where her mother’s breasts have been, and bathing her, takes away both the power and the pain of a woman near the end. Their roles are reversed; Oni is better for it, but there’s also a sense of tragedy that she finally sees what her mother both wanted and feared for her to see.

Doench: Another issue I found intriguing about this story is that the setting works as its own character. There are so many references to the approaching storm and the way Matamoros appears to Oni. How does the setting propel the story forward and open it to a wider framework than just this family?

Ben-Oni: If you’ve ever experienced a hurricane or a coastal storm, it seems as though it is a living organism. The ocean itself, which I write about in some detail in the novel, also becomes a character. The storm is both metaphorical and very real as it approaches and then simply hangs over the bordertown, sprawling its grey clouds without releasing a drop of rain. It’s been coming for some time and yet it never arrives. It’s a time of inaction, restlessness and yet urgency, as well. Oni’s mother knows her own end is approaching fast; she does not want to it to come, and yet it cannot come fast enough. When she tells the family “the sky has left us nothing but its bones,” she means that there’s not much left of her own life and body. It’s time for her to show Oni a way out of the colonia, and how she does it is not by showing her the actual way, but how she and her family first came in, where they lived which is no longer a place. Storms, like people, can erase whole passages of history; if one is not around to say “I was here”, then that moment in which she or he lived there will not be remembered. In fact, it might as well have not even happened. Oni’s mother is fighting the impending storm much in the way she’s fighting her own limited time.

Doench: How does this piece fit into the framework of your larger writing project?

Ben-Oni: “A Way out of the Colonia” is an excerpt from a novel I’m working on called The Strange and Sad Disappearance of Oni Montoya in which after her mother dies, Oni disappears. According to Oni’s childhood best friend (and more or less her only friend), Xiomara Villegas, her mother’s final wish was to be burned and have her ashes scattered off the coast of Oaxaca. It was there, Xiomara claims, that the child died in the sea, trying to save her mother from leaving her forever. When the grandfather returned to Matamoros, he came back alone, inciting even more rumors from a town already suspicious of his family and motives.

     Over the years, the bordertown, particularly Oni’s colonia, has clung to the story of Oni’s disappearance. In the novel the colonia is named Valor y Ánimo, which means “Courage and Spirit.” Like many colonias in Mexico, it arrived at its name out of both irony and optimism. And it can be traced to so many, to maquila workers and their unemployed husbands who let their children play on a playground close to the colonia until it was discovered it had been built over toxic waste (and this really does exist in Matamoros.)
     Xiomara, who’s since become a local singer, becomes a sort of guardian of his story. Though notoriously unstable and usually drunk-by-five-de-la-tarde, Xiomara ,who finds herself falling prematurely into rag-face years due to the hard life she lived in the colonia and the choices she made, performs in local bars and sings these stories about the child who became immortal. She also constructs a shrine within the colonia so that Oni Montoya becomes a kind of unofficial saint. A cult. In fact, the people in the colonia rarely refer to her as Oni Montoya but La Gitana Tilica de La Frontera, the unofficial patron saint of those from untraceable origins, for those who live in a place largely without hope. She is a saint for those whom no other saint, for those whose own stories can only struggle, float through the ephemeral melodies, whose family roots are wrought, twisted, and pulled apart. For those who lives the next rush of the maquila’s shift-changing bell, to come home to their fleeting homes of cardboard and tin, until they are taken by coming hurricanes and returned to the open-air landfill from which them came, and they have to rebuild over again. For stories that reflect Valor y Ánimo itself, made up of many things that never made a complete thing. Fragments of lives that do not fit into a cohesive landscape.
And just as Xiomara’s health begins failing her, two things happen: it is discovered that Oni Montoya is, in fact, very much alive and living on the other side of the border, which angers the residents of the colonia, and on that same day, members of a drug cartel approach Xiomara, wanting to take over her shrine and make her their own patron saint. When she refuses, the insult is too much for them to let her get away with it. Suddenly Xiomara has everyone looking for her– and already at the end of her rope, she decides she will try to cross the border and find the woman who was once Oni Montoya– a way out of the colonia, perhaps, for good.
But of course, as we can see in the story excerpted here, the colonia is not easy to escape…

Rosebud Ben-Oni is a writer for New Perspectives Theater, which is producing her play *Quimera on the Pedernales,* and has been the recipient of a Horace Goldsmith Grant, given so she could complete her first novel, which deals with her experiences as a Jew of mixed race. She has had recent work in *Slice Magazine, J Journal, Wreckage of Reason: An Anthology of Contemporary XXperimental Prose by Women Writers, Arts & Letters, Identity Envy— Wanting to be Who We Are Not* and *The Texas Poetry Review*. Recently produced plays include Owless of Santa Clara (Snorks and Pins, Roy Arias Studios, July 2010), Nikita (Shotgun Theater Festival, the Gene Frankel Theatre, Jan 2009 and Thespian Productions, Producer’s Club, May 2009); Nary a Bodega (Leah Ryan Benefit, Producer’s Club, November 2009);
The Amaranthine Thread (Leah Ryan Benefit, Producer’s Club, November 2009 and Where Eagles Dare, February 2010). She is currently finishing her first
novel which is entitled *The Imitation of Crying.*

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Photography Competition Results

November 9th, 2010

The results are in for the Camera Obscura Winter 2010 Photography Competition. We were humbled by the quality of the submissions and the strength of the field (artists from fifteen countries) making the final decisions all the more difficult. The results for the competition with a deadline of September 15th are listed below:

Professional Category
Chan Kwok Hung – “Goal”
Editor’s Choice (selected by photography editor Kate Parker)
Larry Louie – “Living Under the Bridge”
Catherin Colaw – “Neck”
Catherin Colaw – “Hair”
Chan Kwok Hung – “Buffalo Race”
Chan Kwok Hung – “Fearless”
Daniel Haeker – “Existence”
Jeremy Fokkens – “Fireworks”
Julie Blichmann – “Mesa Arch”
Louie Larry – “Defying Gravity”
Louie Larry – “Nepalese Smiles”
Larry Louie – “Tibetan Prayer Flags 6”
Larry Louie – “Tibetan Monastery”
Ron Brown – “Here at the Cross”
Ryan Forster – “Water Eagle”
Simon Jones – “Ghost Ship”
William Goodwin – “Shrimp in a Sponge Funnel”
William Goodwin – “A Fish, a Shrimp, a Sponge”
Non-Professional Category
Marcela Bolívar – “a wanderer’s home”
Editor’s Choice (selected by photography editor Kate Parker)
Svetlana Batura – “silent morning”
Alex Burgess – “Last Minute Cramming”
Blue Mitchell – “Fervor”
Blue Mitchell – “Loophole”
Daniel Haeker – “The World Is Not Enough”
Hugh Jones – “Alice In Wonderland”
Hugh Jones – “vie de Boheme 1913”
Hugh Jones – “Bridge at Halong Bay”
Marcela Bolívar – “At Noon”
Marian Whalen – “Tines”
Paul Cowell – “Dolphin’s Dinner”
Pedro Pages – “encallado”
Svetlana Batura – “Allegro con Moto”
Wendy Heinzelman – “UpperCanyon”

Many Thanks to our judges for this competition: Doug Box, Jennifer Wilson, and Cheri MacCallum (bios available soon in the Darkroom)

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Winter 2010 – Contributors (prose)

October 25th, 2010

Results in the Winter 2010 Photography Competition will be announced soon. While judging for the photography contest is still underway, the prose selections have been made. In alpha order the twelve writers in Camera Obscura’s second issue are:

Amanda Yskamp
E.M. Schorb
Henriette Lazaridis Power
Greg Oaks
K. R. Sands 
Mark Budman
Peter Tieryas Liu
Rosebud Ben-Oni
Scott Nadelson
Sunshine LeMontree
Samantha Stiers
Thisbe Nissen

Amanda Yskamp’s work has appeared in such magazines as Threepenny Review, Hunger Mountain, Caketrain, Redivider, and The Georgia Review. She lives with poet Doug Larsen and their two children on the 10-year flood plain of the Russian River.

 E.M. Schorb’s work has appeared in The Sewanee Review, Southwest Review, The Yale Review, The Chicago Review, Carolina Quarterly, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Antioch Review, The American Scholar, Stand and Agenda (England), The Notre Dame Review, 5 AM, Rattle, and The New York Quarterly, among others.  His first novel, Paradise Square, was the winner of the International eBook Award Foundation’s grand prize for fiction at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2000, and later, A Portable Chaos won the Writers Notes Magazine Book Award for Fiction in 2004. His most recent novel, Fortune Island, was published last year.

Henriette Lazaridis Power is a Greek/American writer whose work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Salamander, The New England Review, The New York Times online, The Millions, and the blog Beyond the Margins, where she is a regular contributor. A Rhodes Scholar and a Ph.D., she taught English literature at Harvard for ten years. Power is the founding editor of The Drum Literary Magazine, an online literary magazine publishing short fiction and essays exclusively in audio form. Power is currently finishing a novel set in remote Northern Greece.

Greg Oaks’ fiction has appeared in the Gettysburg Review, the Cimarron Review and Switchback. He has a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Houston and an MFA from Texas State University. He currently teaches at Lonestar College–Tomball.

K. R. Sands is creating a collection of short fiction inspired by the displays of pathological human anatomy and other medical exhibits at the famous Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. Her fiction has appeared/will appear in Joyland, Inkspill, ShatterColors, EarthSpeak, Wanderings, Fringe, Literary Mama, Milk Money, Prick of the Spindle, and The Tangled Bank: Love, Wonder, and Evolution. Her major nonfiction publications are Demon Possession in Elizabethan England and An Elizabethan Lawyer’s Possession by the Devil: The Story of Robert Brigges. A recovering academic, she has taught literature and writing for ten universities, including Temple University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Maryland. Her nonacademic jobs have included dog groomer, animal laboratory technician, zoo keeper, and environmental regulation writer. She has lived in Arizona, Scotland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Mark Budman’s works have appeared or are about to appear in such magazines as Mississippi Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The London Magazine, McSweeney’s, Turnrow, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, and elsewhere. He is the publisher of a flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim. He co-edited the anthology You Have Time for This from Ooligan Press; a new anthology is forthcoming in 2011 from Persea Books. 

Peter Tieryas Liu has recently had short stories accepted for publication in the Binnacle, Gargoyle, Prism Review, Quiddity International Literary Journal, and
ZYZZYVA. He’s worked as a technical writer for Lucasfilm and is a character technical director for Sony Pictures, where he’s worked on features like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and I Am Legend.

Rosebud Ben-Oni is a writer for New Perspectives Theater, which is producing her play Quimera on the Pedernales, and has been the recipient of a Horace Goldsmith Grant, given so she could complete her first novel, which deals with her experiences as a Jew of mixed race. She has had recent work in Slice Magazine, J Journal, Wreckage of Reason: An Anthology of Contemporary Xxperimental Prose by Women Writers, Arts & Letters, Identity Envy— Wanting to be Who We Are Not and The Texas Poetry Review. Recently produced plays include Owless of Santa Clara (Snorks and Pins, Roy Arias Studios, July 2010), Nikita (Shotgun Theater Festival, the Gene Frankel Theatre, Jan 2009 and Thespian Productions, Producer’s Club, May 2009); Nary a Bodega (Leah Ryan Benefit, Producer’s Club, November 2009); The Amaranthine Thread (Leah Ryan Benefit, Producer’s Club, November 2009 and Where Eagles Dare, February 2010). She is currently finishing her first novel, which is entitled The Imitation of Crying.

Scott Nadelson is the author of two story collections, The Cantor’s Daughter, recipient of the Reform Judaism Fiction Prize and the Samuel Goldberg & Sons Fiction Prize for Emerging Jewish Writers, and Saving Stanley: The Brickman Stories, winner of the Oregon Book Award for short fiction and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Alaska Quarterly Review, Post Road, Arts & Letters, American Literary Review, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere.

Sunshine LeMontree’s work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in PANK Magazine, Steam Ticket Journal, Weave Magazine, Word Riot, and Eclectica. She is a recent graduate of the MFA Writing Program at The New School in New York and is currently the Editorial Prose Coordinator at LIT Magazine.

 Stories by Samantha Stiers have appeared in Conjunctions, elimae, The Bitter Oleander, and one is forthcoming in Puerto del Sol.

Thisbe Nissen is author of two novels, The Good People of New York, and Osprey Island; a story collection, Out of the Girls’ Room and into the Night; and co-author/co-collagist of The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook. She teaches Creative Writing at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, and has recently published short-shorts in NANO Fiction, Quick Fiction, and TriQuarterly Online.

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