Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Difference Between the Lightning Bug and the Lightning

by Fiction Editor J. Nishida 

Bacopa Literary Review 2021 will receive hundreds of fiction submissions. What will make yours stand apart? We seek short fiction (up to 2500 words) that immediately captures the imagination, tells an original story in vivid language, and provides an ending that rewards our investment of time and attention. 

Steven Millhauser writes: 

Its littleness is the agency of its power ... The short story apologizes for nothing. It exults in its shortness. It wants to be shorter still. It wants to be a single word. If it could find that word, if it could utter that syllable, the entire universe would blaze up out of it with a roar. That is the outrageous ambition of the short story, that is its deepest faith, that is the greatness of its smallness. 

If you Google the qualities of a well written short story, you'll find a thousand rules to follow, many of them debatable. But Kurt Vonnegut’s first rule is not debatable:  

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

Listen to your story read aloud for clarity, logic, coherence of shifts (time, place, tone, point of view), completeness, and music. Trust your readers to “get” what needn’t be stated outright. Favor concrete detail to philosophical musings. Be sure the writing conventions (grammar, punctuation, syntax, spelling) serve comprehensibility and fluidity of reading, instead of impeding them. Use crisp, concise, and readable language, free of clichés and distracting convention errors. Spark a life that lingers in the reader’s imagination.

Cut and cut; distill your language. If 1000 words will capture the heart and bone of your original 2500, use 1000. If 500 will capture that of the 1000, use 500. If one word will do instead of three, use what Mark Twain describes as the right word:  

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

*   *   *

Fiction Editor J. Nishida has B.A. and Masters Degrees in English, graduate-level certification in Teaching English as a Second Language, and an Education Specialist degree in secondary school reading. She's studied numerous languages, including Spanish, French, Japanese, Welsh, and Arabic; has co-edited/co-translated a book of Japanese Waka poetry; self-published a children's beginning reader chapter book for ESOL and/or special-needs students; taught English reading, language arts, and writing in both classroom and online environments; tutored and taught ESOL with high school/college students and adults; done free-lance editing; and worked for charitable and non-profit endeavors supporting literacy and the arts.

Nishida has traveled widely to feed her addiction to Shakespearean theatre, including NYC, London, Stratford-upon-Avon, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She's attended numerous literary conferences, festivals, and workshops, among them the Dodge Poetry Festival, the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, the American Literary Translators Association Conference, the Toronto Storytelling Festival, and the Florida Storytelling Festival.

As a child of a military family, Nishida lived in five U.S. states and near Oxford, UK. As an adult she has lived in Leuven, Belgium and Mallorca, Spain, and has traveled as far afield as Japan and New Zealand. Her family currently lives in Gainesville, FL with two dogs, a snake, and far too many cats. She favors the Oxford comma with  a zealotry that borders on fanaticism. 


Friday, February 12, 2021

J.N. Fishhawk: Poet, Writer, Editor

by Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Our Associate Editor/Poetry Editor J.N. Fishhawk has been Poetry Editor since 2017, and will be taking over as Editor-in-Chief with the 2022 issue (I'll stay on as Associate Editor).

J.N. was a friend of our journal long before he joined our editorial staff. In fact, his prose poem "a prayer" helped inaugurate our first annual edition (Bacopa Literary Review 2010):

O bear, O rabbit, O moon, O woods with yr million million twiggy fingers clutching after disappearing fur, nestling features, lifting scales and claws and soft suction toes, scuttling buggy digits of horn and chitin, little dust-kissed hooks of moths, O things in thickets crawling, O clatter of lizards under leafmold, O slip of spider silk like cat's cradle played with death on the shivering green breeze-reaches, O underscrub where all breaths die, blaze of sun among dry wrecked shells in sand, you ancient snailshacks going slowly apart over centuries for lime, liner for the guts of the native earth, O hell all you racket of growth and vigorous destruction, come on, come on, burn and turn, let's all go down together and come up again some other time, who knows what beings we'll be? 
For longer than our twelve-year acquaintance, our upcoming Editor-in-Chief has been a moving force of the Civic Media Center and Library (CMC) in Gainesville, Fl, a nonprofit, independent, grassroots, street-level alternative library and progressive community organizing space. He's often the MC for CMC's Thursday night open mic where many of our local poets and writers have given voice to their work. He's also a freelance writer and editor, with emphasis on education, outreach and promotions, academic, and artistic projects.

From one of his latest creative works: "The Darklands may be caught in infrared glimpses framed by ancient shade trees. They glimmer just below the surface of sunset rivers older than time..." So reads in part the back cover of Dancing Ghost's 2016 Production, Postcards from the Darklands, Photos by Jorge Ibáñez, Poems by Jimmy Fishhawk.*

Jimmy's ekphrastic poems in Postcards from the Darklands are beautifully evocative of Jorge's photos, as evidenced in #20:
in wall so worn
by forgotten centuries' winds
that the puddled glass
between the windows' lead
is the ancestor of the ancestor
of the bubbled plate
that was the first pane
placed there,
where the shades still recall
the wartime blackout
even in the claybake
ovenheat of noon,
a ghost of her face
may be seen
to keep watch
on the darkest night
electric light fails
under the ice-weight
of winter
and even the stars howl
with grief
where the spines
of their own illumination
stab them
*Jimmy Fishhawk, poet, writer, and agitator, has called the swamplands of Florida home for many years. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online journals; he's also the author of two poetry chapbooks: Virus, Pt. 1:1 Infest Yer Consciousness (Dreaming God Productions) and Gone (Ghost Dog Press).

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Fees: An Obstacle to Best, Most Diverse Writing

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast
A $3 fee might not sound like much, but the average short story might receive around 20 rejections before it's published . . . Reading fees also pose an extra obstacle in the literary community's efforts to be more diverse . . . Fees ensure that people who have disposable income will submit the most . . . ("Should Literary Journals Charge Writers Just to Read Their Work?" Joy Lanzendorfer, The Atlantic, Oct. 25, 2015)
Every year our editorial board reviews the finances of publishing a print journal, and considers the obvious arithmetic of submission fees to offset the cost of prizes, layout, printing (we editors are volunteers). There's more to consider than the obvious, though, when our goal is to publish top quality work from a diverse group of writers and poets.

Any journal of our size is in competition with thousands of other print and online literary magazines for the best work. So it's helped me to draw from my former business--built on writing and internet presence--to think of Bacopa Literary Review as a small, nonprofit business with a vision, goals, and action plans. As with any organization that wants to succeed in its field, our core values and their priorities must be clear: Economy? Service? Excellence?

Of course excellent writing is key, and going into my sixth year as Editor-in-Chief, our team has become more and more clear that "excellence" includes a diversity consistent with worldwide diversity of fine writers--diversity of age (and thus cohort groups--whose styles, issues, and concerns differ decade by decade), of gender identification (not just males and females--an increasingly useless dichotomy), of geographic location, of literary background (from well-published septuagenarians to recently hatched MFAs of all ages, to beginning writers who've never published before).

A close second to excellence in our vision is service, interacting with and congratulating writers and poets by email, in this blog, Facebook, and Twitter; making sure they see within days that their submissions are being reviewed, responding quickly when we know a submission is not quite a fit for a given year's issue, and accepting especially good pieces right away so we don't lose them to another journal. When contributors notify us that they've later published books, we feature them here. Starting with the 2019 issue, we've also invited contributors to send posts about their work in Bacopa, to promote our writers and poets as much as we can.

Economy runs third as a core value for Bacopa--important, but not as important as excellence and service. We've experimented with fees, and though the current team has never charged more than $3 per submission, it is clear that we receive the finest and most diverse writing when we don't charge a fee. We do stay within the budget of a general annual cost estimate, and we're fortunate that our sponsor, Writers Alliance of Gainesville, is willing to foot the average $3000/year (not including the many hours donated by our editorial team in what is mostly a labor of love). If we charged fees we'd have fewer submissions, and thus less work, but we'd also lose some of the best writers and have a much less diverse publication.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

I Don't Want It, But It's Not Junk!

 by Bacopa Literary Review Editor-in-Chief Mary Bast

Writers often succumb to this fatal flaw of fiction writing, explaining and telling and summarizing instead of showing action as it's happening. "How Fiction Writers Can Show Emotions in Their Characters in Effective Ways," C.L. Lakin, Live, Write, Thrive.

Our 2020 Fiction Second Prize winner, "Junk," by Siamak Vossoughi, starts out quietly:

About once a week we'd get a call from somebody asking us to haul their junk, and they'd call their junk what anybody with the sense God gave them would call it, which was junk. So I was unprepared when I got a call for some hauling out in Duven and the guy said he had a truckload of stuff but he didn't want to call it junk.
     "It's my parents' stuff," he said. "I don't want it, but it's not junk."
     "Okay, You want us to haul it away?"
     "Yes. But it's not junk . . ."

Then, readers are invited into the ensuing conversation between the speaker, Mike, and his partner in their junk hauling business, Louis, who agrees with the customer that when your parents have died, the things they've left behind are not "junk." What slowly grabs us is how this story shows the action as it's happening, in the conversation between two junk haulers as they consider, first, the customer's potential reaction to their T-shirts with the slogan "Tree Service and Hauling Junk."

     "I'm going to go load the truck," I said.
     I went out back and loaded the truck for the afternoon. We had a tree job over on Greenwood. I thought about all the time I spent designing the shirt. I hadn't half-assed it. It was a good shirt and I liked putting it on in the morning.
     I went back inside.
     "What are  you going to do about the truck?"
     "What about it?"
     "It says We Haul Junk on the side. Because, as I mentioned, that's what we do."
     Louis stared at the side of the truck.
     "He said his mother and father
both died?" . . .

Mike and Louis engage in an almost comic routine as they consider covering the word JUNK on the side of their truck with the word STUFF, Mike kicking all the way with such comments as, "Nobody's going to do this for us when our parents go." 

     . . . I wondered if there was a way I could've told Louis about the job when the guy had first called without mentioning that he didn't want us to call his parents' stuff junk. Who expects a guy to run with it like that?

 Eventually, though, Mike comes around.

     ". . . You win. We have to change the receipts."
     "The receipts say junk on them. If you're going to give him a receipt, you might as well cross out the word junk and write something else there too. . ."
What makes this story a prize winner? Author Vossoughi invites us to observe Mike and Louis grappling with a customer's likely grief and reaction to signs that his parents' belongings might be considered junk, engaging thoughts about their own parents' eventual deaths, without once talking about their feelings. And yet, masterfully, the author brings readers almost to tears with ordinary dialogue between two ordinary guys, in their own way showing compassion for a customer's feelings.

*   *   *

Siamak Vossoughi, a writer living in Seattle, has had stories published in various journals, and his 2015 collection, Better Than War, was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing and received a 2014 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. His recent collection, A Sense of the Whole, received the 2019 Orison Fiction Prize, judged by Victor LaValle. From Jane Hu's New York Times review of A Sense of the Whole: "What emerges is the sense that anyone you meet has a story." Click here for Vossoughi's website and follow him on Twitter @siamakvossoughi.

  Read Siamak Vossoughi's prize-winning "Junk" on pages 10-14,
as well as other engaging works of Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Humor, and Short-Short Fiction in Bacopa Literary Review 2020

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Whose War Is It Anyway?

by Bacopa Literary Review 2020 Fiction First Prize winner James D'Angelo

I wrote the first draft of "Proxy" after reading Joan Didion's Salvador, Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, and War Is a Racket by Marine Corps Major General Smedley D. Butler. I was fascinated with the idea of being a civilian trapped in a military-occupied town while the machinery of war grinds away. I also wanted to explore being a witness to something terrible. What level of culpability does a witness have, specifically a war reporter? Are you loyal to your country or to the truth?

That first draft received mixed responses at my weekly writing group, but someone recommended I read Dexter Filkins' book The Forever War. That helped me dive deeper inside the head of a journalist caught up in a combat zone. The title "Proxy" is on one level a reference to the term proxy war, and you can find plenty of those throughout the last century. But the story intentionally lacks certain details of the people, the geography, and the exact time period. This fictional war is a proxy for all the wars the United States has waged, overtly or covertly, for resources.

At dawn the American guns open up and vent Hell's exhaust.
     The shells rain until dusk falls, always on faraway places.
     They do this every day.
     At night, sharpshooters with Starlight scopes command the sight lines. They can spot the cherry of a cigarette from nine hundred yards and kill the man smoking it before the nicotine reaches his lungs . . .
     The U.S. military has spent countless research dollars to make soldiers more effective. They found that the mechanical distance between killer and victim is a key factor in willingness . . .
     Firing artillery. Shooting at the tips of cigarettes. It's easy to lose track of cause and effect . . .

I was lucky enough to have "Proxy" accepted just before I started my MFA program. I told my professor in office hours, but haven't directly told anyone in my workshop. Doing so feels too boastful. In my school's newsletter I provided this summary: 

"Proxy" tells the story of a journalist exposing the cost of fighting someone else's war. The evidence he gathers reveals how easy it is to kill for profit.

I stand by my blurb, but I'd love for you to read the story and tell me your thoughts. You can find/yell at me on Twitter. I want to thank my fiction professor Thisbe Nissen for believing in this story when it was part of my MFA application, as well as Lower Bucks Creative Writers for seeing it through from the first draft. And finally, thanks to Bacopa Literary Review for this incredible opportunity. "Proxy" is my first published story, so this is all new and exciting, and I'm very grateful.

*   *   *

  Read James D'Angelo's prize-winning "Proxy" on pages 59-64,
as well as other engaging works of Fiction,
Creative Nonfiction,
Humor, and Short-Short Fiction in Bacopa Literary Review 2020