“Flannery O’Connor once wrote that every good work of fiction must have an ending that feels both surprising and inevitable. And it strikes me that most of the realizations we have about ourselves are exactly that.”
In the newest contribution to our Teaching Writing Series, Laura Valeri describes the rewards of teaching her students to utilize primary research such as oral histories, court transcripts, and testimonies as avenues for inspiring their own fiction, as well as how working with these resources can prompt productive classroom discussions on “ownership, truth in fiction, and about the ethical nuances of writing another person’s story.”
“When I was younger I challenged myself to write things my family members might be uncomfortable reading, or things that could get me in hot water with people I knew”: Jared Yates Sexton on his collection, An End to All Things.
Published last month by Starcherone Books, Sarah Falkner’s debut novel is the winner of their seventh annual Prize for Innovative Fiction. Contributor Laura Valeri says this of the book: “Even beyond the novel’s halfway point, the reader may still be uncertain of the story’s protagonists or the animal sanctuary’s role. But the pages keep turning because of Falkner’s incisive prose, her accurate and fluid discussion of the aesthetic values of film, and the moral complexity of her characters.”
Alissa Nutting has “story” written in ink on every page of Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, her lively, well-imagined, and jaw-droppingly smart prize-winning debut. Imagine Donald Barthelme writing smart feminine narratives, Mary Gaitskill sans the kinky sex, or Margaret Atwood turning to dry, Colbert-style humor, and you may start to get an idea of what to expect.
In this conversation with FWR’s Laura Valeri, Susanna Daniel discusses her debut novel, the fictional memoir Stiltsville, and shares her insights on the process of writing, the power of quiet stories—which she terms eminently readable—and the perseverance and faith that writers must nurture for their own work.
Erzsebet Bathory gained immortal fame as one of the first female serial killers; known as the “Bloody Countess,” she was accused of brutally torturing and murdering over six-hundred young women. But was she really an unrepentant, psychopathic murderer—or simply a political obstacle to the king? Was she really bathing in the blood of her victims, or was she herself the victim of a witch hunt? Such questions haunt the pages of The Countess (Crown, 2010), Rebecca Johns’s lively historical novel, which reconstructs the complexity of this 17th century scandal and brings alive the woman behind the myth.
The imagined Hungarian village of Zavitar is home to the indomitable Valeria, a single lady of a certain age, given a second chance at love and excitement in the arms of the local potter. Marc Fitten’s debut novel, Valeria’s Last Stand, explores how the fall of Communism effects a memorable cast of characters, all through the lens of fable.
At Sewanee everyone mingled with everyone else—poets with playwrights with fiction writers, famous and not, published and not, emerging or well established. It didn’t matter. Therefore, when it was Andrew Hudgins’ turn to give a craft lecture, I was one of the first to go, eager to absorb what I could smuggle back to those students in my undergraduate workshop who had more of an ear for poetry than me, their fiction-writing professor. I needed to be at that lecture for professional obligations; I wanted to be there for personal desires. But just as I was beginning to reach towards the trellises of poetic symmetry, grasping for that hanging fruit, I heard Hudgins say, a mocking lilt to his voice, “…and then he became a fiction writer, like all failed poets tend to do.”
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