Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hayden's Ferry Review just posted this call for submissions, and it makes me want to write:


 We do a lot of things in the dark: feel fear, make love, tell stories. We spend at least a third of our lives with the lights off, dreaming. In the dark, we imagine shadows and movement where there may be none, we picture stormy nights and power outages. We see amorphous shapes that we cannot identify, and the whole world goes colorless. Sometimes, we feel left out or lost, and though it may be the middle of the day, high noon, we say we are in the dark. Sometimes we don't even know the things we don't know, don't know that someone, somewhere, is thinking about how in the dark we are--unaware of unfaithful love, of eyes trained on us from a distance, of surprise parties being plotted. Darkness is also used to make things seem brighter. In painting, for instance, a brushstroke here brings out the color there, illuminating the illumination.

Our theme for issue #51 of Hayden's Ferry Review is In the Dark. We want your stories and poems about darkness, about being and doing and feeling in the dark. Turn the lights off. Make shadow puppets on the wall. Leave something out. Tell us what happens when the screen goes black. Blindfold us and take us by the hand. Lock us in the trunks of cars. Take us to attics, basements, graveyards. Find a darkness that hasn't been found.

Submit online at 

and mention “In the Dark” in the comments section. Deadline is June 1, 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

Who Cares? (The Most Important Question We Never Ask)

For the past few years, I have started every creative writing class by telling my students that there is one question that I can't ask but that is more important than any other. "Who cares?"

I tell them this on the first day of class, before I've seen any of their writing, because I can't read their stories, the ones they've worked so hard on, the ones they've poured so much of themselves into, I can't hold those narratives up in front of all their peers, and say "honestly, y'all, who cares?"

To do so would be soul crushing, and it is neither my job nor my desire to crush souls. Still, before we've read any stories or can attach the question to any one writer's work, I have to put the question out there because, if we're serious about writing for publication, then our writing must above all other things make someone care.

Fiction, when it works, works like a gut punch. Whether we're out to make someone happy or sad, the purpose of fiction is not to move someone's rational mind, but rather, to move them emotionally. That's not easy to do. Most people are tired at the end of the day.

Flannery O'Connor knew this and wrote brilliantly about it (see her essay on "The Tired Reader" in Mystery and Manners).. The only problem is, she blames the reader, writing “I once received a letter from an old lady in California who informed me that when the tired reader comes home at night, he wishes to read something that will lift up his heart. And it seems her heart had not been lifted up by anything of mine she had read. I think that if her heart had been in the right place, it would have been lifted up.”

Now, I love Flannery O'Connor, and, though I know she is in part being facetious, I also want to believe that she is right because so many people are moved by her writing. Still, I wonder if the less-talented rest of us can get away with this attitude? Don't we have to go after those tired hearts and, if not uplift them, make them at least care a little about the characters we write? If we're moving hearts, and then minds along with them but hearts first, isn't making someone care the single most important function of a piece of writing?

I'm not advocating we start asking "who cares?" on any student's story. As I said earlier, I believe it would be destructive and harmful in the long run... Still, I'd like to throw the question out there as one we writers should be asking ourselves. We may not live in the sentimental age of the Victorians, with their love of melodrama, but nonetheless, readers turn to fiction because they do want catharsis; they do want to care. Our job is to provide matter worth caring about.