Issue 35 Update

Dear Readers,

We’ve been losing our formatting battle with issuu.com, the site we publish our new issues through. Until we can get things figured out there, we thought it’d be best to offer issue 35 direct to you, as we would want it to be viewed. So below, please find a .pdf file of our Fall issue. Share it with your friends!

Download Issue 35: Lonesome Harvests

cheers,

The Editors

OxMag Issue 35 Out Now!

Dear Readers,

It has been a warm fall here in Ohio. The pleasant weather of our late harvest has meant the fruits of long, hard labor have exceeded expectations in a year we found ourselves worrying. Quite frankly, we’re stunned. The challenges of the planting season, the wet, cool temperatures of June, have meant that even while the harvest hasn’t been as bountiful as in years past, we’ve found ourselves surviving, and even thriving, here at its close. Two weeks ago, the tomatoes were ripped from the ground, withered by a frost that tricked us into believing we must close up our houses. We turned to the power of the written word to fill the table our own gardens had left wanting, and in solidarity with each other we have thrown open our windows and doors again. And today we celebrate a fine feast under peaceful, even if at times lonely, skies.

Has this harvest been lonesome? We’re afraid it has been—at times terribly so. But today we offer this brief missive as thanks-giving for what we’ve dug bare-handed from the earth, even if that digging has broken our fingernails. Because here in the end-that-is-not-an-end we find, somewhat miraculously, a community, a feast we can offer one another.

This issue tells stories of such lonesome harvests, and the tables we gather at once we return from our muddy fields.

It also presents the winners of the inaugural Golden Ox Award for Prose and Poetry, Geramee Hensley and Kailash Srinivasan. We find ourselves swept up in the kinetic movement of Srinivasan’s prose in “Half Smile,” with its single long paragraph, while Hensley’s “Quiet,” true to its title, allows us much needed pause in our ever cacophonous world. Like these works, harvests too are charged with moments of such desperate, frenetic energy and such deep, exhausted quiet. We welcome them, and the work of the rest of the writers in this issue, to our table.

All the best,

Evan Fackler & Jess Marshall (Editors-in-Chief, Oxford Magazine)

Issue 35 features the work of Gay Baines, A.S. Coomer, Thomas Gillaspy, Geramee Hensley, Wulf Losee, Don McMann, Suzan Mikiel, Ned Carter Miles, Allen M. Price, Joseph Pritchard, Zachary Riddle, Hilary Sideris, Kailash Srinivasan, and Dr. Ernest Williamson.

The Longitudinal Process of Craft: An Interview with Chris Bachelder

Interview conducted by Justin Chandler

Chris Bachelder is the author of four novels: Bear vs. Shark, U.S.!, Abbott Awaits, and The Throwback Special, which was serialized in The Paris Review and will be published in the Spring of 2016 through W.W. Norton. He currently lives in Cincinnati, and teaches at the University of Cincinnati. In early October, Bachelder led an intensive, four-day Sprint course, titled “A Slow Sprint: A Study of Patience and Pacing,” for students in the graduate fiction workshop here at Miami.

You’ve lived in Ohio for 5 years, and this is your third time visiting Miami for a Sprint Week. Other than the outrageous amount of money, what keeps you coming back?

The students are always eager, gracious, and talented, a real pleasure to work with. I like the combination of brevity and intensity, and I find especially appealing the rigorous focus on reading and craft. As a bonus, I get to spend time with Professor Luongo, an old friend, and Professor Bates, a new one.

How much of an effect does place, the place of a writer in an actual, physical environment (Ohio as opposed to Florida as opposed to Massachusetts), have on a writer and a writer’s interests? We think of age, life events, the passage of time, as having an effect, but what about physical space—does it have an effect?

Most certainly it does, both in ways we can articulate and ways we cannot. I take it as a given that our worldviews and predilections and habits of mind are substantially shaped by the landscape we grew up in. I’m not talking politics or culture. I’m talking about how our minds work, and what we think and expect of the world—it must be unique for the person who grows up in the shadow of a 14-000-foot mountain, or at the edge of an ocean, or on the plains, or nestled in some valley.

Having said that, however, I haven’t to this point in my career been very interested in, or focused on, setting. It’s not what brings me to writing, and I’ve not written carefully about a certain place I’ve lived. The truth is, I’ve moved all over the place, and I suppose I don’t feel a real attachment to any one place. In my first two novels, the setting might be described as “America”—a satirical and cartoonish version of America. And lately I’ve been most interested in occupying the mind and the domestic space. My forthcoming book is set in a chain hotel.

Your “style,” if that word means something, has certainly shifted over the course of your career. Without trying to load a question, I wonder if you might speak to that: what do you see as a development or movement in your own writing, novel to novel?

It’s convenient, and I suppose fairly accurate, to split my career thus far in half and say that my first two books differ significantly from my last two. My early books used ostentatious formal experimentation and a kind of manic elaboration of an absurd satirical premise. In their movement the books were restless and antic, and in their premises they were conceptual or idea-driven. The canvas was large. My recent books are quieter and much more interior. The concerns are not overtly political or cultural but rather domestic. I’ve become interested in the radical expansion of small moments. The forms and premises are not conventional, but there are fewer structural and formal experiments, fewer flourishes and gags. I think the more recent work is more immersive, thoughtful, and character-driven, less jittery. The canvas has gotten small, and concepts have receded. The split occurred essentially when I had children, and you can make of that what you will. There are certain constants, though, chief among them a fundamentally comic sensibility.

Implicit in changing style is a sense of, maybe, a newer appreciation for what the novel can or ought to do, and a recognition of what it may be incapable of accomplishing. In hindsight, do you see your earlier work as failing to achieve something, or misguided, or is it just different?

For many years I was afflicted with my sense of what the novel ought to do. I thought it should—it must—take on the big world, respond to injustice or stupidity, be politically and culturally engaged. My first two novels grew out of this sense of obligation. I’m proud of the books—I don’t see them as failures or follies. I certainly admire their energy, but I guess I think they are somewhat limited in their effects. They strain for gravity beneath the disjunctive structure. Part of that is just being a young writer who is figuring out a lot on the fly. And part of it is the strain of wanting the novel to be and do a certain thing. For whatever reason, I don’t have the same sense of obligation anymore. My political beliefs have not changed significantly, but I haven’t felt the need to prove it on the page. If anything, my current mode is to find significance where someone would least expect to find it. I hesitate to call this progress or improvement or development. It’s just the way I’ve changed. The work is certainly less edgy and engaged and righteous, but I also think it’s more dense, attentive, psychologically astute, and tonally complicated. You could frame that as a loss or a gain.

Is this mode, for you, still political? That could be either generally—in the sense that everything is always, inevitably political, or in a specific sense of this mode offering unique rewards for the writer and the reader.

It might be true that everything is political, as some say, but then it would also be true that the category ceases to be very interesting. I couldn’t really make a case for this mode being explicitly political or engaged, but I’ve just come to find such delight and value in small-canvas work that is genuinely attentive to the world. Lydia Davis has a little chapbook called “The Cows.” It’s 37 pages of careful observation and speculation about three cows in a field. Is that political work? I don’t know. It’s work that assigns value to the act of watching, and to creatures you could easily drive right past without a thought.

We’ve spent all week talking about taking time, letting the story breathe. What about patience as an approach to writing do you find so valuable?

Well, I think patient writing tends to be convincing writing.  It convinces readers that the world is real.  And I think when writers move patiently through a story, they see more, they are more attentive.  They surprise themselves, and thus surprise readers.  Patient writing invests objects with power and meaning—a kind of glow or hum.  The tired old stuff of the world is redeemed when it is carefully observed.  I find that everyday objects, even what we would think of as trash, can be tender or moving when writers pay close attention.  An old boot, a stained popsicle stick, a chewed pencil.  Also, we talk often about mood or atmosphere in fiction, but it’s not always evident how those abstract qualities are achieved.  I would speculate that mood and atmosphere are created and developed largely through pacing.

You’ve read and been talking about graduate fiction all week with us in conferences. The editors of OxMag have recently started posting, on the blog, statements on what they look for when they read, a sort of template for writers considering submitting to OxMag. I’ve found them pretty enlightening. I was wondering if you could take some time to answer that same question—what do you look for when you’re reading fiction? What’s a piece have to have, or be doing, for you to say Yes?

That’s a good question. What I tend to fall for are qualities of syntax and style.  I value precision, rhythm, control, agility, as well as indirection and restraint.  Wit.  Vividness.  A peculiar angle of vision.  I vastly prefer the genuinely peculiar to the merely zany.  I don’t necessarily want a big voice, but I want a distinctive and authoritative voice.  I want to enjoy what’s happening on the page, and I care less about what might happen next.  As I said the other night in the Q&A, I read primarily to be arrested, not propelled.

The culture in which we write offers unique difficulties. In some ways, American culture today seems averse to the kind of time and attention it requires to devote to long facebook posts, let alone novels. To what extent does this influence you as a writer? And if it doesn’t, how do you cultivate the ability to disregard those sorts of outside concerns?

I struggle to give and sustain my attention. I feel it drifting off and splintering. Compared to ten or fifteen years ago, I feel far less capable of reading a long book or reading for hours at a time. It certainly affects my reading and writing, and yet I believe that reading and writing are the best antidotes. Because our minds tend to flit all over the place, I’ve found literary value in going against the current, in bearing down on small moments.

If you could interview one author, who would it be, and if you only had the chance to ask one question, what would it be?

I would ask Paula Fox about a mouse that runs across the kitchen floor in the middle of the night while her characters sleep in the novel Desperate Characters.  It’s page 143.  I’ve always loved that mouse, that moment.  It’s an astonishing moment of narration and point of view and observation.  The novel was published 45 years ago.  I would be curious to know if she remembered that mouse, if it meant anything to her at all.

That’s an awesomely specific answer. Care to elaborate?

Just thinking about point of view, it’s incredible that a writer would keep the camera rolling, so to speak, after her characters fall asleep. It’s fierce evidence of the reality of this world. When our characters are unconscious, the universe doesn’t just fall away or cease to exist. That’s especially true and important in this particular novel, in which the outside world is ominous and threatening. I just love that Fox narrates a quiet house at night. It seems both menacing and tender, and it makes her characters seem so vulnerable.

Was there ever a moment when you weren’t sure whether you would continue writing? If so, what was it, and how did you move past it?

Between projects I always have my doubts about whether I’ll be able to enter something deeply again, or whether I can find a way to bring something alive. But it’s not as if I’ve ever thought it isn’t a worthwhile thing to do, and it’s not as if I’ve ever considered quitting. I go periods of time without writing, and I have plenty of worries about it, but up to now I haven’t felt the urge to give it up.

I think a lot of readers wonder about how writers wake up and put word after word on the page day after day. What motivates you?

I just like making things. If I weren’t a writer, I would want to be a carpenter or a woodworker. I like putting things together to make something solid. The process of making—the demands of precision and accuracy and wit and rhythm—is as important to me as any subject I might choose. I’m not someone who just has so many stories I need to tell. I just want to build things that have a certain heft and elegance.

 

 

Creative Nonfiction Should Be About Cats: What I Read for When Reading Submissions

When approached to discuss what I look for in a creative nonfiction submission, my immediate response was: “Are they writing about cats? If not, then Bye, Felicia.” Seriously, you have no idea how indescribably happy I would be reading all about your crazy cat lady ways and the beautiful felines that illuminate your lives. Sadly for me (although maybe not-so-sadly for you), I know that’s an unrealistic expectation.

So what do I really look for when I’m reading creative nonfiction? Well, first things first: Did you get my attention? Not unlike my hopeful attempt to catch your attention through my crazy cat lady anecdote, a label I proudly wear, starting your own piece with a well-crafted beginning is a surefire way to make sure that I make it all the way through your narrative. Like I tell my college freshmen in our composition class, the set-up to their piece is one of the most important ways to ensure that your audience reads the whole thing. An effective opening, I think, catches its audience’s attention and hints at what I’m going to read about later in the piece. Sure, that sounds easy enough. And yet, you’d be surprised at how often my students resort to cliches: “From the beginning of time,” “Today’s society,” or “Oxford English Dictionary defines X as…” These ineffective hooks exist in creative writing, too: “‘Twas a dark and stormy night,” for example, or “My mama always told me, ‘Life’s like a box of chocolates.’” I’d rather read about a cat that has absolutely nothing to do with the story than dialogue from characters I don’t even know or the weather happening during the moment you’re introducing us to. What I’m trying to get at is the more finessed the set-up is, the more likely I’ll be able to get deeper and deeper into your narrative.

In terms of content, I need to be able to believe what you’re telling me. Not only should I be engaged through your compelling set-up, then, but I should also be reading about something nontrivial that doesn’t fall flat as the narrative progresses. Defining significance is obviously subjective, but if the moment was one of importance, I need to feel and understand why. The submission doesn’t have to be out-of-this-world strange, which isn’t to say that it can’t be, but it should be compelling and engaging. Most of all, it should be believable. I want a glimpse at a moment that made you uncomfortable, that made you grow, that made you struggle, that actually happened. A story about becoming a cat, for example: Cool, bro. I really hope that happened to you (and let’s face it, I’d be super envious if it did), but there’s a fine line between a dream about being a cat and literally becoming a cat.

What isn’t believable is your impeccable memory for entire conversations that happened among the characters. Not to throw shade or anything, but creative nonfiction, to me, requires a certain amount of introspection and relies more heavily on the events that drive the plot forward. Passive dialogue is your friend. “‘Meow,’ the cat said,” versus, “The cat meowed.” While I hate to take agency away from your cat, or whoever else is making an appearance in your submission, I get a little suspicious when I read long conversations or directly quoted monologues. I’m more concerned about what actually happened and how it affected the characters in the midst of these things.

Of course, these are all merely guidelines: I realize and acknowledge that there isn’t an exact formula we can use to create the perfect piece of creative nonfiction. And honestly, I trust your judgment to write something that works and your skill to craft an engaging text, but I also trust my ability to culturally situate your text. That’s my job as a literary critic. (I know, I’m saddened by the inability to be a professional crazy cat lady, too.) Ultimately, I think what I’m trying to say is: “Are you writing about cats? If not, then Bye, Felicia.” I just want to know all of the cats.

-Joshua B. Jones

The Core Is Not the World: What I Read For When I’m Reading From Submissions

Three things you must have for a quality dinner party: a working stove, a frying pan, and curry powder. The difference between real life and a good story is that in real life when the dinner guests start talking politics or the elegance of the lyrics of Taylor Swift the prepared host turns the big burner on, sets the frying pan on the heating burner, and pours the curry powder into the pan. In a few moments your place will fill with the smell of a porch sofa two days after a thunderstorm and it will cause your caustic guests to remove themselves. In a story you still burn the curry, but the guest you despise the most, the one talking up the benefits of a Trump presidency or christening Taylor Swift the Joni Mitchell of today’s generation, is the one who rushes to the kitchen to save you from your passive-aggressive plan.

In considering the answer to the question of what I’m looking for when I’m looking at submissions, I’ve had to accept that the most honest answer is that I don’t know. I could make appeals to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and his famous characterization of pornography: “I know it when I see it,” but what I’m looking for is more than that.

I view each sentence in a story as a promise made by writers to their readers: this matters. Whether the story is high literary (whatever that actually means) or genre (which is easier to characterize, but equally nonsensical), everything in it should matter, even if how it matters isn’t obvious or immediately discernible. We read so that we may better know each other. At the same time, reading takes time, and time is something that most people have in shorter and shorter supply today.

People work longer hours for less pay. They carry cell phones which field not just calls and texts, but also emails, SnapChats, Tinders, Grindrs, Tweets, Instagrams, Facebooks not to mention the calls from student loan collection companies.

If I’m going to publish a story, that means that I believe that the story can cut through all that—we do, after all, publish online.

Don’t tell me about the color of a person’s hair unless it means something. A lot of people have pink hair. Pink hair does not help a story by being there, it can only help your story if it helps your story. What does it matter if it’s raining outside if nobody gets wet? Cut through the noise. Cut through the chatter. Introduce me to someone interesting.

I had a friend in my first fiction workshop who told me that she didn’t get plot, she only wanted to write characters. I suggested to her that maybe she didn’t need to worry so much, that maybe the core of every plot is the consequences of the characters behaving like themselves.

So go out there and host a dinner party and invite the people who’ll not get along and throw curry powder in the frying pan and fight and care maybe even learn something even if it’s the wrong something. It’s not enough to have the characters behave in a certain way peculiar to them, and have a set of consequences peculiar to them, it also needs to mean something.

I think I’m finally getting to what I’ve meant to say all along: what I’m looking for when I’m reading submissions is a story that makes me care about as much as the characters care about themselves, a story that follows them to an uncomfortable space, and one that is there with them when they get out.

-Andrew Marlowe Bergman

 

Spring Street Reading Series 9/30

 The Spring Street Reading Series continues!
 
Come out and see us for our 2nd reading of the semester
 
Wednesday, September 30th 
7:30pm, Shriver Center Bookstore.
 
Join OxMag and the Miami University Bookstore for a reading from our Creative Writing students.
 
Featuring the work of:
 
Sammani Perera
Tammy Atha
Darren Thompson
Andrew Hofmann
 

Mark your calendars: The Spring Street Reading Series will host its third and final reading of the semester November 11th alongside The Writer’s Harvest.

Call for New Poetry, Prose, and Art

OxMag Spring Cover OxMag Winter Cover

OxMag Summer Cover

OxMag is seeking new  poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and art for our quarterly magazine.  Please send electronic submissions via submittable https://oxmag.submittable.com/submit

All submissions should include your name, address, and e-mail address where you can be reached. We accept a wide range of work from a wide range of artists–beginners and established professionals alike.  We make every effort to accept or decline submissions within six months starting in September.

Oxford Magazine (OxMag) is an online literary magazine run and produced by the graduate students at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.   Past issues are available to peruse below.   While OxMag accepts submissions year-round, we do not read in August.

Questions should be directed to oxmag@miamioh.edu

Spring Street Reading Series

Our Spring Street Reading Series, which we host along with the Miami University Book Store, recommences this week! If you’re in Oxford, make sure to come check us out!

Wednesday, September 9th

7:30pm, Shriver Center Bookstore

Featuring the work of:

Chris Maggio

Isaac Pickell

Katy Shay

Ian Schoultz

The Spring Street Reading Series, which features the work of Miami University graduate and MA/BA students in Creative Writing, is one way we engage with the university and local community over the art we love.

Our full reading schedule for 2015/2016 is:

Fall Semester

September 9

September 30

November 11

Spring Semester

February 10

March 16

April 13

All readings will be  at 7:30pm in the Shriver Center Bookstore, unless otherwise noted.

Curious Kin

Dear Readers,

This is the first of four issues for a new group of editors and readers at OxMag. As a graduate-run magazine, OxMag tends to move to the beat of the school year, but we’re always thankful for those who have come before us, and have shown us the way. So, very briefly: Many thanks to Matt Young, the previous editor-in-chief who is now safely out of the Midwest; and to his team of editors, Emily Corwin, Joe Thornton, Joe Franklin, and Nathan Schaad, for passing the mantle to us: thanks for keeping the Ox on its feet, in green pastures, and well watered.

Our new team is excited for the year to come, and very happy to be bringing forth our first issue. Matt introduced us all last issue, and we now populate the masthead, so I won’t bore you by going over that again (except to say huge props for this issue go to Jess Marshall, our digital editor, for going above and beyond to put this issue together). Besides, the good stuff is in the magazine—no sense keeping you waiting.

From in amongst the Oxen,

Evan Fackler

OxMag’s latest edition features the work of Mark Aiello, R.M. Cooper, Allen Forrest, Rohan Garg, Jean C. Howard, Dimitri McCloghry, Joddy Murray, Cyndy Muscatel, Lane Osborne, Shannon Quinn, Ruben Rodriguez, John Surowiecki, Jeanne Wilson, and Christopher Woods.

 

Points of Origin

Well, it’s time for me to say goodbye as editor-in-chief of OxMag. Everything I try to write comes out corny and disingenuous, and I’m not one for longwinded exits so I’ll just say thanks to Maggie Waz (one of our previous editors-in-chief) for giving me the job, thanks to the editors and staff, thanks to Joe Squance (our managing editor) and other Miami English faculty, and last thanks to the contributors.

I’m a runner and now seems like the best time to be that in a small Midwest college town. Oxford’s nothing but bones sans students. No one gets in my way on the sidewalks; sometimes I can go an entire hour-long run without seeing a single person. When I run along the empty roads and sidewalks, if I concentrate between breaths I can hear my own heartbeat. Not just the pulse in my ears, but my actual heart expanding and contracting. It’s a bit unnerving, but there’s a comfort to its cadence, a kind of proof of life. It’ll end sometime, of that we can all be sure, just as everything else does. But in the meantime it’s nice knowing it’s there.

Hope you enjoy this last full-length issue of the year. Be on the lookout for a summer EP to drop sometime in July along with the names of the winners of our Inaugural Golden Ox Award for Prose and Poetry.

-Matt