Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Laura Pritchett's story "Painting the Constellations," page 15.
Michael Schiavo's poem "from The Mad Song: Kansas Is the Same Everywhere You Go," page 19.
Dorianne Laux's poem "Somewhere a Dog," page 52.
Abraham Brennan's essay "One of the Seven Deadly Sins (Or, Proud To Be an American)," page 65.
William Bradley's essay "Dislocated," page 78.
Carol Test's story "The West in You," page 90.
(All pieces are from our inaugural issue. Being nominated for a prize is fun. Please seek these folks out and offer them your congratulations and wish them luck.)
Critic Janet Maslin also named contributor Ron Rash's Serena (Ecco) as one of her top ten books of 2008. She says, "A stunningly effective novel that is stark, fierce, dramatic and gripping from its unforgettable opening paragraph. A woman of frighteningly indomitable ambition wreaks havoc on her husband’s Appalachian business empire. Equal parts myth, poetry and folklore." Click here for Maslin's October 5, 2008 review.
Way to keep it Normal, fellas.
Monday, December 1, 2008
By Miguel Jimenez
Adam will read on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 in the Alice Peters Auditorium (in the University Business Center/Peters Building) to celebrate the launch of The Normal School.
ADAM BRAVER is the author of Mr. Lincoln’s Wars, Divine Sarah, and Crows Over the Wheatfield. His books have been selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers program, Border’s Original Voices series, and twice for the Book Sense list. His work has appeared in journals such as Daedalus, Ontario Review, Cimarron Review, Water-Stone Review, Harvard Review, Tin House, West Branch, and Post Road. He teaches at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI, and at the NY State Summer Writers Institute.
MJ: It's a great coincidence that we have this opportunity to discuss your work at a time when the word “historic” is being used quite often when discussing the current United States' presidential administration and the one to come in 2009. I say this because you have taken on historic figures in your novels. I'm particularly thinking of “Mr. Lincoln's Wars” and your most recent novel, “Nov. 22, 1963”—both are fictional accounts on the lives of U.S. Presidents, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. What drew you to these important figures of American history?
AB: Somebody said to me not that long ago something about writing about those two presidents, and I have to say that I didn't think about it in those terms for some reason. But you know, in “Nov. 22, 1963”, it was more about letting people know what went on in the head, to know the traumatic moments. Most of what it is I did, is that I tried to wonder what went on inside Kennedy as a human being not just as a politician. And it was also much more thematic, based on this idea, question, of what is our mythology? Of myth making and the making of our stories...about the facts and memories of people that all come together to create this history, this story. And there are a lot of books that are coming out where people are really trying to figure out history through literary means as opposed to just biographical means.
MJ: You also wrote two other novels—“Divine Sarah” based on the classic French actress, Sandra Bernhardt, and another on a Van Gogh scholar in “Crows over the Wheatfield”. How do you go about writing novels on such popular figures?
AB: I guess partly naively. Certainly, the Kennedy Assassination was the biggest, the one I knew the most about going into it. But I'm always interested in the off-camera moments because those are just like great photographs that often tell more about a situation with those kind of broad stroke moments. As a reader, I'm always attracted to those kind of books.
MJ: What are the challenges? And do you worry how well you've fictionalized the lives of those popular figures?
AB: On a narrative level, just assuming the small aspects of a life in a day, I have the risk of 'is this going to be interesting enough?' It's a really tricky ethical question about the fictionalizing parts of peoples' lives. For the most part, I try to do it in a respectful and believable way. I try to create people in some sort of honest way where there's a truth. I would not try to make people what they weren't. I would never make somebody cruel in a way that may never have been cruel.
All of these figures, and so many other figures, are a part of who we are. Yet, we really don't know anything about them as human beings. They become just sort of mythic figures. I'm interested in people as humans. It makes me appreciate them more when I see them as being humans.
MJ: Let's talk about your most recent book, Nov. 22, 1963. It is described as a fictionalization of the day of JFK's assassination—is that a good description? I mean, how much of Nov. 22, 1963 is written with fact and how much is written with fiction? How would you describe it?
AB: Oh, it's definitely a hybrid. A hybrid of fiction and creative non-fiction and some straight up journalism. For the most part in the book we're in someone's head, somebody like Jackie Kennedy—that's when the real fiction takes over. So there are narratives that are dramatized and fictionalized, and the book also introduces people who are not real. But for the most part, the people who appear in the book are based on real people. I spoke to a couple of people who are in the book, and some others are based on, for example, old transcripts. This is all from the idea that I mentioned earlier—a story based from other peoples' stories and other peoples' memories. I'm really intrigued by that. It's typically more of a memoirists' intrigue than a fiction writer's intrigue, in terms of the idea of memory and how we remember things and how they really happened.
MJ: What were some of the challenges writing these novels?
AB: They have their own sets of challenges. But one of the advantages, if you will, with something like the Kennedy assassination is that we have an inherent understanding of what happened. Everyone coming into that book has a sense of the story, a mental image of what it's all about. They're already working with peoples' preconceived notions.
When writing fictionalized characters you have to really develop them in a different way, develop the situation, and familiarize, as opposed to borrowing. So they're different approaches. With somebody who is real, like Jackie Kennedy, there is a sense of 'how do you enter into this person?' or 'How do you enter somebody who just had her husband killed next to her?' It entails stripping away all the celebrity and the politics and everything else. It's just trying to get into the basic and emotional state. That was really the entry point. This takes us back to what I was talking about earlier on trying to find the human side of people who don't seem human to us.
MJ: You've said that you hope some truth comes out of your books—a truth larger than the figures themselves.
AB: I mean truth in terms of literary truth. This idea that this story, the assassination, in “Nov. 22, 1963,” it's so many people's story—the people who will tell you they were sitting in a classroom when it happened or such as some of the people in the book, like the motorcycle policeman getting blood on his face. It has become so many peoples' stories. Then all those stories come together to become our story. It is our story.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Check out this review of TNS Contributing Editor, Adam Braver's new novel:
Peas and blubber,
You can read Juan's "The Return of Jake Condor" in our inaugural issue. Get it at www.thenormalschool.com.
From Pulisher's Lunch:
Giller to Boyden
Joseph Boyden won Canada's Giller Prize for his second novel THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE, after having been favored to win the award three years ago for his debut, THREE DAY ROAD. Juror Margaret Atwood praised the book "for its spare prose style that ranges from lyrical to brutal ... and that shows us unforgettable characters and a northern landscape in a way we have never seen before." Viking has the book scheduled for March 2009 release in the US.
Globe and Mail
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Amazon's Best of 2008
Amazon has picked their top 100 books for the year. Here's the first part of the list:
1. The Northern Clemency, Philip Hensher
2. Hurry Down Sunshine, Michael Greenberg
3. Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, Rick Perlstein
4. The Forever War, Dexter Filkins
5. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel, David Wroblewski
6. The Likeness: A Novel, Tana French
7. Serena: A Novel, Ron Rash
8. So Brave, Young and Handsome: A Novel, Leif Enger
9. The Lazarus Project, Aleksandar Hemon
10. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, David Hajdu
(Courtesy of Publisher's Lunch).
Thursday, October 30, 2008
This year's Whiting Awards, worth $50,000 each, for "writers of exceptional talent and promise in early career," have gone to:
Mischa Berlinski, fiction
Rick Hilles, poetry
Donovan Hohn, nonfiction
Douglas Kearney, poetry
Laleh Khadivi, fiction
Manuel Munoz, fiction
Dael Orlandersmith, plays
Benjamin Percy, fiction
Julie Sheehan, poetry
Lysley Tenorio, fiction
Congratulations to all! The Normal School has had its eye on Donovan Hohn for some time now...
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Q&A with Los Angeles novelist Nina Revoyr
By: TNS editorial intern, Olivia Muñoz
NINA REVOYR is the author of “The Necessary Hunger,” and “Southland.” Her latest book, “The Age of Dreaming” follows the story of a Japanese silent film star who looks back on a career that ended abruptly during the changing social and racial tides in California in the 1920s. In the “The Age of Dreaming,” the story fallows the character back and forth between the 1960s and the height of the silent film era as he deals with the death of his favorite director, tries to please both his Japanese and American fans, and comes to terms with his past.
OLIVIA MUÑOZ: You are inspired by real people, and incorporate places and history into your novels. Tell me a little bit about your research process: do you dig first and then write? Or do you write as you go along?
NINA REVOYR: I use real life situations in my first two books, but as really use real life as jumping off points only. I don’t look to tell those stories, but instead let them trigger a work of fiction. In “The Age of Dreaming,” what was important to me was that there really was at one point a silent film star of color – not only a star but a sex symbol. In my book, the story deals with what fame costs my character, Jun Nakayama, personally. Real life gave me permission to create that character but I very consciously stop at an early point of getting interested in a subject. So, something will spark, I’ll stop, and then research to fill in any holes.
OM: What hooks you?
NR: An issue or theme that is intriguing enough to sustain me for the years it takes to write a book. For example, in “Southland,” I was interested in the organic mix of African-American and Asian residents of a Los Angeles neighborhood. I remember very vividly as a kid hearing about killing during the Watts riots – hearing people actually brag about killing kids. So, race dynamics are interesting to me.
“The Age of Dreaming” came about because I work in a building that has some silent film history. After learning more about that, and about a real life Japanese silent film star, I began to explore the question of what happens to someone when they don’t do what they were supposed to do in their life.
OM: Was that a question you were grappling with? How much of your work is you?
NR: I think it is all autobiographical in a sense. I was dealing with being a writer, and whether I wanted to continue doing that, and what that would take. “The Age of Dreaming” is my most autobiographical work to date even though I’m obviously not a 73-year-old man, not a former silent film star – but all of my concerns and obsessions are the same. I was dealing with making the right choices, creative blocks, and it was easier to address those themes in a work of fiction than any other way.
OM: You deal with the interplay of race in your novels. Is that something you feel you will continue to touch on in the rest of your career?
NR: Absolutely. The book I am working on now is set in the Midwest and deals with race quite directly. I spent my childhood years in Wisconsin thinking about those years – and even looking at election news coverage now – I am surprised at what people are willing to say.
OM: You’re often praised for your portrayal of male characters. What helps you write from that point of view? Is it difficult for you?
Thank you for saying that. No, I don’t find too difficult. I was raised by a single dad and my grandfather is my hero. I think my love for my grandfather comes through in “The Age of Dreaming,” for sure. I grew up surrounded by men and knew them as nurturers.
People do comment on the accuracy with which I depict men’s relationships and their silly mistakes with women. Being gay, I know something about making mistakes with women.
OM: On Oct. 30 you’ll be visiting us here at Fresno State, which offers a MFA in Creative Writing. What kind of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
NR: Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. I know that sounds simple, but that’s really it. There are no excuses – you can say, “I’m too busy,” but if you really need to write and want to write, you’re going do it.
Also, being in an MFA program is a very unique experience. Create a community that is portable – take relationships with you. You need that support and it’s not always there once you’re done with school.
Also – this is going to sound cheesy, but it’s true – write for yourself. Frankly, there’s no guarantee for what’s going to happen on the publishing end, so you’ve got to take your joy from the process.
NINA REVOYR will do a Q& A at Fresno State on Thursday, Oct. 30, at 3 p.m. in Alice Peters Conference Room (PB 194) and then do a reading later that evening at 7 p.m. in Alice Peters Auditorium (PB 191). Parking is available in the UBC Lot.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
National Book Award Finalists
Fiction nominees range from the 81-year-old Peter Matthiessen for a book the AP calls "an 890-page revision of a trilogy of novels he released in the 1990s" to debut novels from Rachel Kushner and Salvatore Scibona. The winners will be named November 19:
Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project (Riverhead)
Rachel Kushner, Telex from Cuba (Scribner)
Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country (Modern Library)
Marilynne Robinson, Home (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Salvatore Scibona, The End (Graywolf Press)
Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf)
Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (W.W. Norton & Company)
Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (Doubleday)
Jim Sheeler, Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives (Penguin)
Joan Wickersham, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order (Harcourt)
Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Mark Doty, Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems (HarperCollins)
Reginald Gibbons, Creatures of a Day (Louisiana State University Press)
Richard Howard, Without Saying (Turtle Point Press)
Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press)
Young People's Literature
Laurie Halse Anderson, Chains (Simon & Schuster)
Kathi Appelt, The Underneath (Atheneum)
Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied (Scholastic)
E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion)
Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now (Alfred A. Knopf)
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
TNS#1 has hit the pavement or the newstands or the hands, backpacks, pockets (really big ones), bathrooms and briefcases of America. Yes, America. We're an American magazine. Or something. But I'm telling you, this thing is so beautiful. When I opened my office door to find 31 boxes piled up against the back wall, the whole room smelled like magazine--that kind of wet, inky smell that sometimes, if you bury your nose in the binding, can remind you of the ditto machine in Mr. Dillehay's 4th grade class, his toupee, and the way he flapped his arms in a yellow shirt to the "Chicken Dance" song on LP . . . Or something like that. If you can't get your hands on one (and we're working hard to make that happen), go to the website www.thenormalschool.com and subscribe. We'll send you a copy. You'll love it. You're children will love the art. Tell them there's a 3-headed chicken fighting a grasshopper somewhere in the magazine and they'll dive right in . . . tell them to "find everything abnormal" in the picture of idyllic farm life and it will entertain them for hourse on airplanes . . . Or not. But you will love what you read in these pages. I promise. You will laugh. I can almost guarantee that . . . Just trust me. Subscribe. Read. Pumas.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Yet, Publisher's Lunch reports that "Very few of [Le Clezio's] works are currently available in US editions, though the NYT says that 12 of his 40 works have been translated at some point. Among them, the University of Nebraska Press published The Round and Other Cold Hard Facts in 2003, and Onitsha in 1997; Curbstone Press published Wandering Star in 2004. But Agence France Presse assures that he 'is one of the French writers best known outside his country and one of the most wide-ranging in his choice of subject matter. He is an avid traveller, and his fictions are as likely to be set in Mexico or the Sahara as in Paris or London.' He lives part of the year in New Mexico and is reported to have taught at the University of New Mexico."
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
Check out Janet Maslin's review of TNS#1 Contributor, Ron Rash's new novel, Serena.
I think that makes 2 contributors in the NY Times Recently. How you like 'dem apples?
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
 David Foster Wallace was a seminal influence on The Normal School. To hear of the passing of such a monumentally talented and darkly comic mind, one so unabashedly unafraid to speak truth to power while at the same time investigating not only that mind’s own motives for doing so but also at the same time our own complicity in any gross abuses of power, leaves us trembling for the future. However unsettling this death is, David Foster Wallace was a writer who left behind a corpus of work that will always be with us. The Normal School takes solace in books, and David Foster Wallace’s books are some of our favorites. A book may be of little consolation to family and loved ones left behind, but for those of us unfamiliar admirers from afar, David Foster Wallace is immortal.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Juan Felipe Herrera, contributor to TNS#1, was recently featured in the New York Times Book Reviews.
For your enjoyment:
Check out this review in the LA Times by TNS Fiction Editor, Alex Espinoza.
So come and get some. Our next reading period opens on September 1st. Show us what you've got.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Virginia Quarterly Review
Volume 84 Number 2
Review by Rav Grewal-Kök
The fiction in this issue of the VQR offers “Superhero Stories.” But none of the protagonists of the short fiction that opens the magazine – a discharged sailor who suffered psychic and physical wounds in the 1946 Bikini Atoll atomic bomb test; a masked vigilante who comes across as “a slurring crackpot taking a momentary break from a barbiturate triathlon” in his only public appearance; and a homebody in boxer shorts who commandeers the voices of televangelists – are paragons of virtue. Instead, Scott Snyder, Tom Bissell, and George Singleton give us blackly comic portraits of the flawed and fallen. These are men forged and broken in violence, antiheroes for our own times.
Editor Ted Genoways notes in his preface that broadcast evangelism arose during the Depression from the same national longing that produced the first comic book superheroes. Bill Sizemore’s long essay on the unlikely career of Pat Robertson, the most influential later-day peddler of charismatic religion, suggests that our thirst for the miraculous has yet to be exhausted. Robertson claims to have spoken to God, battled Satan, diverted hurricanes, and has argued for the assassination of foreign leaders, used charitable donations to fund a diamond-mining operation in the Congo, and unleashed an army of graduates of a fourth-tier Christian law school to pack the Justice Department. Sizemore’s essay is a fascinating and chilling look at an American phenomenon.
Themes of impermanence and mortality run through many of the poems in this issue by Charles Simic, Charles Wright, Ted Kooser, Billy Collins and others. Simic’s “What He Said,” whose speaker describes the aftermath of the war in Europe sixty years ago, also bears witness to our own endless wars: “Seeing a young man in a wheelchair / Pushed by his mother / Who kept her eyes averted / So she wouldn’t see what the war did to him.” Michael Bishop’s understated elegy for his son, an instructor murdered in the Virginia Tech massacre, is composed with a lucid dignity that testifies to a vast paternal love and grief.
There is much more of note here, including Kwame Dawes on HIV and AIDS in Jamaica, Matthew Power on sailing to the Galapagos, Lawrence Weschler in conversation with Robert Irwin, and a comic from the great Chris Ware. The VQR is at the forefront of contemporary literary journals, offering journalism, fiction, poetry and criticism informed by a cosmopolitan and humane sensibility. This rich volume deserves to be read in entirety.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
You can learn more about this film and Brian's role in it here:
Click on "About the Nominees."
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Well, AWP New York marked the burst onto the scene of The Normal School and our world famous Vend-O-Prose Machine . . . it was a crazy few days filled with little sleep and much handshaking. To all of you who stopped by the table . . . THANKS!! It was great meeting you. Hopefully you bought a T-Shirt or one of our supercool comic books (thanks, Eric Parker!) and you've already gone online and subscribed . . . No? You haven't? . . . Do it now. All the cool kids are doing it.
TNS #1 will feature new work by Tom Bissell and Steve Almond . . . Yes, seriously. Not to mention a collection of other great stuff by our contributors.
We're still actively looking for submissions . . . especially some really great nonfiction. Go to www.thenormalschool.com for our guidelines . . .
And if you have a second, leave a comment and tell us your favorite TNS related memory of AWP NYC . . . .
At about 3:30 on Saturday a large longhaired man with fantastic facial hair, wearing a rain slicker and a cowboy hat that dangled from a string down his back bought a piece from the Vend-O-Prose Machine and proceeded to regale Matt and I with an impromptu performance of the piece . . . good stuff.
2008 Annotated Experiential Recipe Contest
Deadline: March 1, 2008
Assignment: Annotate a standard (nor not so standard)recipe, conveying some form of narrative in your notations, footnotes, asides, etc. 750-word limit. Winners will be published in our premiere issue in Fall 08!!
Wow us with your best recipe. Tell us a story. Make us laugh, cry, spit, scream and collapse in a heap.
* * * * *
Hey Folks, we gave out 75 copies of our guidelines for this contest at AWP. We're waiting for those submissions!!