Tag Archives: short stories

Author Spotlight: Mark Chiusano


Mark Chiusano is a graduate of Harvard University, where he was the recipient of a Hoopes Prize for outstanding undergraduate fiction. His stories have appeared in Guernica, Narrative MagazineThe Harvard Review, and online at Tin House and The Paris Review Daily. He was born and raised in Brooklyn.

Buy the book here:

TPP: Describe your collection is ten words or less.

Mark Chiusano: Far out in Brooklyn, growing up, sometimes shoveling snow.

TPP: What inspired you to write the stories in Marine Park?

MC: Plenty of books have been written in or about Brooklyn, but Marine Park is basically invisible in all that literary productivity. I wanted to show a different side of the borough from the land of popular publishing imagination.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your collection?

MC: A picture of a lesser-known neighborhood, and the best way to get kicked off a Brooklyn basketball court (don’t try at home!). If it’s possible to give away slices of pizza from Pronto’s on Avenue R that would be great too.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you were given?

MC: I once heard Denis Johnson say that he writes three minutes a day, at least, which I’ve tried to do since then—usually you write more but at least you’re sitting down and doing it no matter what.

TPP: Name two to three songs that would be on a soundtrack for Marine Park.

MC: Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” Black Star’s “Definition,” and Z100’s morning mix.

To learn more about Mark Chiusano, visit his website!

Read These Stories from The New Yorker Before They’re Gone!

(Image Source: Wikipedia.Org)

TheNew Yorker is filled with many things, from contemporary news stories to literary criticism. What I want to focus on in this post are the short stories that are often published within the New Yorker which have been free for all to access. That is about to change. The New Yorker is planning on putting up a pay wall so that only people who have subscriptions or pay for web access can read these wonderful pieces of literature.

Personally, being left-leaning and open-source-friendly, I’m not too enthused that these wonderful pieces of literature which have been open for all are going to soon come with a price tag attached, but I do understand that to continue publishing the New Yorker does need to make revenue somehow.

If you’re broke like I am, that revenue won’t be coming from you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy some of the wonderful stories that are to be found before the pay wall goes up. Below are some fantastic stories to be found on the New Yorker for you to check out before the summer is over.

The Cheater’s Guide to Love by Junot Diaz

The first novel I read by Junot Diaz was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Within that story, Diaz was able to create well-rounded, likable, and complex characters that jumped off the page and felt like too familiar to just be fictional beings. He has a great style that mixes family, history, politics, love, and tragedy in the way a conductor leads a full orchestra. The Cheater’s Guide to Love doesn’t fail to live up to Diaz’s talent.

Quick Bits of Literature

Literature doesn’t just come in giant, dusty tomes. It’s not that I have anything against giant, dusty tomes. Those are actually some of my favorite types of tomes, but not all of my favorite literature is a few hundred pages long. Some of my favorite pieces of literature actually come in the form of short stories.

To get your summer started out right, I thought I’d compile a list of some of my favorite literary short stories. If you want to become more familiar with literature, or you just want some good, short things to read this summer, start here!

What You Pawn I Will Redeem by Sherman Alexie has long been a favorite short story of mine. This story explores the life of a homeless Native American and chronicles his adventures of trying to recover his grandmother’s regalia. I know that sounds like it could be sad or dark, but it’s actually really funny and gives great insight into the perceptions and attitudes of those mainstream society marginalizes.

Happy Endings by Margaret Atwood is a story I use all the time with my students. This not only tells a great story, but teaches readers and writers alike what goes into telling a good story and how the ending, well, you’ll see once you get to the end.


Why Study or Write Poetry?

I’m a fan of poetry. I read it, I write it, I talk about it, write about it, and share it as often as I can. I’m also an advocate of poetry being taught to students in primary, secondary, and higher education, even if English isn’t their major.

Poetry offers a lot to the students that study it. Like other literary forms, poetry allows students to analyze and critically engage with the text, but poetry offers something other literary forms don’t—conveying meaning with as little words as possible.

The point of poetry is to convey an image or impression with controlled, specific, and brief language. While I can tell you a story in broad, complex, compound, or complex-compound sentences, poetry shies away from grammar conventions and tries to construct a new meaning of words through the misuse of grammar conventions to make the reader really slow down and contemplate what is being said within the poem.

Reading poetry is like solving a puzzle—and often times, that single poem can paint many true and varying pictures. Developing reading and critical thinking skills through poetry makes one an overall better reader, and these reading skills can be transferred to other realms as well. Being a critical thinker that can see multiple outcomes to the task at hand is a very marketable skill.

Writing poetry is also different than writing a story. Understanding the nuances of poetry can help one become a better story teller because it allows the writer to convey the same message or meaning with fewer words, but it can also help an author make better choices in diction, add rhythm to enhance the flow of a story, and give another layer of meaning to a text that can be picked up on a second, third, or fourth read of the work.

Let me tell you a story:


Author Spotlight: April Wilder


April Wilder’s short fiction has appeared in several literary journals including Zoetrope and McSweeney’s. She is a former James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow from the Institute for Creative Writing in Madison, WI. She holds a BS in math/actuarial science from UCLA, an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana, and a PhD in literature/creative writing from the University of Utah, where she held a Vice Presidential Fellowship (her doctoral studies focused on “narratives of the absurd”). April lives with her daughter in Salt Lake City.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

April Wilder: A collection of tragicomic stories in which people navigate terrains of absurdity.

This Is Not an Accident
Buy the book here:

TPP: What inspired you to write This Is Not An Accident?

AW: The inspiration for every story was different. Some stories are me amusing myself (the evaluation form); some are me unpacking an image (Odd stuck in a dollhouse in “Long Dang Life”) or following a character I want to write about. The novella started with a strange walk in the park one day. Usually it’s that I see or overhear something that I can’t shake off, so I try to recycle it (in fiction) instead.

TPP: There’s a fine line between dark humor and depressing. How do you write without crossing that line?

AW: Whether or not a work is “depressing” speaks of a reader’s response, I think, so I don’t have any control over that. Interestingly, readers’ responses (to TINAA) seem to vary a lot depending on age. People under the age of 25 seem much more inclined to find tragedy and hyperbole in the book (and to be upset by it); older folks more comedy and common life.

TPP: What do you want your readers to take away from your book?

AW: I think if I had a deep inner motive for writing the book, it might be the desire to expose what in my experience becomes of modern life and the mad, mad human mind when people go around believing stories about themselves and others. I write stories to shake free of stories.

TPP: What advice would you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve gotten while writing your novel?

AW: The hard part is just showing up and sitting in the chair every day, so find out if you can do that first. I wish, perhaps, that someone would’ve encouraged me in the beginning to hold on to my work more loosely: at the time I would spend hours combing over and “perfecting” what were fundamentally crappy works to begin with. So play a lot and keep the shredder close. You’ll know when you finally have something worth combing over.

TPP: Name three songs that could be included in a soundtrack to your book (can be songs that inspired portions of your writing).

AW: The Jump off (Lil Kim); Tribute (Tenacious D); The People That We Love (Bush)

To learn more about April Wilder, visit her website!

Story Shots: First Kiss

First Kiss Banner

Love hits us all differently, and firsts are sometimes the most painful memories to recall. Firsts are the memories that never leave you. I remember the first time I got into a fight in grade school. I remember the first time I split my lip open playing softball. I remember my first day at both of my high schools. I remember my first car accident. I remember the flow of blood when I got my first stitches. Firsts live on in our memories well after our first times have passed. This is why Cupid is a little bastard. No one ever has a good first memory of getting shot by his arrow. No one has a good first love.

NicoleThumbnailIt was bland. Dead lips and cold fingertips bland. He was a womanizer and I just a girl naïveté. My friend accompanied us to the movies as a clever cover, but became an added bonus for his teenaged testosterone. Arms around us both, he complained of an ouchie on his hand, which I kissed away. Then his shoulder and neck, and finally, his lips. It was a peck. Plain pursed lips with a pop. And that was it for me. He turned to my friend and kissed her too. Her last name was Bland.

By Nicole Neitzke

AllisonThumbnail Thinking back, I still remember how giddy I was whenever he was in the same room, or when someone mentioned his name. We were in my parents’ garage on a warm, October Friday night when he asked me to be his girlfriend. I said, “yes.” Of course I wanted to be his girlfriend. Nothing would make my sixteen-year-old self happier than to hold his hand between Biology and History; the classrooms were on opposite sides of our enormous high school campus. He went in for the kiss: my first kiss. I panicked and turned my head so he kissed the side of my face, just where lips end and cheek begins. I was mortified. I joked it off and said, “That was my first kiss, and I ruined it. Can we try again?” He smiled at me and kissed me. It was still awkward, but I had finally gotten my first kiss, and I was high on happiness and excitement. We dated another twelve days before I decided I didn’t want a boyfriend. I was a heartbreaking bitch. Sorry, Daryl.

By Allison Bellows


Story Shots: Tequila

A shot of tequila is always served with a little something on the side. Before the bartender pours the shot, he or she usually pulls out a saltshaker and puts a slice of lime down on the small square napkin on the bar in front of your seat. The bartender can now concentrate on pouring the perfect, one-ounce shot. The perfect one-ounce pour is four counts with the bottle at a sixty degree angle. One, two, three, four, and then the bottle is turned upright. If the bartender is fishing for tips or not very good at counting, you might get an extra half second in there, which means you get a little more bang for your buck. But tequila comes with more than salt, a napkin, and a lime. Tequila always comes with a story or two. In the length of that four-count pour, memories start to flow just as the amber liquid escapes the bottle, landing in that tiny glass.

(Credit: Mike’s Liquors)

     “There’s a worm in it.” I tap the square bottle tentatively.
     “Yeah, all good tequila has that. That’s how you know it’s good,” she tells me as she takes a swig. She passes it to the supplier and he takes a gulp. Not to be outdone, I take the bottle and gulp. I nearly vomit, but manage to swallow the hot liquor with stomach acid. We sprawl out on the blanket she packed and watch the clouds form blobs in the sky as our eyes become crossed. We laugh as we light up a cigarette to share and ask each other to share personal secrets. He scoots close to me and I slide away. She takes my place. Before we finish the last drops of hell, the bell rings.
     “Crap. I gotta get to my AP Bio class. I’ll see you guys later.” And I depart.

By Nicole Neitzke


Rejection and What it Teaches You

I just sent out sixty five rejection letters. My eyes are beginning to feel heavy, and I’ve literally rewritten this sentence five times. While I am dying to turn off my laptop and jump into bed, I am also feeling a bit like a dick. In the past three weeks, I have read sixty seven short stories, and out of those sixty seven, I sent two on to my editor as “maybes.”

In order to absolve myself, I wanted to share a little bit about what I learned in these past three weeks.

1. Beginnings matter when it comes to short stories.

Really, this is true for all stories, but with novels, the length makes a so-so beginning more forgivable. The opposite is true for short stories. I have hundreds of stories to read through. If the writing is good and compelling, it will be recognizable within the first page or two. After that, an editor isn’t willing to waste more of their time reading it.

2. There’s a limit to how many grammatical errors are acceptable.

When I’m reading through a short story, a few grammatical mistakes are okay. After all, even when I read through some of my own work several times, a few errors still slip through the cracks. It’s hard to be objective about your own work, and after a certain point, your brain just sort of shuts off your ability to detect mistakes. However, there is a point when the editor reading your work will start to feel frustrated and more than likely move on to the next story in their pile. Too many errors makes the writer seem lazy, like they didn’t care enough about their submission to have another pair of eyes read through their work or to set it aside for a few days and come back to it themselves.


Please Don’t Be Cliche

If you were to use any of these as insults, you are very bad at insulting people.

First, I want to define cliche so we all have the same concept of the word as I continue with the post.

Cliches are defined as:

a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.

If the definition isn’t enough to convince you to stay away from cliches, maybe the definition of creative writing on Wikipedia will further convince you:

Creative writing can technically be considered any writing of original composition. In this sense, creative writing is a more contemporary and process-oriented name for what has been traditionally called literature, including the variety of its genres.

It seems that creative writing is the embodiment of original work, so using cliches in your original work just really takes away from the originality, don’t you think?

I don’t have anything against cliches, really, I think they are funny to use in conversations or with friends, but if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, they are something to be avoided.


Writing and Realism

Have you ever had a teacher, family member, friend or acquaintance tell you that to be a good writer, you should write what you know? This idea comes from a very specific school of thought on writing–the thought that to write about something, you must have experienced it personally.

I totally, completely, utterly and fully disagree with this train of thought.

It’s as if people who say “to write, you must write what you know” have never heard of a little thing called imagination, or, you know, creative writing.

I’m pretty sure, for example, Ernest Hemingway personally didn’t have a drink in a rail-station with a young girl that got knocked up, trying to convince her to get an abortion.

Or, you know, I’m almost certain that things like werewolves and vampires don’t exist, yet every other book that is being written for the teen market today has some form of shirtless hot werewolf or vampire within its pages.

Not that I’m complaining. Apparently this dude is shirtless because he’s a werewolve. All male werewolves must be topless after Twilight. Did Stephenie Meyer make it okay to objectify men? Oh no, wait, that was the film 300. Again, not a complaint.