Excited to be part of this event at the Texas Book Festival this weekend in Austin:
10/26, Saturday: 4-5 PM, 2013 O. Henry Prize Reading
Capital Extension Room E2-030
Lily Tuck, Melinda Moustakis, Nalini Jones, Ayşe Papatya Bucak, and Joan Silber give short readings and discuss their work. Moderated by editor Laura Furman.
Excited to be part of this event at the Texas Book Festival this weekend in Austin:
I’m very excited to be doing a blog series of author interviews for American Short Fiction. Here’s a link to the first with the fantastic Danielle Evans :
In “If You Lived Here,” a blog series of author interviews, some questions, not all, will focus on place, being displaced and the places in the story that “marry a hurt like that.” The hope is that these questions will lead to other places and other questions. The first interview is with Danielle Evans, author of the acclaimed short story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self …
Got some love from Flavorwire! They just posted an article called The Ten Best Millennial Authors You Probably Haven’t Read (Yet). Look for me listed as number nine and here is the link: http://flavorwire.com/378617/the-10-best-millennial-authors-you-probably-havent-read-yet
Eric Shade, author of the FOC winner Eyesores, wrote a wonderful and insightful review of Bear Down, Bear North for the Flannery O’Connor Award 30th Anniversay blog series. Here is an excerpt:
Viewing a map of the United States, one may tend automatically to overlook the nation’s two geographical extremes—Hawaii, the honeymoon getaway—and, of course, Alaska, that great, sprawling immensity, more Canada than America, which seems to occupy at least a third if not more of the territory of the Continental United States. Melinda Moustakis’ book will no longer let map viewers let Alaska hide in the periphery of their vision.
What is additionally and fundamentally remarkable about the stories contained in the book is that the state’s major cities—Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau—are themselves on the periphery. Most, if not all, of the action happens outdoors, or in ramshackle cabins, with the Kenai River as a frequent point of reference.
Most immediately demanding of our attention when reading Moustakis’ stories (and what has already deservedly been mentioned) is the striking imagery, particularly in “The Mannequin in Soldotna,” where the hospital staff decorates a mannequin with fishing hooks—hooks that have in fact been removed from patients and set into the mannequin, we imagine, as a warning to locals about the dangers of fishing—especially drunken fishing, fishing with amateurs, or fishing with folks where the relationship is strained.
There is more grotesque imagery, and plenty of brutality—both physical and emotional—but were Moustakis to rely merely on the unsavory and violent, the book would run the risk of seeming one-dimensional, even cruel to its own very charming characters. Instead, Moustakis tempers the freakish and frightening with, first, a generous supply of descriptions of the natural scenery; second, a fine-tuned, grim sense of humor; and third, a recurring, important theme regarding the complicated relationships between women, particularly mothers and daughters, in a land where the traditional gender roles are useless, in a land where women have to be as good—even better—than the men at providing basic sustenance for their families… (click here to read the rest on the UGA Press blog)
Here is a brief excerpt of the content:
Often when reading minimalist literature, I’m struck by the bleakness of the world the characters inhabit. With every detail so neatly drawn, with every line so tightly screwed, there’s little room for warmth. And when light does find its way through, it is always contained. This is even more troubling in authors who tackle rural landscapes while being minimalists. The natural world doesn’t leave a lot of room for hope to begin with, and when drawn so tautly, there is even less hope. But Melinda Moustakis’s debut collection Bear Down, Bear North: Alaska Stories, while being superbly crafted and trimmed to the nub, finds hope.
Moustakis drops us dead into the middle of what most Americans would consider the last American frontier: Alaska. And while the stories all do take place within the state, the place is secondary to the frontier in which Moustakis wishes to drop us. The collection is about storytelling. It is about how to tell stories, why stories must be told, and to what lengths an author must go in order to tell a story truthfully.
The truth contained within the collection is that it is necessary to speak, to tell, in order to survive in any world, never minding the added complexity of surviving in a world where life is never a given thing. In “Some Other Animal,” we are shown the character Ruby, who faces starvation (both emotional and physical) because of her own sense of pride and honor:
She opens up every cupboard and scans the empty shelves for a hidden can of noodles. Then she moves the chair in, stands on it for a closer look at the bareness, the stray macaroni, the cracker crumbs, the dust of flour and spices. She should have borrowed the peanut butter. She paces the four corners of the kitchen, trying to ignore the animal noises coming from her gut, worry wrestling with hunger. “Stop it,” she says to her stomach.
It is only in Ruby’s telling of her misdeeds (losing one of the dogs she has been hired to care for and the waiting patiently for an answer from the dog itself) that she has hope of redemption.
The stories that are told between the characters often exist in a shadowy and confusing area of half-truths. Again, this type of telling is necessary for these characters’ survival and strength. In “This One Isn’t Going to Be Afraid,” we are shown Colleen, who tells one of her stories of survival:
She’ll say, “I got mauled by a grizzly in Alaska.. And they believe her….”Actually, it was an accident. I snagged my shoulder on a metal spring while hiding under my bed.. They chuckle with relief. “Man, you had me going.. Kids and a game of hide-and-seek. But they don’t ask what she was hiding from. The truth is there are grizzlies and there are fists and there are bottles and belts. There are choices, play dead or hide.
Colleen, like the other characters, cannot and will not play dead. They hide in their stories. It is in this hiding, running, and, above all, telling, that hope is created.
Moustakis creates a collection which operates in a realm between the short story cycle and the more traditional standard collection. The slight collection (only 157 pages) contains within it 13 distinct stories, some linked by familial ties, some not. The stories are told in a myriad of points of view. Some stories, such as “Point Mackenzie,” are told from very specific, but multiple, third-person close perspectives. The story “Us Kids” is told from the plural first-person point of view. Some are even more fragmented—not based around characters but around body parts, animals, or even small flash fictions. The best of the stories are even told from the difficult but compelling second-person perspective. (Click here to read the rest of the review)
An excerpt of a post I recently wrote for the National Book Award Fiction blog:
Melinda Moustakis writes: Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones is a beautiful and lyrical novel about survival and resilience and the bare-bulb and bare-bones life of a family in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. The story is told through the captivating voice of Esch, a smart and vulnerable and complex only-girl among her three brothers named Skeetah, Randall, and Junior, and her widowed father and all her brother’s friends. Esch, in true fashion of a classic Bildungsroman, uses texts she reads in school such as Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and the story of Medea to form her own metaphors and similes in describing the fragile and complicated emotional eco-system of her family and community. Her story and the stories of those she holds dear and the stories of the place she calls home are worthy of an epic.
Esch guides the reader through the ten days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, through the thrall of the storm and the aftermath the very next day. The immediacy of present tense is masterfully rendered―every moment counts, every moment is felt and captured and hard-hitting. The present is tense, intense: How to deal with a father’s incapacitating grief? The need of a basketball camp scholarship for Randall? Skeetah’s dream of turning a profit on his prized fighter-champion pit bull China and her pups? Pregnancy? Hunger? A beautiful boy who turns your heart but may or may not love you back? A hurricane no one else believes is actually coming?
Esch’s inner life is as rich and imaginative as her family’s house is dilapidated and sparse. One of the many triumphs of the book is the way in which the characters are tough and rough-hewn but also dignified by their devotion to each other. This devotion is tested many times and in many ways as each family member seeks comfort and sustenance as an individual and is then asked to make that one sacrifice that threatens to break one’s spirit so that the family can carry on. Because perhaps a semblance of comfort can be found in each other when one more tragedy, one more setback, one more heartbreak, one more storm threatens to destroy everything.
When asked, “Why did you want to write about Hurricane Katrina?” Ward, in the Q&A at the end of the novel, said, “I lived through it. It was terrifying and I needed to write about that. I was also angry at the people who blamed survivors for staying and for choosing to return to the Mississippi Gulf Coast after the storm.” In reading this book, in becoming immersed in Esch’s story and feeling every hunger pain and injury along with her, one comes to understand that Bois Sauvage, with its oppressive heat and humidity and wild chickens and pathways strewn with broken oyster shells, is a place where an oncoming storm is just another possible tragedy in a life filled with them. When the shiny foil seasoning packet from a package of ramen noodles is a bright spot on a dark day, leaving the one possession that keeps the family together, the house, is not an option and even preparing the house for a hurricane is a mundane and maybe unnecessary chore among many chores….(click here to read the rest)