Creating and Placing A Photo Essay

Jim Ross Thumbnail

The following is a guest post by Jim Ross, whose visual art appeared in issue 19 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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I came late to writing nonfiction and doing photography with intent to publish. I quickly realized, I wanted to tell stories combining my words and photos. I’ve had more success submitting nonfiction pieces with embedded photos—a handful or a bunch—than with calling them photo essays. Shooting photos, selecting and organizing, researching, writing text, and publishing has typically taken years.

Seeing a homeless (current preferred term: houseless) man with dog on a bridge in Paris, I snapped his picture. In the next few years, I took many more in America and throughout Europe, especially France. I talked with dogs and humans. A friend in Paris explained that having a dog protected the homeless from arrest because police don’t want the obligation of housing the dog in a “dog hotel.” She also said many vets provide free services to dogs of the houseless. I talked with a researcher from IFAW about her project focused on homeless youth who had dogs. I talked with the program the director of the American Pets of the Homeless about efforts to provide food and vet services. I reviewed research on the houseless human/dog relationship.

Meantime, I kept taking photos and began writing. I tied in my own experience hiking in the Midi-Pyrenees and having a German shepherd tag along for eleven hours, during which she saved me from a charging cow and I later saved her life too. The text showed how having a dog created a bridge between the houseless and housed passersby, who first begin petting the dog, then talk with the homeless person, and come to see them as caring humans. The dog also keeps the houseless human on the straight and narrow. Balancing photos by gender and country, I made only glancing references to particular images, except for one black male carrying a sign, “Homeless broke nomadic folk.” He said, “I’m done with the United States. I think I’ll try Russia next.” I asked, “Have you been to Canada yet?” He asked, “Do they have farms?”

Over 12 months, I ended up negotiating with three different print journals. I gave them all a 2,500 word text with 15 photos. They all embraced the text without changes. The first two were willing to publish only four or five black-and-white photos. Kestrel finally agreed to publish nine full-color images as “Street Dogs and Their Human Companions.”

Recently, I decided to do a photo essay about walking The Way of Saint James in France. I selected 47 photos, outlined the text in ten sections—such as getting lost, lodging, food, water, companionship. I narrowed the photos down to 23. Then, I wrote a 4,500 word text and, with help from friends, arrived at the final 12. New World Writing accepted it overnight and published it three hours later as, “Escaping into Pilgrimage.”

When I’m out, my camera is always with me. I often begin taking lots of photos of similar subjects. Eventually I realize, I’m working on another photo essay.

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Jim Ross jumped into creative pursuits in 2015 after leaving public health research. He’s since published nonfiction, poetry, and photography in over 140 journals and anthologies in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Publications include Columbia Journal, Ilanot Review, Lunch Ticket, The Atlantic, The Manchester Review, and Typehouse. Recent photo essays include Barren, Kestrel, Litro, New World Writing, So It Goes, and Wordpeace. A nonfiction piece led to a role in a high-profile documentary limited series to be broadcast over U.S. and international networks. Jim and his wife—parents of two health professionals and grandparents of five preschoolers—split their time between city and mountains.  

  

Point of Telling and the Implied Reader: Perspectives on Fiction You Can’t Unsee: The Most Abridged Version Yet

The following is a guest post by Soramimi Hanarejima, whose short story “Maturity” appeared in in issue 19 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Or at least I can’t. Ever since Alexander Chee shared his thoughts on Point of Telling during a GrubStreet conference session, I keep thinking about it. Essentially, Point of Telling refers to the narrator’s temporal relationship to the events in the story—the answer to the question “From where and when is the story being told?” Helpful, sure, but when Alexander Chee elaborated upon the idea with the intriguing question, “Why is this story being told now?” there was no escaping the rabbit hole of related questions: What do the events of the story mean now, as the narrator is relating them? (Is the narrator reflecting on their significance decades later or relating the events as they furiously unfurl because they demand immediate expression?) Who is this narrator? Who is this person “speaking” to? And here, this line of inquiry brings us into the territory of the Implied Reader, the supposed audience of this story—the Ear of the Story as Rebecca Makkai calls it

Though some stories make the Point of Telling and Implied Reader explicit (as To Be Taught, If Fortunate does—to stunning effect by the novella’s end), fiction tends to most resonate with me when these two elements are somehow palpable in the narration, likely because they infuse the story with clarity and purpose (as is the case in Every Exquisite Thing). 

Here’s an example of how these ideas have infiltrated my encounters with storytelling. A recent episode of the podcast Everything is Alive nails Point of Telling and Implied Reader—or in this case, Implied Audience. The conceit of the show is that objects have consciousness, and in each episode, podcast host Ian interviews an object. So the Implied Audience is simply the (expected) audience of the podcast—or Ian and the object are audience to each other, both partaking in and of the discourse. In “Lillian, Song,” the Point of Telling is Lillian’s present predicament of being a song stuck in Ian’s head, which allows Lillian to relate in fictitious realtime her discomfort of being trapped in Ian’s mind—all through melodious vocals. This gives the episode a cohesiveness and a raison d’être. 

“Lillian, Song” is also spot on when it comes to another point Alexander Chee brought up in that conference session: a—or the—driving question of all literary fiction is, “Will the protagonist ever find out something important about themselves?” In this case, Lillian and Ian confront what a song in the mind is, with Lillian explaining, “You know that phrase, ‘Make a path by walking,’ you and I are making me as we’re talking.” And that ends up being (semi-spoiler alert) the key to getting her out of Ian’s head. 

How appropriate that I’m seeing a story about a song stuck in someone’s mind with the perspectives of Point of Telling and Implied Reader. These ideas have been stuck in my mind, but I’m nowhere near sick of them posing questions like, “From what temporal and psychological distance is the story being told? By whom and to whom?” And I’ll keep listening for answers as I read and write fiction. 

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Soramimi Hanarejima writes fiction that explores the nature of thought and is the author of Visits to the Confabulatorium, a fanciful story collection that Jack Cheng said, “captures moonlight in Ziploc bags and gives us the pleasure of opening them, one by one.” Soramimi’s latest work is forthcoming in Atlas and Alice, Vestal Review, GASHER and The Meadow.

An elaboration on writing the poem “On Darkness”

The following is a guest post by Jordan Charlton, whose poetry appeared in in issue 19 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Although I primarily write poems, my natural inclination is to understand the world through narratives. What narrative offers is a consistent structure that “makes sense” to me and that I return to often while generating material prior to writing. Stories possess a familiar structure: a beginning, a middle, and an end, regardless of how we enter or exit, this seems to be true.

Because writing poems relies so heavily on memory, and memory can be understood in similar structures as narratives, this is also how I understand writing poems. Though most of my poems follow that same tripartite narrative arrangement, I’m never worried about the movement of a poem that traditionally happens in most narratives. This is also to say, I understand poems more like pictures than films, as static creations instead of fluid or dynamic renderings. My greatest desire while writing a poem is to recall a memory and invite the reader to focus on the one moment that seems to be most pressing. Sometimes this is the first memory, other times, my mind wanders to some other bright, shining substance illuminated by contemplation. I think this is because poetry relies so heavily on emotional truth, which foils the narrative structure of how we tell stories.

In the poem “On Darkness,” I recreate a moment of surprise during a conversation with a friend. The poem begins at the end of one moment, at the end of the snapshot. My understanding of the poem is that, by writing from the end of one moment, what happens is that whatever is said is frozen in time and rendered less important than the impact, by my embodied response. What invokes this response is listening to a friend say though she is mixed raced, she identifies more with her whiteness than anything else. What comes next in the poem, or, “the middle” is less important. There is no hero’s journey; this is a picture and not a film. The ending is more interesting, this new beginning.

The ending of the poem involves looking back at the moment, like looking back at an image in a context that exists outside of the one rendered. I’d call the revelation at the end of the poem understanding the beauty of being present and being vulnerable with one another,amid the beauty of a setting so far removed from outside thought and noise, mainly technology. I believe the context in seeing the poem’s moment can change, especially considering our own moment now as we are faced with the challenges of rethinking our institutions, our privileges – what being together means amid televised violence and harmful rhetoric. When I write poems like this, I want to create a picture, but I also understand that how we see these things can change. I’m interested in holding on to moments, but that also includes seeing the connections that exist beyond a still frame.

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Jordan Charlton is a PhD student at the University of Nebraska. He also works with the Nebraska Writers Collective, working with both high school youth poets and incarcerated writers through the programs Louder Than a Bomb: Great Plains and Writers’ Block

My Year of Movie Poems

Addison RizerThe following is a guest post by Addison Rizer, whose short story We Float Alone appeared in in issue 19 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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My primary emotion as a writer is guilt. I am guilty when I don’t write and when I have written, but not enough. When I have written, but written badly. When I meant to write but got caught up doing something else. I am guilty when I have no ideas and when I have so many ideas I can’t write them all and also when I have one idea, but can’t figure out how to write it.

Mostly, I am guilty when I do anything that isn’t writing. When I watch movies, read books, play games, go bowling. Because I am not writing and could be, the guilt consumes my enjoyment in one large swallow.

At the beginning of 2019, the guilt was so bad I’d deny myself anything fun before I had written, and then, because of the guilt, I’d be unable to write at all. It had built it up in my mind, the act of writing and how many words I needed to write and how perfect they had to be, I couldn’t bring myself to try.

So, as an experiment, I decided to write a poem after every movie I watched for the entirety of the year. Yes, every single one. Yes, even ones I hated. Yes, even the ones I loved.

Now, I am not a poet. As such, many of the poems were terrible. Some were only two lines long. Others went on for many horrible pages. I experimented. A lot. The quality didn’t matter. These poems were simply an excuse to let myself do something other than writing. It was okay, to take a break, because I was using these movies to create more, not less. I wasn’t procrastinating, I was experimenting. The guilt ebbed. I began having much more fun. Writing got easier, when I wasn’t so guilty about every facet of it.

And, though many, many of them were bad, some of them were good. Good-enough-to-be-published good. Good-enough-I-was-proud good.

I realized, then, how necessary consumption is to my creative process. I can’t be all output and no input. The water flows both ways, for me. It must flow both ways or else there will be nothing left but a dry riverbed from which I am expecting myself to produce the miracle of water.

If I had not watched those movies, I would not have written about aardvarks, about birthdays, about cowboys on the run, about Franca Carrozzini. I wouldn’t have considered these topics at all. It wasn’t only guilt-relieving, it was inspiring.

In the end, I wrote 10,000 words in little bits and pieces of poems. I watched 86 films. I felt less guilty. I realized, for me, production and consumption will always have interlocked fingers.

This year, I’m writing blank-verse sonnets. They are harder, these poems. They are just as terrible. But, I am having a lot of fun and feeling less guilty and I’m writing, I’m writing,and isn’t that the point?

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Addison Rizer is an administrator in Arizona with a B.A. in English from Arizona State University. She has had pieces published in Taco Bell Quarterly, Typehouse Magazine, Hoosier Review, Little Somethings Press, Hashtag Queer Vol. 3, Canyon Voices, Libraerie Magazine, Anatolios Magazine, Strange Creatures, and Kingdoms in the Wild. She loves writing, reading, and movies critics hate. Find more of her work on her website at www.addisonrizer.com.

Chasing the Absurd Muse

The following is a guest post by Gene Twaronite, whose poetry appeared in in issue 18 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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My prose poem “Food Chain,” published in Typehouse Issue 15, begins with a line guaranteed to put a reader to sleep: “I was out walking my dog.” What was I thinking? Blame it on James Tate. I had just finished reading his last book The Government Lake, consisting entirely of prose poems, published four years after his death in 2015. Many of his first lines are equally prosaic. Example: “The dog played in the snow all afternoon.” But here’s the thing about James Tate. You just know he’s going to take that line somewhere you didn’t expect—a strange world where anything can happen and you end up either guffawing or scratching your head in befuddlement.

Tate was a master of the absurd. Watching him chase after his muse like a hound zigzagging through the woods, with surreal situations and wordplay, is a mind-bending treat. I was intrigued by his poem “My New Pet” and was inspired to take the subject matter in a new direction and try writing a prose poem of my own. I’ve never been big on dogs. I’m more a python and tarantula kind of guy. I got to thinking about what would make a really weird pet, and a bright yellow banana slug popped into my head. But because it’s a dog lover’s world, I decided to have my main character out walking his slug as if it were a dog. I didn’t have a clue where this was going, but the chase was on. If there’s any message to my poem, perhaps it’s simply to enjoy the ride.

Edward Lear was another poet who inspired me to follow the absurd muse. Here’s the first line from one of his poems: “They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,” (The Jumblies). With its perfect meter and silly setup, it has stayed with me from the first time I read it. Just where are they supposed to go in a sieve? Why, to visit “the lands where the Jumblies live,” of course.

Poets who write for children are especially attuned to the absurd muse. Shel Silverstein’s poems range from pure silliness, as in “Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich,” to profound, as in the sad lesson of “Lester” (from Where the Sidewalk Ends). But even in his most silly poems there is a depth of profundity that’s hard to define. Maybe silliness itself is the message.

Any reader of Billy Collins knows that his poems are often laced with absurdity. My favorite example is his poem “Cosmology,” in which he replaces “that image of the earth/resting on the backs of four elephants/who are standing on a giant sea turtle” with one of his own: “resting on the head of Keith Richards.” And maybe I’ll just leave you with that image.

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Gene Twaronite is a Tucson poet, essayist, and children’s fiction writer. He is the author of ten books, including two juvenile fantasy novels as well as collections of essays, short stories, and poems, and a forthcoming picture book. His poetry book Trash Picker on Mars (Kelsay Books) was the winner of the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Arizona poetry. His latest book is My Life as a Sperm. Essays from the Absurd Side. Follow more of Gene’s writing at his website: thetwaronitezone.com.

Creating Micro Worlds: Speculative Flash Fiction

The following is a guest post by AnnElise Hatjakes, whose short work “A Diminished Chord” appeared in in issue 19 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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The first time I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, I was too young to really understand its commentary on war, trauma, and violence. Rather than analyzing the work’s thematic ambitions, as my English assignment required, I could not stop thinking about what the book did in terms of craft. I had read other works of speculative fiction, but those books seemed to follow a clear set of rules, rules that dictated how the worlds of the novels operated. What Vonnegut created did not seem to abide by any rules at all. Once Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time,” all bets are off.

Creating a fully developed world can require pages and pages of subtle exposition. When I was workshopping my speculative novel in graduate school, I was frequently asked for more details about the parallel universe I’d created. While I was revising, I kept worldbuilding because I thought that would make it feel more “real” and would answer questions that could be distracting to readers. What I realized, though, was that the more details I added, the more questions readers had. As soon as I got into the nuances of the economic structure, which runs on a new form of cultural capital, readers asked about how taxation would work, whether this new form of wealth could be transferred, and how exactly people could earn more capital.

For my story in Typehouse, which is a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, women have literally been silenced and marked by a tattooed “A.” I spent a long time reading medical journal articles about vocal cord paralysis, and in my first draft, that research materialized in about two hundred words explaining the procedure of severing one’s vocal cords. After doing so much research, I felt like I needed to include that research to lend a greater sense of authority to the story. In the second draft, I did the opposite. I tried to take out as many of the details as I could while still giving the reader enough information. The narrator explains, “This morning, you make a cup of green tea from the stash that you secreted away last week. The flavor is sharp, and you have to take your time because since they severed the nerve to your vocal cords, swallowing has posed problems.” Rather than explaining the actual procedure, I chose to focus on the character’s experience of that procedure’s aftermath.

While I originally believed that only a novel could capture the intricacies of a different world, whether that’s a space opera or a dark fantasy, I now believe that flash fiction can do the same on a different scale. It provides enough space to pose a “what if?” question and allow the reader to contemplate the possible answers. For me, the key is not to get caught up in the minutiae of the fictional realm that’s been created.

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A native Nevadan, AnnElise Hatjakes holds an MFA degree in fiction and a master’s degree in writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. She lives in Reno, where she teaches English at a public high school. One of her stories was shortlisted for the Neil Shepard Prize in Fiction. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in journals including Juked, Tahoma Literary Review, and Typehouse, among others. She is currently completing revisions on her novel and will be attending the University of Missouri in the fall to earn her PhD in creative writing.

One Writer’s Dilemma: Whether to announce a new story publication to mother and family.

Elizabeth FergasonThe following is a guest post by Elizabeth Fergason, whose creative non fiction work “Soup Day” appeared in Issue 19 of Typehouse.

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All my life my father, my birth-father that is, was a secret. Growing up, whenever I’d inquire, my mother would tell me I wasn’t old enough yet to know. Once I was an adult I heightened the asking. Finally, I threatened to never return home. “Okay, okay,” she said as she flipped through her Roledex and dialed his number. Just like that.

I recently wrote a short piece about the one and only time I met my birth-father and now it’s out in print. Normally, I announce my work once it’s published. I want friends and family to read my pieces. But this story is different, this is my mother’s secret I’m releasing. She’s kept the circumstances of my birth from so many — including her last husband to whom she was married for 27 years.

Revealing a family secret can be tricky. Revelation has its consequences. Writers understand this more than most. A writer friend of mine is holding off until after a family member dies to share a story they don’t want told. This is one way to handle it. The Wait.

There can also be a question about who exactly has the right to tell. It’s all about freedom of speech – say some. This is called Anything Goes.

The story my mother chooses to suppress is her own but I’m quite certain it is my story too. Am I under familial obligation to keep it out of circulation? Do I have to buy in to the revisionist family history she puts out to the world? I would say no.

Yet, despite having every right to share the secret, I feel uncertain. I dig into my values. Do no harm is a personal aspiration. Sharing a squashed and buried history is bound to make my mother suffer. I’ll be butting up against my own moral code.

On the other hand, I’m convinced that sharing the story will help me to heal from years of questions and uncertainty about my identity. Do I forfeit my own healing to accommodate my mother? True compassion involves fostering one’s own well-being before moving on to others. I need to take care of myself by speaking freely. If I want to say it, write it, share it, I will.

Or I won’t.

As much as I’d like to put the story out on every front, even more than this I wish to not create hurt. And so, I reconcile myself as the reluctant co-conspirator — a role I despise.

But then I rebel a little, and draw a snaky line in the road: I will share the published piece with my friends but not my mother, nor any of the people she knows. If by chance or karma, she happens upon the piece — well, let the fates take hold.

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Elizabeth Fergason is a native North Carolinian and an emerging writer who graduated from the MA English program at San Francisco State University. Recent literary publications include Flash Fiction Magazine, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Parhelion, Ligea, and Blue Moon. These works may be connected to through elizabethfergason.com.

Issue 19 now available for preorder!

Typehouse Issue 19 Cover

Our new issue is in the processes of being shipped to us, and we are excited! Featuring work by Martina Litty, Denise Coville, Jenna Heller, Addison Rizer, Stephen O’Donnell, AnnElise Hatjakes, Joshua Storrs, Soramimi Hanarejima, Elizabeth Fergason, Chaya Nautiyal Murali, Jim Ross, Kym Cunningham, Rita Rouvalis Chapman, Pat Daneman, M.C. Childs, Lisa Trudeau, Michael Hardin, Gene Twaronite, Jordan Charlton, Roddy Williams, Shutta Crum, Fabrice Poussin, Keith Moul, Shayna Bruce, Jim Ross and Candice Rankin.

The web issue will be available online soon, but for now, come preorder here, and help support Typehouse while enjoying some wonderful work!

Thank you all for reading and submitting!