Writing History, Writing Fiction

Lorin Lee Cary

The following is a guest post by Lorin Lee Cary, whose photography appeared issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Our view of the past is shaped by the questions we ask of it. As an historian I ferreted out details, pondered the evidence, deduced motivations from actions taken, and then presented my findings. I co-authored two books and wrote numerous articles, but always knew that the story was incomplete. At times characters spoke directly in primary sources (ones created at the time) such as diaries, letters, and court records, but huge gaps remained in the record. As a result, the view of one corner of the past remained incomplete and too often lacked emotional content.

I had no experience writing fiction until I worked with a company creating a computer game based on Dante’s Inferno. I’d been hired to develop historical background materials to enhance “the feel” of the project, but the head of the company liked my reports and said “write a draft of the story.” It was an exhilarating experience. I read Dante closely and imagined the descent into hell as a game. 

For a time after that experience I believed fiction required only imagination. After I joined the Cambria Writers’ Workshop I quickly learned that much more was involved. Point of view. A realistic setting. Plausible characters. A story arc. Active writing. Believable dialogue.

And so on. 

Historians work with an incomplete and fragmented record to get as close to what happened as possible. Fiction writers do research as well, particularly when dealing with the past, but they can create certainty and even introduce dialogue where none has been recorded in the historical documents. 

I found this to be an enormous freedom. One historical study I co-authored took 25 years. Research for The Custer Conspiracy (a humorous historical novel set in the present) took nowhere near as long. I steeped myself in the details of Custer’s reality, and then let my imagination run rampant. Custer aficionados didn’t appreciate the result, but I had lots of fun. My novella California Dreaming required even less research because I wasn’t dealing with an historical figure. In both cases, I learned that whereas I’d previously often had to deduce motivation or relationships, now I could invent them and let the characters have at it.

Questions drove my study of the past, and often that’s the case with the fiction I write too. I once overheard someone say “I was saved four times because I didn’t think it took.” That set off a quarter-ponder and resulted in my story “Saved.” After a critic lambasted someone for overusing clichés, I wondered what it would be like if a character spoke only in clichés—which led to “Silver Lining.” And so on.

The bottom line is that while historical writing and fiction writing are different, both require research and imagination. Enjoy the ride. 

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Lorin Lee Cary once taught Social History at the University of Toledo, wrote historical works and co-authored Slavery In North Carolina, 1748-1776 and No Strength Without Union: An Illustrated History of Ohio Workers, 1803-1980. Both won awards. He also served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Now he creates fictional cause and effect relationships. The Custer Conspiracy, a humorous historical novel set in the present, is one result, the novella California Dreaming, a meta fiction venture, another. Short stories and flash fiction pieces have appeared in Torrid LiteratureCigale Literary MagazinedecomP magazinELit.cat and Short Story, as well as in a couple of now defunct journals. (He did not cause their demise.) Other fiction is being considered by overworked editors. He is also a prize-winning photographer.

From So Little, a Shining Heart

The following is a guest post by Jayne Marek, whose photo “Bright Kelp Cosmos” appeared on the cover of issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Lying face-down on the dock, I stared into a shallow pond edged with ice. It was February. The surface of the water reflected low winter light. Underneath, plants, leaves, sticks, stones, and bubbles created multiple layers of interest; there were even insects. I hung onto my camera—no dunking!—and tried to capture this complexity.

I was at an artist’s retreat in a remote location, with plenty of solitude to think, write, and take pictures. Back in my room, I sat down with my laptop to consider the pictures I’d taken. It was one thing to adjust exposure to emphasize clouds, shadows, and landforms; it was another to coax depth and definition out of a photo with limited lighting. But I wanted to try a particular tactic. A family friend had told me how he arrived at an abstract image after photographing a stream: he repeatedly cropped and adjusted one picture until a shape emerged that he hadn’t fully noticed.

Simple as it was, that process of discovery seized my imagination. I realized that I could train myself to see designs that an initial glance might miss. And I remembered being intrigued by designs in some of my husband’s photographs—angles and shapes that I had overlooked, say in the green geometry of topiary at a French château, or a boat’s sail almost intersecting a distant sloped roof. I wondered what additional imagery I could find in my shots of the pond.

Photo editors at the time had limited capabilities, and I have never learned any professional programs to engineer sophisticated changes or overlays. Still, with patience, I began to see unexpected colors emerge from the dim subject matter. Sticks and leaves could become abstract masses if I played with overexposure or different sequences of contrast and tone. Snowflakes on ice could be tweaked to resemble constellations. An underwater stub suddenly glowed yellow, a rock’s gnarled heart shone blue.

Ever since, I have learned to ask what else any photograph might reveal. Even the most unpromising might be persuaded to show colors or patterns that break free of simple representation. Light is a trickster, as is water. When I shoot into bodies of water, I know I will always be surprised by some of the results. My cover for Typehouse #21 began with what appear to be drab fronds of kelp and sea lettuce in a tidepool; I was delighted when my experiments brought out shining blue and green shapes, thin blue tracings, red accents, and flecks of dust like stars.

This is why we create art—to surprise ourselves most of all. We write, paint, sculpt, collage, compose, dance to make something out of our inescapable solitude. Now that we are coming out of a year of enforced separation, I appreciate the reminder that our solitary times can push us, sometimes, to flourish.

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Jayne Marek has provided color cover art for Typehouse, Chestnut ReviewSilk Road, Bombay Gin, Amsterdam Quarterly’s 2018 Yearbook, The Bend, and her recent poetry books In and Out of Rough Water (2017), The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling (2018), and Dusk-Voiced (2021). Her writings and art photos appear in One, Eclectica, Salamander, QWERTY, Folio, Gulf Stream, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Grub Street, Spillway, The Cortland Review, The Lake, Bellevue Literary Review, Camas, Notre Dame Review, and elsewhere. Instagram: @jayne.s.world

My Dance With Gombo

Martha Darr headshot

The following is a guest post by Martha Darr, whose poetry appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Since childhood, I have been enchanted by words and sounds. I studied foreign languages, played music throughout my years in college, and did field work in various parts of the world as a graduate student. I was sure that I would be among the anointed for a lifelong career in academia. But gradually, I began to face up to a reality – my love for verbal expression belonged in the arts. Poetry found me.

After my focus shifted to the artistic, I was surprised by how comfortable it felt. No guilt or remorse for “not being able to hack it in academia,” just a sense of contentment that I had found my way back home. I could let personal feelings surface in a creative way. As if awakened from a deep sleep, I started attending all the book festivals, conferences and workshops that I could find – anything that I thought might be relevant and would not destroy my bank account. My educational training in African Diaspora Studies also traveled with me and has been a great assist in numerous ways.

When I began to write the poem “Gombo Exaltation,” which appears in Typehouse, I felt a tug. I have always enjoyed eating this amazing dish, usually associated with Louisiana Creole and Cajun cooking, but wondered why it was often, but not always, written as “gumbo.” I decided to go with the variant spelling as part of the title in order to pay homage to a source that has played a less well known role in its history.

During the time of slavery, when blacks were taken to the Americas from West Africa and the Angola-Congo Basin areas, they also brought parts of their culture with them. As one linguistic example among many, the word for okra – a key ingredient in gombo – is kingombo in Kimbundu, a Bantu language spoken in Angola. (Dicionário Kimbundu Português, n.d., pg 132). It’s not too difficult to imagine that the languages in these regions were probably a source for the name of the vegetable, and by extension the dish, regularly consumed in Louisiana as well as other parts of the Americas where similar dishes are prepared.

In addition, the use of the term Holy Trinity refers to three ingredients in the stew, and is familiar to folks who regularly cook and eat it. However, I also chose to include it in the poem as a way to set a reverential tone echoed by a praise and prayer-like closing.

I enjoy focusing on something key in a culture and combining it with the music of rhythm, repetition and metaphor. My goal overall is to compose the kind of poems I hope will stay with the reader, linger a bit. Fortunately, we still live in a time when diverse cultural elements can be blended to make fresh art. It is a privilege to present this kind of work to an appreciative audience. Writing can be an out-of-body experience for me. I never take it for granted.

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Martha Darr is a poet and literary translator.  Her work has appeared in such publications as Typehouse, Star*Line, Fiyah, Penumbra Literature and Art, Exterminating Angel Press, Journal of American Folklore, and a bilingual anthology Knocking On The Door of The White House: Latina and Latino Poets in Washington, D.C.  Martha has received various kinds of funding, including a grant from The National Endowment for the Humanities.

No Objections to Objective Correlatives

Pernille AEgidius Dake

The following is a guest post by Pernille AEgidius Dake, whose short story “Where I Sit” appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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‘The book is used as an effective objective correlative’ wrote my teacher on a copy of my story now titled ‘Where I Sit.’ Notes from a prior fiction workshop reminded me that an objective correlative defines a particular emotion out of an object, situation, or (chain of) events and then re-evokes the sentiment somewhere else in the story. These were not facts I recalled even subconsciously, I think. The application of Adam Haslett’s novel in my short story was dumb luck; I thought I was experimenting with metaphor.

In Imagine Me Gone, a work of fiction by Adam Haslett, two family members out of five lose out to their battle with depression and commit suicide, leaving the two surviving siblings and the mother to reconcile with the pain. They overcome their grief tenaciously and hauntingly so.

Still, the title led me to imagine a more common, and in most cases, more mellow departure: a breakup. Splits won’t fully take until the breakee gets past being jilted. The (kind) wish of the breaker, or narrator, to not only be gone—but to be forgotten—is expressed in the novel’s title. In the opening of my story, the narrator reads Imagine Me Gone, then the book is also reopened in the end—adding a symbolic play with how the fictitious family suffers real pain, not the narrator. The opportunity to play with the book’s spine and the narrator leaning her back against the bench’s backrest was a bonus.

The support (pardon the pun) of an objective correlative struck me like I’d been given free limitless rides to an amusement park’s bumper cars. The writerly craft gave the story a reference, a definition, like the lip of the floor where the cars race, and within that perimeter, I could spin about and hit everything in sight (many drafts were true bouncing-around-rides with word counts to rival rush hour in Beijing). The Imagine Me Gone-sensibility framed the story and made it easier—I should say safer—to explore: to envision how my two protagonists had loved and squandered, mostly squandered, and misunderstood not just each other, but…. Always will there be misreads: when did who really stray in what parts of the relationship? It comes naturally and seems customary to blame the breaker for all the pain that went before; the last break calls out and sums up all the misery that can rip through a couple’s time together, shakily and deafening.

It’s impossible to hear who’s truly to blame—that relies wholly on perspective! The objective correlative made it easier to make both characters ambiguous, then anchor them to the bench.

Thank you to Typehouse for not benching this story.

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Danish-born Pernille AEgidius Dake was a finalist for Glimmer Train Press 2014 New Writer Award as well as december’s 2015 Curt Johnson Prose Award and has been published in Skirt!, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Glassworks Magazine, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Dime Show Review, and elsewhere. She is an MFA Candidate in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Filling Your Artist’s Cup

Nikita Andester

The following is a guest post by Nikita Andester, whose creative short story “Such a Peachappeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Recently, a photographer friend of mine said he’d quit chasing success; for him, it was all about fulfillment. This declaration hit me like a gut punch – not only because he was the most successful creative I knew. It was that, as straightforward as prioritizing fulfillment was, I’d never even considered measuring my life like that.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d said. Not long after, I shifted my career entirely to focus on fiction and started emphasizing my own quest towards fulfillment. Nowadays, I keep my eyes trained on what Julia Cameron calls your “artist’s cup.” Filling your artist’s cup means letting go of the need to generate “output” – at least for now.

As artists, we’re bombarded with questions about what we’re busy crafting. If you’re not making, the logic goes, then you’re not an artist.

But just like how you’d never take a road trip without topping off the tank, you can’t create without topping off your own creative reservoir. As writers, the best thing we can do for our craft sometimes is shut the laptop, ignore that pulsing cursor, and rediscover the power of play.

By making the mundane captivating, we’re inviting ourselves to rediscover why life is worth writing about in the first place. Refilling your cup means doing the little things. Looking at that button collection of yours or strolling through a cemetery can work magic on your creativity. 

Once, I went on a walk and counted bumblebees, losing track somewhere around forty. It was a mesmerizing way to spend a half hour, and I never saw that stretch of my street the same way again. Like hard candies tucked into your cheek, those moments become your secret to savor – not for social media or an art project or growing your career, but because the best way to get inspiration is by living.

If you’re so busy you forget to breathe, let alone play, remember: playtime can happen anytime. Traffic? Prime opportunity to practice dance moves. Dishes? No better time to throw back with Backstreet Boys and sing/yell your heart out. 

As a society, we’re pressured to always focus on advancing our career – or at least getting rich. But if every heartbeat is given over to the symphony of our career, how can we stop to enjoy the popcorn at life’s intermission? Often, the best part of a show is the quiet moment when we’re washing our hands, alone, digesting what we’ve just witnessed. Filling your artist’s cup grants you those moments for your own life, too.

Tom Robbins put it best: it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. So what the hell – reread that manga from high school. Try that hairstyle you found on Tiktok. You’re more than someone who makes art; you are art – and hot damn, it’s time you acted like it.  And as you fill your artist’s cup, you may just realize you’re creating more art than you ever have before.

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Nikita Andester (she/they) is a writer, musician, and visual artist who lives in Portland, Oregon and has their MA in Professional Creative Writing from the University of Denver. Raised in the deep south, Nikita’s writing draws on her past lives as a farmer, waitress, ESL teacher, and farmers’ market maven to uncover the magic lurking in the lives of working-class characters. Nikita’s creative work can be found in Wild Musette Journal of Music, Mystery, and Myth; Argot Magazine; and Typehouse Literary Magazine. Twitter: @nikitaiswriting Website: www.nikitaandester.com

Spelunking the Strange Questions

John Backman

The following is a guest post by  John Backman, whose creative nonfiction piece “One of Those Exquisite Nothings” appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Can you form friendships with dead people? Can the poem you wrote when you were six influence your decision to help a stranger fifty years later? Can you be bigender and Buddhist—someone with two “selves” who believes in no permanent self?

For some people, the term spiritual writer may conjure an array of stereotypes: clergy, self-appointed moral scolds, wielders of gratuitous religious symbols. My own spiritual writing has never gone in that direction. But in the past three years it’s become even less conventional, shifting from articles on well-traveled spiritual topics to personal essays that explore strange wrinkles in the universe (like friendships with dead people). The shift is more natural than I’d first thought: spirituality has a way of opening its practitioners to wonder and mystery—to far more questions than answers—so it’s inevitable that some of us would stumble into the weirder alleys.

In “One of Those Exquisite Nothings,” my essay in Issue 21, I receive a life-changing diagnosis on the same day I begin cleaning our new deck to prepare it for staining. As it turns out, both the disease and the deck cleaning involve technical issues that require action on my part despite the fact they may not exist. By cleaning the deck, I remove something from the wood that might not even be there; in my diagnosis, I have something to address that some experts believe is no big deal. That wrinkle led me (and the essay) to include other strenuous efforts that could be construed—at first glance anyway—as a waste of time: my own Zen practice, the creation and destruction of breathtaking sand mandalas by Buddhist monks.

Maybe the stereotypical spiritual writer would seek to solve wrinkles like this. I’m more inclined to feel my way into the twists they present, just as spelunkers (who, for the record, are now called cavers) might use their hands to navigate a cave. A fringe benefit of this approach to writing, for me, is that when I start I rarely know where I’ll end up. What could be more fun than that?

For some reason, my mind wanted to link the wrinkle in “One of Those Exquisite Nothings” with a larger aspect of the universe: the myriad things we do and experience that make a near-zero impact on the planet, our species, even our immediate vicinity. They are close to nothings, but exquisite nothings nonetheless (like sand mandalas). When I began writing the essay, I didn’t expect it to end up in that larger aspect, which took several days and numerous revisions to emerge.

On one of those days, I wrote myself a note in the right-hand margin: “This last paragraph is not quite there. And right now I’m not sure where there is!” That’s where I live as a spiritual writer: in the freedom of not knowing, in the joyful suspense of what comes next.

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A spiritual director, bigender/nonbinary person, and quasi-hermit, John Backman writes about ancient spirituality and the unexpected ways it collides with postmodern life. This includes a book (Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart) and personal essays in Typehouse Literary Magazine, Catapult, Tiferet Journal, Amethyst Review, and Sufi Journal, among other places. Last year John was named a top 10 creative nonfiction finalist in the Wild Atlantic Writing Awards. dialogueventure.com  or on Twitter. @backwrite

Sláinte, Seanchaí:

Why Irish Writers Have Been So Influential in English-Language Literature

Zachary Kellian

The following is a guest post by Zachary Kellian, whose short story “Founding the Irish Porn Industry on My Summer Holiday” appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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An afternoon stroll down O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare, will take you on a tour of Irish history in a matter of blocks. You’ll follow in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, protagonist of Ulysses, as you cross the River Liffey, that famed waterway from songs by bands as varied as The Chieftains and Radiohead. You’ll see the battle-scared post office, its pillars pock-marked by English bullets from the 1916 Easter Rising. Most notably, you will pass many a statue on the boulevard. But look closely. While the United States struggles with its history of problematic statues in the American South and elsewhere, you’d be forgiven for thinking the stone and copper monuments along O’Connell Street are all memorials to great Irish war generals. But there is not a horse, rifle or saber atop these pedestals. (The Irish, a historically neutral nation, often joke that we have never won a war, even the ones we rage against ourselves.) These statues, displayed on the most prominent street of the capitol, all celebrate publishers, poets, and famous orators of the Republic of Ireland.

It says a lot about a nation that would put its famed wordsmiths front and center as an example to the rest of the world. This belief in the power of language is reflected in the sheer number of famous writers who have called the land of Saints and Scholars home. To name a few: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, CS Lewis, to say nothing of Ireland’s four Nobel Prize winners for literature (Yeats, Shaw, Beckett, and Heaney). The Irish diaspora also produced many a true literary great, from The Brontë Sisters in England, to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Flannery O’Conner in the United States.

Which begs the question: why have Irish Writers had such a profound influence on English-language literature? It all comes down to the Gaelic tradition of the Seanchaí (literal translation: “bearer of old lore”). They were the men and women chosen to oversee the histories, laws, lineage, and stories of their people, and were positions of great honor in Celtic tribes since before recorded history. 

Over the centuries of Viking and English colonization, the Irish protected this role as a way of keeping their culture and its many traditions alive. The Seanchaí became the guardians of Ireland’s past and the champions of its future. They shared their tales in clandestine groups, huddled around peat-smoke fires, while imbibing on fine uisce beatha (Gaelic: “water of life,” the origins of the English word “whiskey.”) 

One need only visit a public house in Ireland today (a “pub,” or bar) to see this same story-telling tradition in modern practice. All of the aforementioned writers were brought up in this tradition of lively story-telling and became experts through osmosis in the art of imagery, plotting, and pacing. It is a tradition we as writers (whether we have Irish blood or just an appreciation for the Emerald Isle’s people) have the honor of carrying on.

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Zachary Kellian is an Irish American author living in the Pacific Northwest. He is the co-editor of Orca: A Literary Journal, and is putting the finishing touches on his first novel. He has never been called a Seanchaí, but if anyone ever did, the drinks (and accompanying stories) are on him. You can follow him on social media: @zackellian or visit him at zacharykellian.com

Roots of “Roses”

Samuel Heyman

The following is a guest post by Sam Heyman, whose short story “Roses” appeared in issue 21 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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During the fall semester of my senior year of college, I was in the eye of a storm. Specifically, a perfect storm of intersecting liberal arts topics and a looming mania, through which my guiding light was storytelling. I finished my first full length play that semester, as well as a TV pilot in play’s clothing—but interestingly, the work that emerged from that period most intact was “Roses.”

“Roses” grew from a seed planted in my mind after reading Hideko Abe’s Queer Japanese for a linguistics research project. It was a small but rich book, and it didn’t take me long to find something of interest. The first chapter of Queer Japanese concerns gay advice columns, such as those found in G-Men, a now-defunct Japanese gay men’s magazine. Getting a chance to read about the true experiences of queer people in Japan sparked a familiar compulsion in me.

“There’s a story there,” I said aloud—a phrase I often use when an event or situation tempts me into plumbing it for meaning, emotion, truth. There are many stories that could have emerged from my reading of Abe’s lovingly crafted research text, but the one I chose to follow was Kenta’s story; a story about a young gay man coming to terms with his identity, while contending with the reality that he may not be the only queer person in his immediate family.

Throughout “Roses”, I found ways to incorporate the lessons that Queer Japanese had taught me, while also reflecting on the stories of same-sex love and attraction that I had internalized when I was Kenta’s age. I knew there was no way that mere cultural appreciation would be sufficient grounds for me to write a story that was fully authentic to Japanese gay male experience, but I also knew that my goal was less about accuracy than truth. 

The yaoi and bara manga that Kenta reads—that I, too, have read—is nearly always inaccurate, even when it isn’t explicit or pornographic. Yaoi is, in most cases, a fantasy genre dreamed up by straight, female manga artists rather than an authentic exploration of what it means to be gay. Bara, while it at least has congruous authorship, is aspirational and exaggerated in the way it depicts masculinity, men and sex between them. Though entertained, Kenta was made to feel inadequate by these stories, and I was too. 

The story I sought to tell in “Roses” was one that spoke back to the manga of my adolescence. It is grounded in the words of real people, earnestly seeking advice for how to come out to their families and receiving a well meaning, if deeply sad response: “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.” It imagines a generation of queer youth that is unsatisfied with the fantasies they’ve consumed, and who crave a reality that, for all its blemishes, can at least afford the sweetness of love requited, the warmth of familial embrace. The truth it tells is hopeful, like a flower’s potential to bloom. 

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Sam Heyman (He/Him, They/Them) is a gay nonbinary writer housed in Nashville, TN. His writing has been published in Hashtag Queer, Ordinary Space and, most recently, Typehouse Literary Magazine. He hopes to create space for queer lives in literature and imagine, through storytelling, brighter tomorrows for humans of all stripes. Twitter: @sheymanCYCO