Our Writerly Roundup blog series features a curated collection of articles on the craft of writing and the creative life that we don’t want you to miss.
As we enter the cooler months, as pumpkins get set out on front steps and sweaters are unpacked from storage, we are reminded that despite the rituals of autumn, we are forging a new path, creating new traditions. Perhaps there is no better time than unusual times to reexamine our writing craft, and test the waters with experimental approaches and fresh perspectives.
In this month’s Writerly Roundup, we’ve included essays that show us the power of a single word, that travel writing can occur during a pandemic, and that you can learn to love your teen’s technology. In an interview with author Megan Cummins, Laura Spence-Ash examines Cummins’ unique approach to the short story in her debut collection. We feature an interview by Erin Van Rheenen with travel editor Lavinia Spalding on what it’s like to edit a travel anthology during a pandemic. In another article by Amy Challenger, the author discusses how parents can lean in to the technology our teens are using to better connect with them. Finally, we’ve included a reprint of an article that delves into an unexpected literary influence on the legal writing of the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Please enjoy and share. If you have a current piece of writing you would like us to feature in our next Writerly Roundup, please send it our way to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hybrid Interview: Megan Cummins, Laura Spence-Ash, Craft Literary
In Craft Literary’s Hybrid Interview series, the publication pairs a critical essay with an author interview. Laura Spence-Ash examines Megan Cummins’ debut short story collection, If the Body Allows It, which interweaves first person narratives told by a fictional character named Marie with short stories told from different perspectives. As the book progresses, it become apparent to the reader that not only do Marie’s stories provide a scaffolding for the book as a whole, but that it is Marie who is the author of those other stories.
The relationship between Marie’s story and her fiction is subtle and nuanced; Cummins is clearly interested in considering the layers of storytelling, the way that a writer’s life makes its way into her fiction, the way that the telling of a story is dependent upon its narrator.
Spence-Ash admires Cummins’ skill at writing young adult characters, as well as the respectful way she portrays the age group:
I think I find it easier to stay with the point of view of teenage characters; to get into flow state while writing their stories. I start these stories with the idea I have as much to learn from writing a young character as I do from writing about an adult one. I’m not in a higher-up position, or directing from a distance, but like with any story I write I’m there with them, trying to figure it out.
Cummins also discusses how she comes up with her arresting story titles. It may be a matter of the power of one word change, something that is also touched on in the Ginsburg article further down the page. In Cummins’ words:
For a while I just had a title story, which was wrong since the book is about the book itself (if that makes sense). Then I came up with If Your Body Allows It. And then I changed the “your” to “the.” I liked that distance. The idea of the body as independent, a force, not possessed by you.
Everything Has Changed but Craft Still Matters: Lessons from a Top Travel Editor, Erin Van Rheenen, Brevity
In this piece, Van Rheenen interviews editor Lavinia Spalding, who is currently editing The Best Women’s Travel Writing (BWTW), forthcoming next month. The anthologies have included work by both established, well known authors and emerging authors. Van Rheenan and Spalding explore what it means to edit and write travel essays, when we are in the midst of a global pandemic:
Along with quests, pilgrimages and escapades, Spalding chose “essays that made me sad and mad and deeply uncomfortable…journeys told through the lens of genocide, slavery, injustice and climate change. Essays that asked me to pay more attention.” She’s always believed in the transformative power of travel, and it became even clearer to her that travel, and the travel essay, give us an opportunity to confront our own biases and to embrace our shared humanity.
Spalding has edited the BWTW six times. She is aware of the privilege of travel and believes travel can help us to “confront our own biases and to embrace our shared humanity.” Spalding refers to travel writing as “narrative nonfiction with a strong sense of place.” She discusses how stepping back from an experience and gaining perspective can help both the writing and editing process:
And in terms of BWTW, since many of the essays included are deeply personal, it’s not uncommon to find they’ve been written years, even decades, after the travel took place.
One extreme example is an essay in Volume 8, which came out in 2012, about a trip to London during the summer of 1969. It was actually the writer’s first published story; she’d been sitting with it for 43 years.
How I Learned to Love Connecting Through Technology, Amy Challenger (@amychallenger), Your Teen
In this informative and practical essay, Challenger discusses how parents can re-think the usual struggle with our children over electronics and embrace the ways in which it can enhance our teens’ lives right now:
Especially during times of social distancing, electronics can provide relief from isolation—an opportunity for socializing, learning, play, and a feeling of control in a tumultuous world. So I’ve had to consider connecting with my kids on their own techie turf
Challenger recognizes that technology is a vital part of our kids lives. So why not embrace it as a way for family to connect and create? A favorite suggestion is developing a “family language” through shared photos and videos via a family group text.
Whether we are in lockdown or not, sharing our photos of sunsets, silly faces, and pet poses gives us a common family language. Amid all the zaniness of pandemic times, we’re also grounding ourselves in the everyday with photographic investigations of flowers, birds, dramatic weather shifts, and other easily overlooked details in the world around us.
Challenger points out that teens may feel more comfortable expressing their feelings to a parent in a text message. This can be a positive outlet for them, and enable discussions that may be more difficult in person.
Carefully Chosen Words: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Vladimir Nabokov, Frances Katz, Ploughshares
For our final selection, we have selected a recent reprint of a piece that first appeared in Ploughshares in 2016. The article examines the unexpected connection between the novelist Vladimir Nabokov and the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a literature student of his at Cornell in the 1950s.
In his famous lectures, Nabokov stressed the careful selection of the perfect words, but also taught his students that style “is not a tool, it is not a method, it is not a choice of words alone. Being much more than all this, style constitutes an intrinsic component or characteristic of the author’s personality.”
Ginsburg has said that Nabokov greatly influenced her legal writing: “I seek the right word and word order,” she explained. “And I use the ‘read aloud’ test to check whether I have succeeded.”
A collection of Ginsburg’s essays and lectures, My Own Words, edited by two Georgetown law professors, Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams, touches upon Ginsburg’s belief in “clear and concise judicial prose.” They also discuss how she used the power of the spoken word strategically, and also at times use colloquial speech to make her argument even more compelling.
Have you read a compelling article about craft or the creative life that you think should appear in the next Writerly Roundup? Please send links to lmblogcontact (at) literarymama (dot) com—we’d love to hear your input!