On Location with Karen E. Bender

imageKaren E. Bender, whose story “Candidate" originally appeared in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Ecotone and is now featured in Astoria to Zion, sent us this fantastic photograph and accompanying description of the “ecotone” she and her family learned to navigate in the Tong Bie neighborhood of Taichung City.

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At first, we didn’t know where to walk. We stepped into the neighborhood of Tong Bie, just north of Tunghai University in Taichung City, Taiwan, and saw this: the scooters, their guttural growl vibrating in my throat, the scooter drivers moving, carving their paths down the road, wherever they wanted, really, a huge public bus occasionally swerving through the crowds. Where were we supposed to walk? We watched the pedestrians, calmly carrying a plastic cup of tea or sweet potato fries or an egg pancake, walking.

There was something missing for us, the Americans: sidewalks. That border between the walkers and the movement in the road. The border that might help us from losing a foot, or whatever. How did anyone walk through this rush? How did anyone cross the street in this? The first time, I was afraid. “Careful! Careful! Watch your feet!” I crowed to our kids, who stared at the scooter drivers doing various hair-raising moves. “Now that was legal,” they murmured, as we felt the warm wind as one zipped beside us, or when a driver did a U-turn motivated by nothing but the desire to go the other way. It occurred to us—yes, it was legal. Maybe. Or sort of legal. Actually, it didn’t matter. The point was to just move. It took us twenty minutes to cross the street, taking a deep breath and waiting for a lull in the traffic. Then we ran for our lives.

But then we went up to Tong Bie again. And again. And we started to learn how to walk. We bought our containers of tea, our egg pancakes, and watched the way the students moved through the streets here. They moved with a sort of graceful patience, weaving around whatever scooters or buses rumbled down the street. They ate their snacks. They didn’t run across the street maniacally, like we did; they walked around the scooters, they stopped in the middle and waited for another pause. They understood that they could walk anywhere. And then we did, too.

Karen E. Bender is the author of two novels, Like Normal People and A Town of Empty Rooms. Her story collection, Refund, is forthcoming in 2015. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, Ploughshares, Zoetrope, Story, Narrative, Harvard Review, and the Iowa Review. She is the recipient of two Pushcart prizes, an NEA grant, and a Rona Jaffe Foundation grant. She’s lived in Los Angeles, New York, and Iowa City, but currently resides in Wilmington, NC, with her husband, Robert Anthony Siegel, and their two children. 

Seven Questions for Marisa Silver

imageIn Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today we talk to Marisa Silver, whose story “Leap” appears in Ecotone’s fifth anniversary issue and was named a distinguished story in The Best American Short Stories 2011. It now has home in our anthology Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade as well.

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What books are open on your desk right now?

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, by Danilo Kis, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, and about twenty other books not yet read, sort of read, almost all read, read.

Where did the idea for “Leap,” your story in Astoria to Zion, come from?

A friend told me that her dog had jumped off the edge of a cliff. Chasing a rabbit? A botched suicide attempt? I had to find out.

If you could spend a year writing anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I want to say Berlin, or Istanbul, or Marrakech, because those cities fascinate me. But that would be the reason I shouldn’t go to those places—I’d spend my time wandering and watching, and I’d get nothing done. I’d be better off on an island where the distractions would be of a more natural kind, where I would be thrown back on myself and my own abilities, and where my prize for a good day’s work would be a walk to look out at the ocean, watch birds swoop down to fish, and think about time, which is really what fiction is all about.

Name a book you bought for its cover.

Even though I’ve probably made too many disappointing purchases based on cover art, I would say that any cover of a book put out by Faber & Faber is so immediately appealing it’s hard not to want to read what’s inside.

Your most recent novel, Mary Coin, arises from the photograph Migrant Mother. What was it about the image that inspired you?

A few years ago, I went to an exhibit focusing on photography of the West at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Lange’s famous photo was part of the exhibition. I had seen the image many, many times and was always drawn to the woman’s face, which seems to me such a mixture of strength and resignation, as well as to the curious composition of the photograph—the way the children face away from the camera. But what struck me seeing the photo this time was not the image itself but what was written on the curatorial label next to the image. The description noted that the woman in the photograph did not reveal who she was until she was sick and dying, when she appealed for help from the public in order to pay for her medical care. This fact struck me powerfully. Here was a woman who was the subject of, arguably, one of the most famous images of the twentieth century and who, for the better part of her life, did not lay claim to this legacy. I was immediately filled with questions. Did she choose her anonymity or was it chosen for her? Was there something about the taking of the photograph, and its subsequent ubiquity that troubled her? And what must it have meant to her, nearing the end of her life and in a time of physical duress, to have made the decision to finally reveal herself?

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When did you know there was a novel there?

I thought there was a novel when I first imagined the idea. I knew there was a novel when I finally finished it. The other 98 percent of the time I had no idea.

Lightning round

Typing or longhand? typing

Silence or music? silence

Morning or night? late morning until late afternoon

E-reader or print? print

Vowel or consonant? I am partial to all the letters in the alphabet.

Train or plane? plane

Bookmark or dog-ear? bookmark

Cake or pie? ice cream

Mountains or sea? sea

Dog or cat? I have a huge, floppy dog I love and who loves me if I am holding food. I crave a cat but I live in the land of coyotes. Also, if I ended up with one of those very self-sufficient cats that didn’t seem to need me, even if I was holding food, that would be deeply humiliating.

Marisa Silver is the author, most recently, of the novel Mary Coin, a New York Times bestseller. She is also the author of two previous novels, No Direction Home and The God of War, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction. Her first collection of short stories, Babe in Paradise, was named a New York Times Notable Book and was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2001. When her second collection, Alone With You, was published, the New York Times called her “one of California’s most celebrated contemporary writers.” Silver made her fiction debut in the New Yorker when she was featured in that magazine’s first “Debut Fiction” issue. Her stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories and The PEN / O. Henry Prize Stories, as well as other anthologies.

design by Lookout intern Ryan Smith

design by Lookout intern Ryan Smith

design by Lookout intern Justin Klose

design by Lookout intern Justin Klose

design by Lookout intern Jane Molinary

design by Lookout intern Jane Molinary

One of our absolute favorites! The lovely design is by Lookout intern John McShea.

One of our absolute favorites! The lovely design is by Lookout intern John McShea.

Lit News Roundup

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As always in our weekly Lit News, we round up the essential discussions in literature and publishing and also reveal all the Lookout and Ecotone author scoop!

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Beginning with a little book cover candy: how lovely is this jacket for Poems of the American South, edited by David Biespiel and published by Everyman’s Library? (Psst: Catch up on all of our favorite book jackets, posters, and type design on our Pinterest account.)

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Winners of this year’s Lambda Literary Awards, celebrating excellence in LGBT literature, have been announced, and we’re excited to see so many small and university press books in the mix!

The Hachette / Amazon dispute roils on, and we’ve collected the three essential links you need to understand the nuances:

  • The New York Times profiles Michael Pietsch—the first chief executive of a major publishing house to negotiate new terms with Amazon since the Justice Department sued five publishers in 2012 for conspiring to raise e-book prices. The piece underscores his view that books deserve to be treated differently from “hard drives, diapers, and the countless other products that Amazon sells.”
  • And, finally, the Amazon boycott got a helping hand this week from Stephen Colbert, a Hachette author, when he unveiled his “I didn’t buy it on Amazon" sticker and brought on guest Sherman Alexie, who in turn plugged California by Edan Lepucki. After Mr. Colbert urged people to buy it at Powell’s, California immediately became the store’s No. 1 best-seller.

We missed BEA last week, but had we been there, we would have stalked longtime Ecotone contributors Bill Roorbach (The Remedy for Love) and Brock Clarke (The Happiest People in the World) at the Algonquin Books table. Click through to find out what brought them to write their upcoming novels.

New York-area poetry lovers will don their walking shoes next week to march en masse from City Hall across the Brooklyn Bridge as part of The Poetry Walk. It’s a tradition wherein they recite work from renowned poets including Mark Doty, Thomas Lux, and Vijay Seshadri. All proceeds benefit Poets House. 

Finally, Lookout author Steve Almond's favorite summer reads have great plots and great writing. Check out his list, which includes Elizabeth Gilbert, Margaret Atwood, David Sedaris, David Foster Wallace, Cheryl Strayed, and Lorrie Moore, among others.  

Happy summer reading, y’all!

design by Lookout intern Katie Jones

design by Lookout intern Katie Jones

design by Lookout intern Katie Prince

design by Lookout intern Katie Prince

Lit News Roundup

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As always in our weekly Lit News, we round up the headlines and vital discussions in literature and publishing arts, and also announce Lookout and Ecotone author kudos.

Emma Straub suggestedTen Books To Read If You’re Not Traveling This Summer" for Publishers Weekly and included at #3 Arcadia by Lauren Groff, who has a story in Astoria to Zion.

More than dudes in tights or self-indulgent autobiography: at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Anne Elizabeth Moore considers journalistic nonfiction comics from California, Iceland, and Japan.

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Ben Miller, author of last year’s debut memoir in essays, River Bend Chronicle, has been selected as one of Radcliffe’s 2014–15 fellows and will have a year at Harvard’s institute for advanced study to shape a manuscript extending his investigation of the urban Midwest. Congratulations, Ben!

Last night at One Story's annual Literary Debutante Ball in Brooklyn, two Ecotone contributors made their book debuts. Congrats to Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans, and Ben Stroud, author of Byzantium. We hope you both did it up last night! 

Finally, in case you missed this week’s posts, you’ll want to revisit Brad Watson's charming answers to our Seven Questions. Read on to find out the fictional dog he’d adopt, the classic literary bed scene he’d heat up, and the circumstances under which he’s willing to forgo an afternoon bourbon.

And yesterday, Astoria to Zion contributor Cary Holladay kicked off our new video series. Don’t miss these two compelling and funny minutes, during which she talks about the importance of place, travel, and risk in writing.

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Psst, did you know that we collect our favorite book jackets, posters, and examples of type design on our Pinterest account? Take a gander, and if you like what you see, follow us there.