Head over to Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading to read David Means’s “The Junction" in its entirety. This stunning story first appeared in the pages of Ecotone and now has a new home in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone's First Decade

This week only, use the promo code “recommended” to pick up a copy for just $12: http://www.lookout.org/AstoriatoZion.html.

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.

During the AWP conference in February, three Ecotone contributors—Cary Holladay, Rebecca Makkai, and Shawn Vestal—gathered to help celebrate the publication of Astoria to Zion and were kind enough to sit down with us afterwards and discuss their stories in the anthology and the importance of place in their writing. Today we kick off this series with Cary Holladay, who talks about place, travel, and risk in her writing. Her story “Horse People" appears in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone's First Decade, published by Lookout Books (2014).

Thanks to Justin Klose, Becky Eades, and Laura Steele for hosting these interviews and editing them into such compelling videos.

Seven Questions for Brad Watson

imageThis week longtime Ecotone contributor Brad Watson answers our Seven Questions and charms us with his distinctive humor and insight. His story “Alamo Plaza," about a family’s vacation in Gulfport, Mississippi, is one of our favorites to appear in the magazine. It won a PEN/O. Henry and now has a permanent home in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone's First Decade.

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What books are open on your desk right now?

Geoff Schmidt’s story collection, Out of Time (my students are reading it); a biography of William James (suggested by your own David Gessner); my wife Nell Hanley’s cento manuscript; Meg Pokrass’s new flash collection, Bird Envy; Jamie Kornegay’s forthcoming novel, Soil; Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. And some others a bit further off to the side. A couple of student theses.

If you could change one thing about a classic work of literature, what would it be?

I’d have Huck give Tom what-for when he pulls those shenanigans at the end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, instead of all that roundabout way of torturing Jim to achieve a phony redemption for Tom. A waste of time, and frustrating. Twain was self-publishing then, right? Well, he should have hired and trusted a good editor. Also, maybe a little more hoozah in that bed scene between Ishmael and Queequeg, don’t you think? It’s damn good as it is, but a devil in me wishes he’d pushed it a little further. Maybe just with dialog of some sort.

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

In the American desert. Not too far from a very small town with one good bar and one good diner. 



Name a book you bought for its cover.

I don’t think I bought it for its cover, but I would buy Duras’s The Lover for its cover, if I didn’t already own and know the book. That cover, contrasted with the opening section about a man coming up to her and saying, “Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravished.”

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If you could adopt any fictional dog, which one would you choose and why?

Maybe Eggers’s dog in “After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned,” although I think that our dog Hank (we didn’t know it was a cliché Western dog name when we named him, greenhorns) is already that dog.

How well do you have to know a place, if at all, to recreate it in writing? 

It takes me a little (or a lot) longer than some writers I know. After nine years, I’ve written only a little bit about the West. I like to feel as if I’ve absorbed things in some way beyond my realization of it. I don’t want to find out I’ve been projecting without knowing. To the degree we can ever do that.

Lightning round

Typing or longhand? Both. Often, scenes in longhand typed later on. Occasionally an entire chapter or story longhand, typed later. I would like to do this all the time but too often start dashing it out on the screen before I even think about what/how I’m doing it.

Silence or music? Usually silence, although when I was drafting a novel (shelved for now) two years ago, I listened to one song by Dylan over and over, one by I think Schubert, one by Mozart. The Dylan song was “Things Have Changed.” I can’t recall the Schubert opus or the Mozart although both were piano concertos.

Morning or night? Morning, usually, until I’m deeply enough into something that I want to work on it all the time and badly enough to forgo the afternoon bourbon on the rocks. Then, morning and again in the evening.

E-reader or print? Print, although I will sometimes get an e-reader book to check it out, especially if I’m so curious I want to see it right away. But if I like it, I will then order the print volume.

Vowel or consonant? I love them both, and together. We are a threesome.

Train or plane? Train. I love traveling in the sleeper cars and being paired with strangers in the dining car. Too bad the food’s no good anymore.

Bookmark or dog-ear? Bookmark when I’m reading for pleasure; dog-ear when I’m teaching or reading to learn from someone whose work is astonishing me.

Cake or pie? Don’t eat much of either. Used to. My mom made the best pound cakes. And my Aunt Blanche made the best pecan pie. They’re both gone now.

Mountains or sea? It used to be the sea, overwhelmingly. I lived there a while. Winters in a deserted small beach town were exhilarating. Now I live in the mountains, and it’s the mountains. I still love the sea, but now the mountains are the staple, the sea is the reprieve, respite, relief.

Dog or cat? Dog. Have two. Cats are amusing, though. And useful, if you own a barn. A neighbor got ten for his, though, and the coyotes got ten. Since one of our dogs is a good mouser, no need for a cat, no need to sacrifice a good cat to the coyotes.

Brad Watson is the author of Last Days of the Dog-Men, The Heaven of Mercury, and Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives, in which “Alamo Plaza” appeared. The collection was awarded the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award and short-listed for the PEN / Faulkner Award for Fiction. Recently Watson received the Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Laramie, Wyoming, and teaches in the University of Wyoming MFA program in creative writing.

Seven Questions for Rebecca Makkai

imageIn Seven Questions, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. Today we welcome Rebecca Makkai to the blog. Her story “The Way You Hold Your Knife” first appeared in Ecotone and is now also in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone's First Decade.

What books are open on your desk right now?

I don’t read at my desk (I sit here enough as it is) so nothing’s open right now except the New Yorker, and only because I was messaging a friend to add to our ongoing conversation about the way the New Yorker is so unflattering in its physical descriptions of its subjects. Seriously, don’t ever give a quote to them or they’ll say you look like an angry rabbit with crooked teeth.

Where did the idea for “The Way You Hold Your Knife,” your story in Astoria to Zion, come from?

I was still teaching an elementary Montessori class at the time, and two of my students had chosen to do a report on bogs, which quickly turned into a report on bog mummies. Then I remembered a college professor telling a story about her grad school roommate, an archeology student who didn’t want to be buried in a grave but left somewhere unusual so she could give someone “the joy of discovery.” I put those together—along with some scandalous rumors from my undergraduate days—and had the makings of a really strange story.

If you could change one thing about a classic work of literature, what would it be?

It’s not a classic in the strictest sense, but I wish I could take Jennifer Egan’s The Keep and give it a better cover. It might be my favorite contemporary novel, and it has a somber cover that doesn’t do enough to hint at the fun and narrative trickery inside.

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What emerging author or first book are you most excited about?

Pamela Erens’s The Virgins isn’t technically her debut, but I think it has announced her voice in an unignorable way. You should read it immediately. 

Name a book you bought for its cover.

Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell. I’m halfway through, and it hasn’t disappointed.

What was your inspiration for The Borrower?

The Borrower is, in part, about a young boy whose parents have enrolled him in anti-gay therapy. And this was the initial inspiration for the book—my learning that these programs existed, and for children as young as nine. Out of that grew this whole crazy story about a boy who runs away and kidnaps his favorite librarian. Somewhere along the way, it got to be about the Russian mafia and a troupe of actors and a bunch of other stuff too. I never quite understand how these things grow. I think they work a lot like dreams.

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Lightning round

Typing or longhand? typing

Silence or music? silence

Morning or night? morning

E-reader or print? print

Vowel or consonant? Oh, I thought that said “croissant” at first. Now I’m just disappointed.

Train or plane? train

Bookmark or dog-ear? dog-ear

Cake or pie? wine

Mountains or sea? sea

Dog or cat? dog

Rebecca Makkai is the author of two novels, The Hundred-Year House and The Borrower, a Booklist top ten debut, an Indie Next pick, an O, The Oprah Magazine selection, and one of Chicago Magazine’s choices for best fiction of 2011. Her short fiction was chosen for The Best American Short Stories in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, and has been featured in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, New Stories from the Midwest, Best New Fantasy, and several college literature textbooks. Her stories appear in Harper’s, Tin House, Ploughshares, and New England Review, and on public radio’s This American Life and Selected Shorts. She teaches at Lake Forest College, StoryStudio Chicago, and Sierra Nevada College.

On Location with Lauren Groff

In our new department On Location, we feature photographs submitted by authors, artists, designers, and friends of Ecotone and Lookout, showcasing spaces that are meaningful to them, or that inspire their work—anything from a desk or bookshelves to a place they gather information. We’re pleased for Lauren Groff, whose beautiful story “Abundance” appears in Astoria to Zion, to kick off the series.

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Lauren Groff writes:

Ten years ago, my writing space had to be a separate room with a lockable door, chaise longue, bookshelf, and idea board. It had to be scrupulously neat. I refused to speak to anyone between waking and working; I’d brew a pot of coffee, lock the door, light a candle and meditate, then get started. If anyone had interrupted me, they’d have died a horrid death.

All that seems precious now that I have kids—and I mean precious in both senses. I work everywhere, now. I have a cruddy studio in my garage that I can use in the spring or fall, but not summer or winter because of the climate of Florida and my lack of climate control out there. I’ve been writing in bed recently because it’s winter and we don’t turn on the heat, and despite its rep, Florida can get really chilly. Also, because I’m frightened by what I’m working on and I like the feeling of being comforted while I work. I write in line to pick up my kindergartener at school; at night, accompanied by my insomnia in the bathtub; in my parents’ empty house down the street; in my head in the middle of the night when my three-year-old has the croup. I wrote “Abundance” sitting on the floor of my study, where we keep the books, because it felt natural somehow to do so. My oldest son was two then and we didn’t have the dog, but I remember him occasionally meandering in, smearing things on my cheeks, and meandering out.

Lauren Groff is the author of Arcadia, a New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in fiction; The Monsters of Templeton; and Delicate Edible Birds, a story collection. Her fiction has appeared in The Pushcart Prize and The PEN / O. Henry Prize Stories, as well as in the New Yorker, the Atlantic MonthlyOne StoryTin HousePloughshares, and twice in The Best American Short Stories.

Introducing “The Blue Tree” by Rick Bass

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Before relocating to North Carolina for graduate school this past summer, I lived for eight years in New York City. The city offered some of the world’s finest food and culture—four-star meals at Daniel, La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera House—but the one thing not readily accessible was natural beauty, though I tried hard to seek it out. My go-to spot was a small, nondescript bench at the peak of Fort Tryon Park, one of Manhattan’s highest points, where I could see the Hudson River laid plain. But as anybody in New York can tell you, nothing in the Big Apple comes easy, and enjoying the view was no exception. There were all manner of distractions to contend with: the endless noise of buses and trucks rumbling along the Henry Hudson Parkway a hundred feet below, the bleating of car horns, the smog roiling up from factory furnaces on the other side of the river bank. And yet if I sat there long enough, eventually the world would grow quiet, and I’d notice the elm tree branches overhead perfectly framing my view of the river.

The Blue Tree" by Rick Bass in Lookout’s recent anthology Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon asks how we hold just such a moment. In it, the main character, Wilson, struggles in nature as much as he enjoys it, and grapples with the impermanence of youth. The story begins with him, his wife, Belinda, and their two daughters, arriving at their cabin in the woods the day before Christmas Eve. Tradition dictates that Wilson cut their tree that night; he wants everything—as in years past—in place for a restful Christmas Eve. Against Belinda’s better judgment, Wilson packs his daughters in the Subaru and heads north in the falling snow, deeper into the forest, where the best trees can be found. They get stuck, of course, just as his wife had predicted.

Wilson digs out the area behind each wheel. He climbs into the driver’s seat and presses the gas pedal, but his attempts only make matters worse. “The car has become an ice-making machine, a perfect arrangement of temperature, humidity, dew point, and snow depth … and Wilson realizes, with an unpleasant jolt, that they’re screwed.” As Wilson and his daughters begin the three-mile trek back to the cabin, his girls take sides in an impending argument. The eldest, Stephanie, rolls her eyes at her father’s stupidity; the younger, Lucy, defends his actions. 

Their fight is cut short when Stephanie perks to a noise in the woods. Wilson yells into the darkness to announce their presence. He assures the girls it’s just a deer, “But they can hear the lie in his voice, and they draw closer to him.” He lets out a throaty snarl, and the lion, or whatever threatens them, retreats. Before long they return to the magnificent spruce tree at the top of their own driveway, which Wilson has rigged with alternating blue and white lights. “The girls stop and stare at it without speaking … five seconds, six seconds, seven seconds, eight: they stand there catching their breath, gazing at this special thing.” As his daughters run toward the safety of their cabin, Wilson “lingers a moment longer, staring at the glowing blue tree—but already the moment is dissolving.”

It’s these last haunting lines that capture the feeling I had while sitting atop that bench in New York City: “He savors it, knowing it won’t always be this way. But it is now. More so than he could ever have imagined.”

Justin Klose,
Lookout intern

To enjoy the story its entirety, read “The Blue Tree” in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade.

It’s Astoria to Zion Publication Day!

Lookout is thrilled to celebrate the official publication day of Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade.

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We unveiled Astoria to Zion last week during the surprisingly sunny whirlwind that was AWP Seattle. EcotoneLookout, and Milkweed Editions co-hosted a book release party atop downtown Seattle’s gorgeous Sorrento Hotel. Longtime friend of Ecotone Ben Fountain, who wrote the foreword, introduced the collection; contributors Brock Clarke, Cary Holladay, and Rebecca Makkai offered fantastic readings from their stories. For more photos from the event, please see our coverage on Facebook. Check back here for upcoming video interviews with the gracious contributors as well.

imageCary Holladay reads from her story “Horse People” (see a digital broadside inspired by the story here).

Team Lookout has been working on Astoria to Zion for more than a year now. It seems like so long ago that we sat in Emily Smith’s publishing practicum course, armed with every back issue of Ecotone, fervently debating which stories to include in the anthology. From those early discussions to drafts of the cover and interior design to the planning of readings and other promotions; so much time, energy, and joy has gone into making this anthology a true celebration of the first ten years of Ecotone.

If you haven’t purchased a copy yet, please consider ordering directly from us here, or through an independent bookstore. (Check this blog for an upcoming feature about some of our favorite indie bookstores!)

For this week only, we’re offering Astoria to Zion for $10 with the promo code PUBDAY, as thanks for your support of Lookout and our twenty-six contributors. 

Katie Jones,
Lookout intern

Photos by Christine Hennessey

Introducing “Leap” by Marisa Silver

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Define bad. Define okay. Define trouble. Define sad. It’s easy to offer dictionary definitions, but when it comes to personal interactions, things are not always so clear cut. As a writer and reader, I’m interested in what motivates people, how behaviors are formed, and just why we do what we do. Marisa Silver’s “Leap” is an intimate character examination that explores how an experience shapes and defines a woman’s life. We’re offered a non-judgmental, introspective view of the oil spill that is human emotion. We see how it shifts and changes, sinks and grows, affecting every aspect of self. Silver treats her characters with care and sympathy in such a way that we understand even the most questionable patterns of thought.

I was introduced to “Leap” when reading for Lookout’s upcoming anthology Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone's First Decade. Once I finished the story, I understood why it was included not only in this anthology, but in Ecotone’s fifth anniversary edition as well. The characters dwell in an emotional ecotone, where variant and even conflicting states overlap and exist in spite of one another.

The story opens with Sheila as a young girl, selling lemonade at a stand with her sister and two friends. They’re approached by a man holding a wrinkled bag. We immediately understand that his intentions are anything but genuine. While Sheila feels in her body that something is wrong, the event leaves her with a heightened sense of self-awareness. “Suddenly, she felt beautiful and much older than she had ten minutes earlier. She was certain of it … She would never tell her parents that for the first time she had been taken seriously.” From an early age, Sheila’s idea of desire is entangled with risk.

She expands on this subconscious notion later. “Girl trouble, on the other hand, was transformative. You could be driven home by a father after a babysitting gig and let him touch your breasts. You could have a fight with your boyfriend and get out of his car on a lonely road and be picked up by a stranger. You could have sex with a boy in his dorm room while his roommates walked in and out.”

We begin to see how that early interaction has woven itself into Sheila’s behavior. She’s “attracted to wily and insinuating men,” leading her to fall in love with and marry “unsettlingly straightforward” Colin, even though their compatibility is questionable. At thirty-seven, Sheila undergoes bypass surgery after learning of Colin’s infidelity. As she recovers, her dog Patsy leaps off a cliff.

Sheila’s desire for trouble may have led her to an unhappy marriage, but it also makes her persevere in the wake of physical and emotional calamity.

At some point in our lives we’re all hurt, but Silver reminds us that it’s part of necessary transformation—at once terrible and empowering, revealing, and complex. Although Patsy lives, she earns a “gimpy leg” from her brush with death. Sheila may have a broken heart, but she’s also “full of radiant possibility,” creating the opening for a new story.

Becky Eades,
Lookout intern

Seattle must-sees for AWP

Now that the annual AWP conference is just days away, we’re setting our sights on Seattle. In case you’re under the impression that it’s all coffee and mist, here are a few things we think might be fun to do while you’re in town.

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 Seattle Underground

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When founded in the mid-nineteenth century, Seattle was several stories lower and its buildings were made of wood. After the Great Seattle Fire in 1889, city officials banned wooden structures and decided that instead of rebuilding the city at its original level, they would reconstruct it a story or two higher. What this means to you: you can tour Old Seattle (family-friendly or adult-oriented) and pretend you’ve time-traveled 150 years and live in the seedy underbelly of the American West.

(photo © Dougtone via Flickr Creative Commons)

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The Sound Garden

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If you’re the type to venture off the beaten path, you might want to do some exploring and find Seattle’s Sound Garden—yes, the band is named after it. It’s one of five public artworks located on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA) campus, overlooking Lake Washington and adjacent to Magnusson Park. It’s an installation of  hollow metal pipes that spin, whistle, and howl as wind blows through them. The effect is said to be beautiful, eerie, and maybe even a little supernatural.

Since 9/11, access has been limited, but the campus is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. (Entry is allowed till 3:30 p.m.). It’s free, but you’ll need to bring a photo ID to get in, and be prepared to have your bags searched.

(photo © The Kozy Shack via Flickr Creative Commons) 

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Gas Works Park

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Need fresh air? A break from 15,000 of your closest friends swarming the convention center? Why not take a picnic to an old gas plant? The plant, originally built to generate gas from coal, was made obsolete in the 1950s when the city began importing natural gas. In 1975, it was turned into a park, which sits on Lake Union and provides a lovely, sweeping view of the city. 

(photo © analixa via Flickr Creative Commons)

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And on Friday night, stop by our Astoria to Zion release party with Milkweed Editions and Ecotone! The Sorrento Hotel is just a short walk from the convention center, and the event will feature readings by Ben Fountain, Brock Clarke, Cary Holladay, and Rebecca Makkai. Drinks and snacks are free (while they last), and the cityscape view from the Sorrento penthouse is a must-see.

Katie Prince,
Lookout intern