Tag: Issue 12

Extras: ‘The Mississippi Pulls You Under’

Extras: ‘The Mississippi Pulls You Under’

“This really is Memphis – built on the wreckage of pain and dismemberment, building beauty slowly from abandoned places we can’t help but revisit.”

One the stories from this issue that we cannot not get out of our heads is ‘The Mississippi Pulls You Under’ by talented U.S. writer, Aasiya F.M Glover. She is an Asian-American raised in the American South, currently residing in New York City and working as a lawyer. She has published one story in the now-defunct literary magazine Damazine, which was then published out of Syria.

We were so intrigued by her story (a work of fiction), that we asked her to tell us more. If you haven’t read Aasiya’s story, get it now on Amazon in Issue 12.

1. The setting in your story feels like a character too, as it seeps into every paragraph. Can you tell us about your decision to choose Memphis as the setting?

I’m glad to hear that. It was important to me, when writing this story, to render the personality of Memphis, as I see it, as vividly as possible. I remember sitting down to write the first paragraph of the story – it wasn’t even a choice really, just an outpouring of emotion. I was staying at my parents’ home, in the country outside Memphis, while on vacation; the night was thick and it was raining. There is almost nothing as oppressive and as loving as a summer night rain out there. It was necessary, an act of compulsion, to convey what this place — this comforting, suffocating place — means. And ultimately, to tell this story, it had to be in that place – where poverty and wealth, country and town, death and life, are so intertwined. It was important, too, that the narrator have something clear and constant and concrete to reference when reporting about the tragedy – I think the narrator finds meaning through locating the crime in a place like Memphis.

2. Perhaps we’ve been listening to too many true crime podcasts/documentaries, but your story unravels at a perfect pace and feels so real, we had to double check you hadn’t submitted creative non-fiction. How did the story flow you for when you were writing it. Did you set out to write a piece of fiction that focuses on the build up to an horrific crime?

I remember having to leave the story several times, waiting to come back to it with another piece. I knew what I wanted to say about Memphis, and social interactions there, but it was more difficult to order the Inez’s story.  I knew the ending at the beginning; I knew where I wanted to end up. The question I couldn’t figure out was how and why such an event would happen; what pieces would lead to this exact crime on this exact day, at this exact time? When we hear about crimes, especially murders, we can sometimes accept the events as somehow inevitable. I wanted to convey the confusion of looking back on a single moment in time that has such irrevocable consequences, when something as final as death is created by the most tentative, uncertain interactions.

3. Inez Cooper is such a vivid character. You portray her with a fullness and sense of agency that her mother and others around her lack. She stands out for her differences, and total unselfconsciousness compared to her peers. Is this something that I’m assuming as reader (that she doesn’t care) or do you think she’s genuinely uncaring of what others think of her? Can you tell us more about her as a character?

I think Inez is fighting not to care. She grew up around people who cared deeply, about social norms and achievements, about conventions.  Her mother, while ultimately apathetic, still performs the conventions of her role, and in that role dissolves away. She goes about her daily life as she wishes, with knowledge that that agency is truly better than the lack of agency she sees around her.  Inez rejects these norms, sees through them, but cannot help but be pained when she brushes up against them. Often difference and rejection of norms and conventions requires a rejection of routine, of pattern. Even if Inez’s difference is ultimately empowering, it is also painful for her — a little like life is out of joint — to live perpendicular to the stability (both in life and in relationships) that norms and convention taught her to expect.

4. The boyfriend is a shadowy figure in this story. When the reader first clocks the age difference, we feel a sense of foreboding. No good can come of a teenaged girl with a significantly older boyfriend. How did you decide to build tension in this story?

I wanted the threat from the boyfriend to be a slow burn. I wanted the reader to question the initial feeling that the age difference would harm Inez in some way.  Inez has so much agency, seemingly in contrast to those around her, that the reader could be forgiven for stepping back from judgment at her choice of boyfriend. The reader should slowly come to terms with how problematic the boyfriend is, even as the reader learns to appreciate Inez’s own self-awareness, so that when the ultimate crime happens, there is no suggestion that Inez walked blindly into this, or could have prevented it, or should have done anything different. I wanted this to be a story of a strong, intelligent woman who became involved with a man who would eventually kill her, so that, even though the reader sees signs of danger, the reader doesn’t try to make such a sad story make sense, or fit it into a calming pattern by calling Inez stupid or crazy or “lost” or “in a phase”.


5. Can you tell us about Orange Mound and the condemned children’s hospital?  

Orange Mound and the condemned children’s hospital in the story are fictionalized versions of real places in Memphis.  Orange Mound is one of the more impoverished neighborhoods in Memphis, where, like many cities in the South, neighborhoods of poverty and wealth sit in checkerboard squares next to each other. Also like many towns and neighborhoods in the South, it has a storied history of self-reliance and resilience, overshadowed by decades of job loss and physical disrepair. It’s also a physical marker of Memphis’s shame – its long refusal to engage with and revitalize its communities, especially communities of color. I wanted all of Memphis to be present in the story, and I wanted it to be clear that Inez was part of Memphis, all of it.

The condemned children’s hospital is a reference to an old hospital in Memphis that sits on the land owned by the Ornamental Metal Museum just on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi. To get to the Metal Museum, you have to drive through deserted and broken down buildings coming out from downtown, and then (usually) down West Illinois, past the abandoned Marine Hospital. The brick buildings are enormous and beautiful – almost like a castle – but they are surrounded by fence overgrown with ivy and kudzu. They have been abandoned for over 50 years, with signs still standing and lights still hanging, even as the inner walls peel and the wood decays.  (To get a look inside without traveling to Memphis, there are amazing websites with gorgeous pictures, such as this one) It’s harrowing to walk by them on your way to what should be a candy-fluff day of education and ornamental metal – but it’s also a supremely Memphis experience to be able to climb into or through such an old, beautiful building with ghosts standing under every broken light.  This really is Memphis – built on the wreckage of pain and dismemberment, building beauty slowly from abandoned places we can’t help but revisit.

6. Speaking of shadowy figures, your narrator is entirely oblique. Talk to us about the way you structured your story. I like very much that the telling feels like you could be hearing it from a kid in her class. Gossip seems to be a significant currency in this story.

This is a technique I use often when I’m writing about the South – telling a story through the voice of an unknown (or unknowns), who conjectures. The narrator is someone who has a vested interest in the story but is on the outside of the group with all the information. She has to take what pieces she can, what memories she has, to understand. She relies on gossip, and knowing the incompleteness of her knowledge, tries to build in the rest based on what she wishes, or wants, or believes. Perhaps especially when writing about the South, an outsider narrator who relies on gossip and myth and legend seems to me to be the best way to communicate the truth of uncertainty.


7. Is there anything else you would like to share about this piece? If you were to sum it up in a sentence, how would you describe it?

I truly love this piece – it was a personal effort at working through a horrific tragedy at a time when I was leaving the South and trying to understand what I was there, and what I was leaving behind.

In one sentence: It is the story of young woman struggling to understand loss, and to make that loss have meaning.

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Read Aasiya’s stunning story ‘The Mississippi Pulls You Under’ in Issue 12.

Where I Write

Just Use What You Have

Here’s the final piece in our inside look at a Headland writer’s space, part of our Issue 12 series; three authors share where they wrote their piece in the current issue. We recently posted Carly Thomas’ piece about her “very own room just for writing in.” Last week we shared some thoughts from Isabelle McNeur, author of ‘Holes’, about her “three main writing spaces”. This weekend we’re giving Nat Baker, author of ‘Animal Life’ the last word.

Nat is 36 years old, a mother and public servant. She completed her MCW at the University of Auckland in 2007. She has published short stories and essays in HER, Bravado and Art+Money.

 

Where I Write 

 

I try to write whenever I can because, like most people, I have limited ‘free’ time. This means I end up writing when I’m commuting – on the bus, and in airports and hotels when I’m travelling for work. I have numerous notebooks full of scribbled-down ideas, images or sentences (for this reason, notebooks are one of my favourite gifts to receive). However, my best writing (or my least ‘bad’ writing) happens for me when I’m at home, after dark, when my daughter is asleep (or at least not ‘calling out’… I am often interrupted when writing).

Having a designated space helps me focus, and get in the headspace of writing, but at the same time I’m very aware it’s not always possible for that to be my desk. I’ve had to learn how to be flexible and write in less-than-ideal circumstances – it’s just how it is. If I waited for a completely uninterrupted day, or my own writing room/personal library, then I would never get anything down.

I wrote ‘Animal Life’ in the corner of our living room, tucked in beside our dining table, with children’s art supplies stacked up behind me. I try to keep my writing space ‘sacred’, but this isn’t always possible.  Before I sit down to write, I clear away anything non-writing related (or at least hide it from view). My computer is one that my husband no longer uses, which was bought second-hand on TradeMe ten years ago; the big screen is wonderful for reading back over my work even if the hardware is a little dodgy (I’ve learnt the hard way that I must ALWAYS back up my writing). I find that standing up and reading out loud is a great way to get a sense of where the story is going, and also great when editing. I love to use ‘Focus’ mode in Word, both when I am writing and when I am reading my work aloud.

I have a couple of things that are special and inspiring close to hand: books I am currently reading and love; printed out emails from a writer friend in the US; and an artwork by another friend that I bought at an exhibition a couple of years ago.

 Every fortnight I have a Friday off work. After dropping my daughter at daycare, packing away the groceries and doing some housework (I try not to overdo that – the place is clean enough), I sit down with a cup of tea and some cookies from the supermarket (I often end up eating the lot). I like to write in near silence, with just the sounds of birds and traffic outside, although sometimes when I struggle to ‘get into it’ I will play a song or two out loud and just start putting down words, so I can get past the horror of that first blank page and having no idea where to begin.

I feel lucky to have the writing space I have now – it’s a massive improvement on my former writing space, when I was writing in our garden shed. The shed was quiet, but it was absolutely freezing on winter nights and was crawling with bugs and full of weird smells.

If I was to give writer friends advice about choosing a spot to write in and ‘getting down to writing’ I would say: don’t wait until you have the perfect amount of free/uninterrupted time or the perfect space/desk/computer/pen/notebook… just use what you have, but do try and make it a special place for you. There are oodles of drool-worthy writing spaces on Pinterest but none of them look like they’ve ever been used (at least to me).

I would also suggest trying to write every day – even if it’s only for half an hour, just a sentence. If you can’t write, then try and stay connected to writing in a more abstract way: subscribe to newsletters about writing (I have enjoyed: The New York Book Editors e-newsletter and am currently enjoying BookFox); listen to podcasts (Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert, and The New York Public Library podcasts are always special); and don’t forget the radio (I love Radio New Zealand’s Short Story Club). Of course, reading is always the most obvious way to stay connected with writing, but I find that these other options keep me in the mode of reflecting on my own work whilst giving me some new ideas about writing and how I might take my work forward.

Lastly, I would strongly recommend that you write with the intention of suspending judgement over the quality of your writing as much as you can, at least for the first draft. I find this almost impossible at times, and I have made a rule for myself that if I can agree that my writing is not completely sh*t then I will keep going until the story is finished and re-assess later. Suspending judgment is essential if you’re going to get anywhere (and not just spend what limited time you have writing and deleting your work over and over).

A friend sent me the following quote which I keep close to hand:

It can be found on Brainpickings, which contains all sorts of wonderful content for writers.

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Read Nat’s story and ten other gems in Issue 12!

Want to join our Headland family? Submit your work to us for Issue 13! You’ve got until 1 June to share your work (wherever you’ve written it) with us. Get writing, and submitting.

 

Isabelle’s Writing Space 

Writing Space #2

Welcome to our second peek into a Headland writer’s space, part of our Issue 12 series; three authors share where they wrote their piece in the current issue. Last weekend we posted Carly Thomas’ piece about her “very own room just for writing in.” This week we’re sharing some thoughts from Isabelle McNeur, author of ‘Holes’, about her writing spots, and getting the work done.

Isabelle studies at Victoria University of Wellington, where she has completed several IIML courses and plans to complete more. In 2015 she won the Margret Mahy Award for Best Folio at the Hagley Writers’ Institute, and in 2017 she won the Prize for Original Composition in at the IIML. In February she was a recipient of the 2018 NZSA / Hachette Mentor Program. Her writing has been published in journals such as Starling and Aoterotica.

 

Isabelle’s Writing Space

I have three main writing spaces; one in my flat and two at my university campus. In all three of these spaces, there’s no chance that someone is getting a look at my screen – in my university spots, I sit with my back against walls, and my apartment spot is in my room. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing on my laptop, the idea of someone watching my screen makes me twitchy.

Writing spot number one, the spot in my flat, is my room. It came already set up with a lovely writing space – a desk big enough to fit my laptop, my tea and the miscellaneous things I fidget with (nowadays it’s a USB or a pair of nail clippers).

As for my spots two and three, at university; one of them is inside the library entrance, off to the side so I don’t get caught in the flow of students. The other is one floor up, in a row of cozy chairs, and I usually go to this spot when there are too many people in my first spot. In both of these spots, I pick a place that’s a comfortable distance away from people and close to a power outlet. The second is a preference, the first is law.

As for ‘Holes,’ my piece published in Issue 12 of Headland, I got most of that done at university in the first spot (spot two) when I should have been doing readings for class.

All of my writing spots are quiet, isolated and controlled. If they aren’t, then I make it that way; sitting as far away from people as possible and putting my headphones in, so that even if it’s loud, I get control over what I listen to. If you’re one of those people who can lose yourself in your writing in a loud, crowded room, then I’m both envious and confused. Tell me your secrets.

The bottom line is to tailor your writing space to suit you. If that’s not entirely possible, tailor it as much as you can – obviously you won’t get a lot of control in a public library, but you can choose where you sit, what you listen to, and what surrounds you.

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Read Isabelle’s story in our current issue. 

Want to join our Headland family? Submit your work to us for Issue 13! You’ve got until 1 June to share your work (wherever you’ve written it) with us. Get writing, and submitting.

Stay tuned for the final instalment of this series next week from Nat Baker, author of ‘Animal Life’.

It’s nearly that time again

It’s nearly that time again

New Zealand writers! A gentle reminder from your friendly Headland editorial team that our submission deadline for Issue 12 is fast approaching! Where did December and January go…? If you’re polishing up a story or just starting one, keep Friday 9 February in your mind/diary/list/phone/heart/whatever-place-you-use-to-keep-track-of-this-stuff and send it us. We’d love to read it, and you know that we’d give it a happy home. If you’re like us and sweltering in the New Zealand ‘heatwave’, you’ll be familiar with this list. We hope you have #1 and #7 on yours too. Click here → for our full guidelines.  We recommend you have a good read of them.

Happy summering (and wintering if you’re joining us from the Northern Hemisphere – we’re sending you some of our high temperatures), and reading and writing too.

(Oh, and if you’re looking for some excellent summer reading, it would be remiss of us not to point you to our newest Issue 11, and our awesome back catalogue also).

Guidelines

 

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