Finding Fantasy…

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Author Lesley Nneka Arimah reads from her debut story collection, What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, at Lit Youngstown’s 2018 fall literary festival. The reading was held in the stone sanctuary of St. John’s Episcopal Church. (Photo credit: Courtney Kensinger)

in literature, of course.

Ahem.

So, I don’t know…maybe fantastical literature fell under the heading of “books and games to be avoided”–along with Dungeons & Dragons–in the C.C.D. program directed at us Catholic middle school kids. Or maybe it was my mom, for whom a talking spider and talking mouse, in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, respectively, were fantastical enough.

Whatever…it took me a long while to appreciate fantasy, or magical realism, as the genre is called among the literary fiction set.

It wasn’t until I had my kids that I began to really like fantasy–because those stories were the ones that kept my restless elementary-age boys rapt at bedtime, that kept them from becoming distracted enough by their bodies to turn to wrestling each other, thereby gaining a second wind that would keep them–and me–up past my bedtime.

The Chronicles of Narnia served as our gateway children’s fantasy. Lately, Susan Cooper stories featuring ghosts are our typical m.o. And on their nightstand at the moment: Endling #1: The Last by Katherine Applegate. Myth and mystery… The maybe-end of a rare species of dog-like creatures… A wobbyk named Tobble. (Hello, alliteration!) Really, I enjoy the characters and language as much as my kids do; but what I really love about the middle-grade fantasy I’m now exposed to…

The world-building.

Of course, as a fiction writer, I’ve been building worlds for a long time–even if they look and act like our world. But I’d never called it that. I constructed settings for scenes, putting a character in a concrete time and place. However, because those places were  recognizable, I didn’t give this process enough attention. It was scene-dressing.

That’s changed.

At Lit Youngstown’s fall literary festival, author Lesley Nneka Arimah read a few stories from her debut short story collection, titled What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky: Stories. Arimah’s gift with language–she crafts  sentences that are graceful and slyly, darkly witty at the same time–and her knack at exposing the tender underbellies of familial relationships are enough to make for truly memorable tales.

For me, what sets her fiction apart is the use of fantasy. She builds worlds we know–the stories are set in the U.S. and Nigeria. (Arimah was raised in the U.K. and Nigeria and moved to the U.S. when she was a teenager.) But these worlds are slightly tilted, set off kilter through the introduction of myth or fable or superstition.

Being born under the wrong star, as the main character was in the story, “Glory,” is much more than a young woman having a run of bad luck. Still, the main character operates in a place we can recognize, a Minneapolis call center where she listens to an endless litany of foreclosure complaints from distraught homeowners. Here we have familiar, realistic world-building. Likewise, in many of the stories in this collection, the “magical” in the realism isn’t in the setting.

Not so in the stunning titular story. In “What it Means…,” Arimah creates a world of the future, a time riven by natural disasters and wars between the classes. The solution this society has devised to create order: a mathematical formula to fix people, even those who have suffered tremendous losses, by allowing some specialists to devour others’ grief.*

“When things began to fall apart [Chinua Achebe nod?], the world cracked open…into the vacuum stepped…[a mathematician] who discovered a formula that explained the universe. It, like the universe was infinite, and the idea that the formula had no end and, perhaps, by extension humanity had no end was exactly what the world needed.”

Then, the formula faltered…and I’ll let you read the rest for yourself.

At her literary festival reading, Arimah spoke about her literary influences. She talked about the trips she took to the library as a kid and the reading she did: across all book types and genres–and absolutely voraciously.

So, here’s to fantasy, even in the uber-realistic Rust Belt. (I am currently reading Stephen Markley’s novel, Ohio; do story elements count as fantastical if they’re drug-induced? That’s a question for another day.) Here’s to inventive play in all the elements of story.

Thank you to Lesley Nneka Arimah for allowing me to post her picture and feature a snippet of her story. Please visit her author site for more information, and go buy What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky at your local bookstore.

Do you write fantasy or magical realism? Do you blog about it? Do you read it to your kids?

 

*As I schedule this post, my heart is heavy. Condolences to the people of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where on Saturday 11 people were killed when a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Prayers for the dead and for the grieving, today and everyday…

 

 

We’re turning 1!

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(Not my dinghy.) Thanks for the pic, Dad!

Happy Paper Anniversary! (Ironic, but true.) It’s Rust Belt Girl’s one year blogiversary.

Happy, happy day! We made it a year. I appreciate you sticking by me—and just think of all the writing paper we haven’t wasted!

For the obligatory anniversary stats: this post make 51, with an average word count of 370 (wordy me), for 347 total comments (lots by me) from 593 total followers, some of whom hopped on this train on that banner day when my post was a WordPress Discover feature. Thanks again, WordPress editors!

I started this blog to wrap my head around the literature of my native Rust Belt. For sure, one of my favorite comments, starting out in the Community Pool (best place to be on a Monday) went something like this: I don’t know where the *#$& the Rust Belt is, but I like it!

WordPress is definitely global. As much as I enjoy connecting with my fellow native or current Midwesterners (and I really do), one of the best things about this blog has been finding commonalities between far flung people and places—and the literature and art that comes out of those places.

Author interviews, photography, blogger collaborations, book reviews, apropos re-blogs (thank you, Belt Magazine), stories, essays, and—new this calendar year—writerly advice and notes on traditional publishing. Whew! Hopefully, even if you’ve never heard of the Rust Belt, you can find something here that suits your taste. Even if it’s funny. Especially if it’s weird.

This blogiversary coincides with the anniversary of my jump onto social media via FB. Yep, you read that right. When everyone else starts jumping ship, I’m like: that boat looks nice and sturdy! (Really, dinghy pics definitely forthcoming.) What have I found as a social media newbie? If I let it, social media zaps my focus so that I have the attention span of a hyper puppy. (Nope, still haven’t taken the real puppy plunge yet; I’ll keep you posted.) Social media also keeps me connected to friends, family, and writers too nice to ignore my friend requests! But those connections are more like taps on the shoulder—“remember me?”—than conversations.

We’re conversing here—real two-way street stuff. So, now it’s your turn. Happy Blogiversary to you, because it definitely takes two! What would you like to see from me in year two? (Cotton anniversary, btw.) I’ll try to oblige. ~ Rebecca

 

Speak the language of publishing

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Just like there’s a language of, say, France or finance, there is a language of literary publishing.

In this language, I am no longer conversant (Daily Prompt); in fact I’m rather rusty.

Used to be, on a Friday night, I’d pore over the latest edition of the library copy of the Writers Market*, which was dog-eared from all the other aspiring-writer English majors who’d done the same before me. (I led a thrilling social life.) This door-stopper of a book was the bible of publishing. Study this tome, and one could at least sound like they were publishable.

Note that this language of literary publishing is a second language to the language of literary writing. Or should be.

Write. Write well. Write a ton. And only then worry about acquiring the language of literary publishing. That’s my advice. Why?

Because it’s like Greek (unless you’re Greek). Read more