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WIPS Conversation: Fate Kitchens on his work in progress

Fate Kitchens

Fate Kitchens grew up in Tennessee and now lives in New Jersey. He’s learned to love the northeast, but he’s still missing some things from the south. Until he can somehow unify those two, he writes fiction.



Fate, in this excerpt from The Fallow Land, Baines’ and Tommy’s plans for the day take a radical turn when Tommy finds a young woman’s dead body on Harp Hendrix’s expansive property. Does the narrative to follow focus largely on solving the crime that led to her appearance there, or does it become more of a subplot in the grander scheme of things?

It’s not strictly a whodunnit in terms of things resolving through some brilliantly plotted twist, but a killing is a major event in this little town. A whole lot of what happens is character driven, as far as how people react to this death. But yeah, I guess you’d say the crime is the center of gravity.

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WIPs Conversation: Julia Hirsch on her work in progress

Julia Hirsh HEADSHOT - Version 2Julia Hirsch began her career in Hollywood where she worked for ten years as a story editor. Her book, The Sound of Music: The Making of America’s Favorite Movie (McGraw-Hill, 1993) sold over 100,000 copies.  She has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and New York Magazine. After raising two children, she began writing and producing television commercials in the advertising field, winning numerous awards for her campaigns and commercials. She’s written two novels: WHITE RUSSIAN and MERMAID AVENUE.

Julia, in this excerpt from White Russian Sophie finds herself in a Belarusian prison cell for spurious reasons, where the fact that she’s American doesn’t easily provide a get-out-of-jail free card. Can you explain for readers how Sophie ended up such a predicament?

Sophie’s eighty-one-year-old father, Sam, was a proud American Communist in the 1940s and 1950s and remains an unreformed political agitator looking for one last fight. He travels to his homeland, Belarus, to join an underground political theater company whose goal is to overthrow the country’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. (This company is based on the “Free Theater of Belarus” who perform political plays all over the world to spotlight what is happening in Belarus.)

Sophie gets a call from Yelena, the director of the theater company, who tells her she has to come to Belarus and retrieve her father because his tactics are getting the theater group in trouble with the KGB (Belarus’ police still use that name), and Sophie has to bring her father home.

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WIPs Conversation: Carmen Lau on her work in progress

Carmen LauCarmen Lau’s short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Gigantic, Fairy Tale Review, The Collagist, Wigleaf, NANO Fiction, Matchbook and other journals. Her short story collection, The Girl Wakes, will be published by Alternating Current in 2016. She received her MA from UC Davis.
Twitter: @artemisathene


Carmen, in “The Great Queen of Wonderhaven,” a young girl suddenly falls through the figurative “rabbit hole” and becomes Wonderhaven’s queen after blowing out her birthday candles. Like Alice, she lives in a surreal world and is often overwhelmed by what she encounters, but in this case it’s sometimes by news and events of the “real world” as told to the Queen by her mother and her cynical cousin Laurie. How do you see fairy tales in the context of literature and storytelling, and do you have particular favorites that perhaps influence you own work?

I’ve always been taken by the symbolic possibilities of using fairy tale elements in storytelling. There’s something pre-rational about fairy tales; they come from and address the places within ourselves that defy “reason.” They are primal and spiritual at once, expressing the dichotomies within the human mind in vivid, sometimes colorful, sometimes brutal images.

Reading the works of Kate Bernheimer and Angela Carter especially was an awakening for me. I read J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan for the first time at a relatively late age and was amazed by it. That book is for the child within grownups. It made me cry like a baby.

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WIPs Conversation: Harold Jaffe on his work in progress

Hal Jaffe-ICHarold Jaffe is the author of 23 volumes of fiction, novels, docufiction, and essays, most recently Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories, OD, Paris 60, Revolutionary Brain, Othello Blues, and Induced Coma: 50 & 100 Word Stories. His books have been translated in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, Cuba, Turkey, Romania and elsewhere. Jaffe is editor-in-chief of Fiction International.

Hal, your novel Brando Bleeds covers a lot of ground in various forms in depicting Marlon Brando’s life, providing readers with a certain sense of insight into the man himself that goes well beyond our simple understanding of celebrity. Why did you choose Brando for your novel’s subject? Has his story been something you’ve wanted to address for a while?

Certain figures interest me, and they often seem to combine an unremitting cultural resistance with melancholy, compassion, and a coyote-trickster sort of humor. Odd-seeming combination, I know. With this “odd-seeming combination” in mind, I’ve written about Chet Baker, Hurricane Carter, Walter Benjamin, Leadbelly, Lady Day, Nina Simone, and–hold the phone–Charles Manson. Best not to believe what you’ve heard about Manson.

I think of Brando in a similar vein as one of my (reimagined) humans.

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WIPs Conversation: Leslie Pietrzyk on her work in progress

Leslie PietrzykLeslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. This Angel on My Chest, her collection of linked short stories, won the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in October. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in many journals, including Gettysburg Review, The Sun, Shenandoah, River Styx, Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, New England Review, Salon, and the Washington Post Magazine. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Pietrzyk is a member of the core fiction faculty at the Converse low-residency MFA program and teaches in the MA Program in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Literary blog:
Twitter: @lesliepwriter

Leslie, in “Headache,” an excerpt from your novel in the works Silver Girl, the unnamed narrator’s friendship with her housemate Jess is taken to task. They became “besties” during their freshman year of college, but now, beginning their sophomore year off campus together comes with significant challenges. Jess’s sister has died in a car accident that summer and she’s broken up with her fiancé. These are both difficult subjects for the narrator to touch upon—and for good reason. Set in Chicago 1982, with the city’s Tylenol scare/murders as another topic of interest, what can readers expect to discover as the novel progresses? Does Jess remain a pivotal figure or is this primarily the narrator’s story?

Jess is definitely pivotal, though I see the story as ultimately belonging to the narrator. The rest of the book, which jumps around a bit in time over a couple of years, explores the complicated relationship between these two girls, each negotiating power as they know it, which for girls at that age is pretty much limited to sex or money. The backdrop of the Tylenol murders creates (I hope!) a terrifying sense of randomness; this incident may have been the first time modern, middle-class America truly felt vulnerable, when an unknown (to this day) person stuffed cyanide into capsules of Tylenol and returned them to drugstore shelves. Seven people died in the Chicago area, changing the way manufacturers package products. Of course, it’s not enough simply to have a “backdrop” in a novel, so I took a few historical liberties and wove the Tylenol murders into my plot.

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WIPs Conversation: Ed Hamilton on his work in progress

Ed HamiltonEd Hamilton is the author of Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with the Artists and Outlaws of New York’s Rebel Mecca (Da Capo, 2007). His  fiction has appeared in various journals, including: Limestone Journal, The Journal of Kentucky Studies, River Walk Journal, Exquisite Corpse, Modern Drunkard, and, most recently, in Omphalos, Bohemia, Penduline Press, and in translation in Czechoslovakia’s Host.

Ed, your excerpted story here, “A Bowery Romance,” is part of a themed collection—The Chintz Age: Tales of Love and Loss for a New New York. What inspired the project? Did it evolve over time or was it something you had your sights on from the very first story?

The stories in Chintz Age are about people in the arts who are struggling to maintain relevance in a world that’s becoming increasingly indifferent, and sometimes openly hostile, to their work and even to their very existence. For it seems that the world— especially the U.S., and even more so New York—has become, to a frightening and disorienting degree, all about money and power, while values such as truth, beauty, and personal integrity are shrugged off with a laugh.

At the Chelsea Hotel I live among artists, musicians, dancers, photographers, and people in various other creative fields, and I myself am a writer, so I’m quite familiar with this struggle. For many years, we at the Chelsea were in effect insulated from the pressures of the outside world, monetary and otherwise, but then the hotel was taken over by developers intent on evicting the artists and turning the place into a fancy boutique hotel.

Seeing my beloved arts hotel (124 years as such!) transformed into a construction site, and seeing many of my longtime friends and neighbors unceremoniously thrown out into the street, was what inspired Chintz Age. After the initial upheaval, which coincided with the publication of my first book, Legends of the Chelsea Hotel, I labored for many years to come to terms with the personal dimension of the tragedy that had engulfed us. I went through numerous attempts to write non-fiction stories about the people and issues involved, setting the stories in the Chelsea itself, but I always found that I was too close to the action—which is, actually, still ongoing—too emotionally engaged with the people I was trying to write about. In order to write objectively, I had to take a step back from the hotel, setting the stories elsewhere, and using fictional characters to dramatize them.

So, appropriately, a book about the creative struggle is itself the result of a creative struggle.

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