Bartleby Snopes Writing Blog

Becoming a Better Writer

Month: October 2015

It’s a Flashy World Out There: Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World, A Review

by Gay Degani

James Thomas, Robert Shapard, and Christopher Merrill came together to collect and edit Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World, released by W.W. Norton & Company in April of this year.

The team’s mission was to gather strong flash fiction from all over the world and as stated in the introduction, and after reading over 10,000 stories, they had what they considered “eighty-six of the world’s best very short stories—known in Portuguese as minicontos, in German as Kurzestgeschichten, in Irish as splancfhicsin, in Italian as microstorias . . . and in English as flash fiction.”

 

Flash Fiction InternationalWhat appeals to us about flash fiction? Beneath the complexities of the world, we live our lives in a series of moments, thousands of them, experiencing an array of emotions and epiphanies.  Not all of these stick with us, yet many of them change our lives.  What flash fiction manages to do is crystalize some of these moments for us to read, enjoy, and identify with.  The flash fiction in this anthology comes from such disparate place as Israel, Argentina, Bangladesh, South Korea, Japan, the United States, Slovenia, Norway, Kenya, Australia, Ancient Rome and many more. What underlies each story is what makes human beings human, past and present.

  • Take “Esse” by Polish writer and poet, Czeslaw Milosz. This short piece, read in a minute and a half, is such a moment. The narrator states, “What can be done, if our sight lacks absolute power to devour objects ecstatically, in an instant, leaving nothing more than the void of an ideal…” Who hasn’t experienced a moment when something has caught our eye and we find we cannot get enough it? In this case, it is a woman and the narrator cries out: “I am, she is.Shout, blow the trumpets, make thought-strong marches, leap, rend your clothing repeating only: is?” Isn’t this what life is?
  • From Colombia comes the story “Honey” by Antonio Ungar in which a young boy watches his sister cover herself with honey: “she defies the world, she smiles and waits. Little by little her body begins to transform getting thicker and darker.” Suspense builds from the first sentence to the end of the story.  A character fascinated by someone in peril, wrought in beautiful prose, reminds the reader of accidents along a freeway and rubberneckers cruising by, the universality of human curiosity.
  • Humor is common to human beings too, shown in “Heavy Bones” by Tania Hershman (Israel/England).  In this story, the solution is fun and funny. “Only a few minutes ago, we were still tipsy from the bubbly at the reception, our heads fizzing, and now I’m standing here freezing on the doorstep in my big white dress and he’s looking like he’s failed his first big husbandly duty…”
  • In “The Snake,” Kenyan Eric Rugara captures that wonderful moment after a household crisis raises adrenaline and mere men have gone to war.  “The kid saw it first. Everyone else busy talking and sipping tea when the kid suddenly cried out, ‘Snake!’”
  • Flash fiction can challenge and make the reader wonder what is true and what is not, as in “Truthful Lies” by Frankie McMillan from New Zealand.  Here the narrator proclaims herself a liar and launches into her own history. “Have I ever been engaged to a dwarf? Yes. No. Choose Yes.” The reader has to question if the choice will lead to a story that can believed or not.  This is an expert example of an unreliable narrator.
  • Yin Ed Kiong from Malaysia/Indonesia pens a traditional tale, “Ronggeng.” In kinship with 1001 Nightsand Cinderella, this piece has seductive dancing, ritual baths, and star-crossed lovers, proving the adaptability of the form of flash fiction. “All the rich old men in their vulgar boast of wealth and virility would be vying to buka her kelambu—‘to open her mosquito net’—for the first time at the ronggeng.”
  • From Afganistan comes “The Tiger” by Mohibullah Zegham, a stark moment of reality when a common past holds peril for an ordinary, hard-working man. “It had been a long time since I’d been to the bazaar.  Traveling the vast Shorao desert, the truck was raising clouds of dust.”
  • “Little Girls” by Tara Laskowski from the United States is about the relationship between fathers and daughters and a moment that changes the main character’s life.  It is all-American, but carries with it a kind of inevitable fate that is universal.

I regret I don’t have more time and space to select even more of these ideal examples of flash fiction, but as our world grows smaller, humans find themselves bumping up against each other more than ever before.  Between television broadcasts of war and violence, bickering world leaders, and natural disasters, with much the same prominent in movies and on the internet, we seem more focused on what makes us different than what makes us alike. The wonderful fact about the genre of flash fiction is that it focuses on moments, and in those moments we find our humanity as it exists all over the world.  This is what makes an anthology like Flash Fiction International, Very Short Stories from Around the Word, such a gift.

Book Information: Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World Paperback by James Thomas (Editor), Robert Shapard (Editor), Christopher Merrill (Editor)

Paperback: 288 pages Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 13, 2015)

Bio:

Gay Degani had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her suspense novel, What Came Before, was published in 2014 and a short collection, Pomegranate, features eight stories around the theme of mothers and daughters. Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she blogs at Words in Place where a complete list of her published work can be found.

Blurring Genre Boundaries with Ashley Inguanta

Ashley Inguanta’s poetry collection For the Woman Alone (Ampersand Books) is rich with lyricism, imagery, narrative. Yes, narrative. In her poem “7 Ways of Unfolding,” Inguanta tells the story of how the self transforms through a relationship. The melodic language and rhythm are not what you would necessarily see in fictional narrative, but there is an arc, from the first time the narrator sees the woman she will fall in love with, her voice “a soft burning sun”—to the aftermath of their relationship.

Photo credit: Lauren Laveria (Lauren Rita Photography)

Photo credit: Lauren Laveria (Lauren Rita Photography)

Inguanta has also imbued her fiction with poetry. In her flash piece “Inside,” published in SmokeLong Quarterly, the reader is captivated by language. In describing the narrator’s attraction for her future teacher, Inguanta writes: “I want to run my fingers down her spine, press each bone, understand her vertebrae—alone, each one hard like ivory, yet together, they’re as supple as a feather, as malleable as pure gold.” The ending also reads as if it could be the final line in a poem: “Out of the rips fly birds with piano keys for wings.”

I spoke with Inguanta about the relationship between poetry and fiction. What are the boundaries if any between the two, and how does one inspire and enrich the other?

BS: At what point do you know if your work is poetry or flash fiction? What is the difference between the two?

AI: Often, for me and for many others, the line between prose poetry and flash fiction is blurred. I find comfort and freedom in this blurry line. In grad school, I read Stephen Graham Jones’ collection Bleed Into Me, and the way I approached writing changed. The way Jones blended genre astounded me. I admire his work, especially this collection, deeply.

To me, flash embodies movement. The POV character moves from point A to B and either does change or has the opportunity to change. The most powerful flash I have read makes bold discoveries and takes leaps that are inevitable, not predictable. Poems, however, embody rhythm. The speaker understands (or wants to understand, or puts up a wall from understanding) something bright, almost blinding, sometimes excruciating—and in that, there is a layer of clarity, even if it only lasts for a moment, even if it is unsustainable.

To be honest, I have trouble differentiating between prose poetry and flash, and these traits do overlap. But I accept that, and I find strength and freedom in blending genre.

BS: For the Woman Alone is rich with narrative and story. Did you intend to write all of the pieces as poems?

AI: Yes, I wrote each piece as a poem. Each piece as “poem” felt very clear to me. I began For the Woman Alone in Florida, when my heart felt happy, seen, and loved. But when a heart feels this way, a heart needs to understand how to climb mountains, how to swim through large and powerful waves—alone. My heart eventually learned how to do these things. At the time, I was living in Brooklyn. I remember the way I carried my own body, my own weight, through all of the seasons. In Florida, we carry our bodies through the heat and rain. Brooklyn offered me strength in a different way—with different air, different grounding. So yes, For the Woman Alone was intended to be poetry, and that clarity stuck with me as the book took shape.

BS: Did you start writing poetry or fiction first? Does writing in one genre inspire the way you approach the other?

AI: I began writing poetry at age 12. To put it simply, I was experiencing my first real crush. But I had no idea what I was feeling at the time because this crush was on a woman—my middle school English teacher. I did not know why I felt pulled so strongly to her, but I knew the feeling was beautiful. When the feeling didn’t go away, I started writing about it. I wanted to understand it, to discover something.

Fiction came later, but not too much later. Maybe a few months into 7th grade I started writing stories, which were more like vision boards. I wrote about the person I wanted to be: A young woman from New Mexico who would go on adventures with her friends. I’ve been fascinated with the West for as long as I can remember. Fiction helped me understand possible futures, possible ways I could grow into the outer world.

Poetry, though, helped me understand my inner world. Eventually poetry helped me understand the inner world of others.

Both fiction and poetry are gifts.

BS: I love how your flash fiction piece “Inside” is filled with lyricism and poetic imagery. Does writing poetry influence the way you approach language when writing fiction?

AI: Yes, completely. I love rhythm, the way it moves the energy of poems and works of fiction. I don’t turn off my love for rhythm when I am writing fiction, even though I place character first. And when I am writing poetry, I don’t turn off my love for character, for journey—even though rhythm and image come first.

BS: What elements are most important to you when crafting a piece of fiction? How do you balance poetic language with other elements such as character and plot?

AI: Character is my priority when I write fiction. Learning about / sitting with / writing the story of the POV character is the journey I expect to go on when I write fiction. I always say, “have curiosity, not expectation,” but I do expect this from fiction. I am curious about the character, but I expect us to form a relationship. If we can’t, the piece doesn’t get written.

It’s very hard for me to write if I do not understand the rhythm of something. I don’t think too hard about balancing poetic language with character and plot; instead, I focus on the character’s world and the rhythm/language naturally shapes that world.

BS: In both fiction and poetry, what’s left unsaid can be just as important as what you reveal on the page. How do you decide what to leave unsaid in a poem or story?

AI: When I am revising a piece, I often ask myself, “Am I explaining this too much?” I tend to over-explain, to make things too literal, in my first drafts. Working with positive/negative space in my writing is something that I will always struggle with, but it helps me to think visually. I love showing emotion/direction of a story/poem with image, and I often work from there when deciding what to leave out, what to keep off the page. Image carries mood and can show so much about a character, about a poem’s energy.

BS: What do you think fiction writers could learn from poetry to enrich their work?

AI: Reading poetry brings rhythm into our bodies. Through this rhythm, we can find courage, we can stand face to face with our most intense emotions. “A Map to the Next World” by Joy Harjo brings me to a place where I can sit with death, feel it and speak to it without static, without walls. By reading poetry, I find myself becoming more grounded, filled with different rhythms. One poem may feel like a stampede, and another may feel like a cat’s step. This rhythm is extremely important to me when I write fiction. Without it, my heart strays.

BS: What advice would you give to yourself as a young writer if you could travel back in time?

AI: At 12, I would tell myself to be unafraid of my own voice. At 15, I would tell myself to come out sooner, to stop feeling guilty about spending hours alone writing. At 16, I would tell myself to cultivate more quiet time, because I remember that being all I wanted. I would tell myself to eat something, to kiss a girl, to write about every taste, every feeling, every risk. At 17, I would tell myself to take more risks, to open up to the page. At 21, when I finally found this openness, I would tell myself to trust it, to find power in it.

BS: If you could hang on to this time machine a little longer, which writer from the past would you visit? What would you ask? 

AI: I would visit Adrienne Rich. I would pick her up in my car, and we would go West. I would ask her to draw a map to get us there, and I would trust every line. During our drive, we would understand the way landscape changes. We would feel this in our bodies, and the shift would go unspoken. At the right time, I would ask her if we could write a continuation of her poem “Song,” together, because now we may not be as lonely.

BS: Tell us about your latest project.

AI: For the past two years, I’ve been working on a full-length collection of poetry, Bomb. This book explores how destruction and transformation work together.

Bomb begins with two women, and they both love each other deeply: One is attaching a bomb to the other, and they both experience this building/creation as intimacy, as care. Later, we find out what the bomb is made of. These women, their world explodes. They learn about themselves and about each other. And eventually, the bomb creates something expansive, something excruciating, something necessary, something exquisite.

Ashley Inguanta is a writer and photographer who is driven by landscape, place. She is the Art Director of SmokeLong Quarterly and the author of three collections: The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press 2013), For the Woman Alone(Ampersand Books 2014), and Bomb (Forthcoming with Ampersand Books 2016). Ashley has been featured in numerous publications, including Everyday Fiction, Orlando Weekly, American Microreviews & Interviews, and The Great American Brainstorm. In 2013, she was named as “one of the six Central Florida poets you should know” by Orlando Arts Magazine and recently won an Orlando’s Best Award for Best Poet.

It’s Not Over for Uzodinma Okehi (Contributor Interview Series #6)

We first met Uzodinma Okehi a few years ago when we launched the world’s first issue of Post-Experimental literature. One of our favorite stories from that special issue was Okehi’s “Cumulo-Nimbus Tonight!” When we found out Okehi’s  Rocbio2debut novel was being published–and that it contained this phenomenal story–we immediately wanted to read it. If the joy of reading this novel weren’t enough, we had the pleasure of chatting with Okehi about his work. Here’s what he had to say.

Your narrator in Over for Rockwell talks about how it takes 10 years to master anything. How long did it take you to write the book? Do you feel like a master?

Yeah, the 10 year thing. I think that was the pop-science theory du jour at the time when I started those stories. I know Malcom Gladwell delves into it in one of his books . . . But I feel like I was reading that particular tidbit everywhere, in dover for rockwellifferent magazines, books, all over the place. You know, it’s a seductive idea. And I think it’s fairly true, you spend enough time and all, just that there’s a lot of other factors. As far as Rockwell is concerned though, it took maybe 7 or 8 years to write. Way too long basically, but I guess I’m prone to distraction. What I would say about it, is that if you spend enough every-day time, even as an average joe, you can develop a skill set, a kind of confidence, with writing, in a certain style, about certain subjects. And once you have that momentum, you’d hope you wouldn’t really need to compare yourself to everyone to demonstrate mastery. More like, with those ten years, you’ve mapped a territory for yourself, it’s hard work, but now you can enjoy it. Little by little, you try and push the envelope of what you think you can do . . .

Blue Okoye draws comics, but we never really get to see any of his comics. Did you ever consider making the book more visual?

I talked about that with my editor, (Elizabeth Ellen). The main issue was that my art-game is still pretty underdeveloped. I mean, I can draw a little, I did the cover, for instance, but it must have taken me 4 or 5 months of drawing, redrawing every day to finish that thing. Seriously. Also, at this point my comics stuff doesn’t really flow that well. The backstory is I started drawing comics mainly because that’s what I was writing about. But I didn’t want to bog the writing down with a whole bunch of bad drawing and nonsense. Hopefully in the next couple of years, I can hit my stride and be able to nicely integrate more art with the prose stuff. We’ll see. That would be gratifying.

Can you draw a comic for us? 

Ok, here’s an example of how deep I’d get into something without really figuring out how to have it make sense. The “Strandzig” pic is a cover pitch I did for a zine that was going around the bookstore where I work. The other thing is a page from a five or six-page strip I did. Same character. Or I think I got five or six pages done before abandoning it. And what’s that giant concrete ball thing he’s got attached to his waist? I have no fucking idea. How is it just floating like that? Why is he chasing a giant, (badly drawn) peacock?

Strandzigcrop pg-3crop

A better question is why wouldn’t he be chasing a giant peacock? It’s often difficult to separate a first-person narrator from the author. How did you draw from your own experiences to create this character?

Right. That’s always the big question, so let me dig in a little. And, actually, talking like this really helps me clear up my position on it in my own head . . . I just think the whole first person, coming-of-age, art-actualization thing—when people have these strong opinions against it—I always think, well, it’s just a type of genre writing. Like a detective story, or Sci-fi, or whatever. You may not read espionage thrillers per say, but why make a point to actually despise them? As with any genre, there’s the well-executed stuff and there’s stuff that’s not as good. Like literary writing in and of itself. My particular axe to grind, is that I was surprised to get to grad school, to New York, and discover there is, or was, some kind of movement or something against writing with first-person narrators. Or that people consider literary writing somehow “more real” than genre stuff. I think you should never lose sight of the fact that all of this is just entertainment, crafted with an audience in mind, whether that’s somebody’s rehab memoir or a Disney comic book . . . To bring it back to your question though, I think you’re always drawing from or on your own experiences, no matter whose point of view you’re writing from. On the other hand, I also think the kind of voyeuristic hook of a first-person narrator does always makes it feel like everything actually happened. I will say, most of the stuff in the book happened in some shape or form. It is fiction though, to be clear. I’m not on that James Frey tip. That’s me pulling stories from everywhere and pouring it into a single character. Stuff that happened to me, to my friends, me overhearing other people’s conversations at work, on the train, their wild stories. Bits from movies, TV shows, rap songs. Other books, definitely. I suppose that’s the textbook way you’re supposed to do it as a writer. Creative fiction 101, right? Write what you know, keep your eyes and ears open . . .

For the record, the one story in the book that did go down, scene for scene, exactly the way I wrote it, was Streets of Rage. All of that really happened. That huge, crazy streetfight in the East Village in Manhattan. The Chinese restaurant, those cops grilling me. First time I’d ever been in the middle of anything like that. That whole summer, in particular, 2005, month-to-month, was crazy . . .

The book ends with Cumulo-Nimbus Tonight!, which appeared in the Bartleby Snopes Post-Experimentalism issue. Would you characterize this book as post-experimental?

Well, I’m flattered you picked that story. But I’ll be honest. I feel I always only have like a loose-handshake sort of grasp on these  concepts. When I was in school, I took a course called The Postmodern Novel. Something like that. I thought it sounded cool. I thought it would be cool to be part of some new movement. And I guess I can tell you, based on that class, that Paul Auster and Don Dellilo are, I guess, acclaimed masters of that shit. I’ve just looked it up on Wikipedia now, and the only simple answer seems to be that Postmodernism is all about being skeptical of Modernism. Which was a movement skeptical of Enlightenment thinking. And on back. So, if the implication is to ask if my book is somehow critiquing so-called “experimental” writing, or “concept” stories, then I’d say I wasn’t specifically trying to chop anything down. When I read other writers’ stories I am always thinking about what I’d do differently. But I don’t critique other people’s writing. I try my best to stay away from that. I never end up feeling qualified enough to join any sort of movement. Nor am I a teacher or an editor. Or a critic. That’s not really my bag.

The book comes in a very compact form. Do you think that contributes to the overall effect of the story?

Format is everything. Absolutely. What I initially submitted to Hobart was a 65-page zine I’d put together using InDesign. Complete with the clip art stuff and front cover. That original thing was about the same size as the finished book. Because after years of doing zines, I’d finally landed on that size as a good metric for my stories, with larger print. I wanted it to be dense. But I also wanted a quick read, something people might really rip through. Not to over-explain, but it’s not just supposed to be a guy talking about drawing, I was actually trying to delve into the sort of structural mechanics of comic books and how the format is almost an engine, generating momentum, excitement. I could go on about it, but I don’t think a detailed explanation is really going to help my case. It either works or it doesn’t.

I first became familiar with your work through your submission to Bartleby Snopes. How would you describe the role of lit mags in your writing and the literary world as a whole today?

I get the sense that the scene isn’t considered as important as it may have once been . . . I’m a little out of loop with that big picture stuff though. But yeah, I’m a lit-mag guy, for sure. I think it’s similar to mixtapes in hip-hop. Just like there’s gotta be a mainstream, there’s always also got to be that semi-underground space where unknown writers can flex their muscles and build on new ideas. Especially now, especially online, with flash stuff. I had a good run of about a year or two where I had stories up at least once a month, out somewhere in some lit-mag, website or journal, and Rockwell is basically a collection of that stuff. I don’t think the need for outlets like that will ever completely fade away.

What’s next for Uzodinma Okehi?

All this is new to me. First book, first time on tour. Meanwhile, I’m still grinding, trying to keep writing and drawing every day, even if it’s just an hour or two. I’ve got a family, so it’s less about any big plan, and more just balancing things out. And the goal isn’t necessarily to quit my day-job either. Then again, if I can find a way to make a little dough from comics, and keep writing books, well, who knows? Overall, I’m pushing forty, I work at a bookstore, and I’ve got my first book coming on an indie press. There’s no cocaine or Lamborghinis involved, but I’m pretty thrilled about it.

Congratulations on the book. If you’re reading this, go buy a copy so he can buy a Lamborghini. We won’t endorse the cocaine.

Bio: Uzodinma Okehi spent 2 years handing out zines on the subway. Wasn’t as fun as he thought. His work has appeared in Pank, Hobart, Bartleby Snopes, and many, many other places, no doubt, you’ve never heard of. He has an MFA in writing from New York University. He lives in Brooklyn. His son is 8 yrs old, smiles a lot, (too much?), and will absolutely, cross you over and drain a jumper in your face.

Announcing the 7th Annual Dialogue Contest Winners

With over 330 submissions and a total prize purse of just over $1,900, the 7th Annual Dialogue Contest is our second biggest contest ever. Picking our five finalists was a challenge, but we are thrilled to announce our winners:

1st Place: Boogeyman by Rebecca McDowell

2nd Place: A Visit with Dr. Wallace by Carolyn Moretti

3rd Place: The Kitchen God by Fred Senese

4th Place: Retired by Ronald Friedman

5th Place: Is My Long Hair Blocking Your View by Amy Naylor

Look for these winning stories in Issue 14 of Bartleby Snopes out in early January.

Birds of Passage with
Joe Giordano
(Contributor Interview Series #5)

Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, is the debut novel from Joe Giordano. Birds of Passage recalls the Italian immigration experience at the turn of the twentieth-century when New York’s streets were paved with violence and disappointment.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Joe about the book. Here’s what he had to say.

Congratulations on the publication of BIRDS OF PASSAGE.  What was the genesis of the novel? birds of passage by joe giordano

A: My father was an immigrant from Naples as were all my grandparents. I’m old enough to have known Italians born in the nineteenth-century. While Birds of Passage is not about my family, I tried to capture how people of that time thought and acted. Immigration, of Hispanic people into the United States is a hot topic and there are many parallels to what Italian immigrants faced in the past.

How long did it take to write before submitting it for publication?

A: I started the novel in October 2013. My first draft was completed by the following April. I had the manuscript professionally edited, reworked, then I started submitting to publishers in August. By January of 2015, Harvard Square Editions expressed interest, but with suggestions for improvement and asked for a second edit. When the rewrite was completed, Harvard Square Editions agreed to publish in May 2015.

How much research did you do?  For example, how did you know about the arranged marriages, the medical inspections before boarding the boat, municipal corruption?  Was the union busting done by Italian scabs historical fact?

A: I took a graduate course at the University of Texas at Austin on the Progressive Era, mainly to learn about the environment my family encountered when they immigrated to the United States. My paper for the course focused on Italian immigration and I read numerous books and papers on the subject. The course reading and the paper research were the foundations for the historical facts included in the novel. During the semester, I wrote a short story, “The Sour Smell of Pain,” which triggered the idea to write a novel.

Birds of Passage begins in 1905. My wife, Jane’s grandparents had an arranged marriage in 1916, although by then the practice had faded. Italians were hungry for work and did participate in strikebreaking until they were finally accepted into unions. In Birds of Passage, I provide an option for how Italians might have become part of the Longshoreman’s Union.

There are several intertwined, intricate plots at work in the novel.  How do you plot?  Do you work from an outline?  We’re thinking of a line late in the novel when the main character and his adoptive father are discussing the murder of the main character’s half-brother:  “Don’t torture yourself. No one could have imagined every twist of events.”  That could also serve as a tagline for the story, but when you start a project, do you first imagine every twist of events?

A: Duel plots seems a standard technique in fiction.  I had a general idea on how the story would unfold around Leonardo, Carlo, and Azzura, but as happens many times in my writing, the characters revealed what they would do next only when they were plunged into some difficult situation. I believe it was John Updike who labored over the last line of his novels, then never deviated. I’m not that good.

How do you effect an Italian cadence and rhythm to the dialogue when writing in English?  Or do you think and write in Italian first and then self-translate to English?

A: My Italian is not good enough to pen prose. My parents and grandparents spoke a mix of Italian and Neapolitan, which is a distinct language, not a dialect.  I use a text-to-speech reader to refine my work. Of course, growing up with New York Italians gave me a familiarity with speaking styles.

Is “bird of passage” an historical phrase used by Italian immigrants?

A: Italians were the first immigrants to the United States who returned to their home country. Quite often, they worked a season and returned with savings. Most were men. Many made multiple round trips. These travelers were termed Birds of Passage by Americans. When immigration laws were tightened after World War I, many decided to stay permanently in the U.S. and brought over families.

Are you influenced by the obvious books and movies when writing Italian-immigrant themed works?  For example, early in the narrative, there’s the famous phrase, “…an offer you can’t refuse…”

A: The full sentence spoken by Moretti in Birds of Passage as he tries to convince Leonardo to go to America is, “This is an offer you can’t refuse? No?” The last word was Moretti’s unintended subliminal warning that perhaps Leonardo should refuse. In The Godfather, an offer you can’t refuse carried the threat of death. That’s not the case between Moretti and Leonardo. The connection with Birds of Passage and The Godfather was unintended.

Any concern that this novel and others in the Italian-immigrant genre contribute to a cliché that Italian-Americans are inherently criminal?   The Medinas are law-abiding, but a lot of the other characters of Italian heritage are not (as are not the Irish- and Anglo-Americans).

A: There are a number of Italian-American groups who criticize the portrayal of Italian-Americans as criminals. I think that the Italian-Americans of today are Americans, fully integrated, and less likely to suffer from the prejudice of stereotypes. Many Italian-Americans admired The Godfather even though the Corleone family was criminal. The Corleones exemplified courage, family loyalty, resourcefulness, their own brand of integrity and seemed to control their destiny. They killed people, but that was just business. The character, Ignazio Terranova, in Birds of Passage, represents a more accurate Italian criminal personality around 1905 than does Vito Corleone.

Leonardo’s thoughts and expectations at the end of the novel beg for a sequel . . .is a sequel in the works?

A: I’m working on a modern literary thriller about an Italian-American who runs afoul of the Russian mob. I hope the reader won’t be able to put it down. A sequel to Birds of Passage will be written if the novel is popular and readers demand more.

A final question, related to writing in general, that our readers are probably interested in and would find valuable:  over the years, you’ve submitted about 50 stories to Bartleby Snopes, with only one acceptance (“A Careless Mistake,” February, 2013).  How do you handle rejection?  What keeps you submitting?

A: Ninety-five percent of the stories rejected by Bartleby Snopes were accepted by other magazines for publication, often after an additional rewrite. I expect the remainder to be published within a year. As of this interview, I’ve had seventy stories published almost all by different magazines. Once one of my pieces is accepted, I rarely submit again to the same magazine. I’m trying to broaden my readership and reputation.

However, I continue to submit to Bartleby Snopes for the quick feedback I’m given on new drafts. Writing is a lonely pursuit. My wife, Jane, helps me on new stories, but an experienced editor, like those at Bartleby Snopes often can point out the one or two things that need to be revised before the story is publishable. That’s why you see so much of my work.

Regarding rejection, I have a number of friends who won’t seek publication because of sensitivity to rejection. I think writers should embrace rejection as an incentive to improve. We must resist the temptation to argue with feedback but instead reflect on why the particular editor/reader had that reaction. The reader, not the writer, is in charge of determining both the quality of the piece and its meaning. When it comes to writing, I have a lot to learn, but the creative process is fun. Rejection makes acceptance sweeter.

Joe, thank you for talking about your book and sharing your thoughts with us. Good luck with the release!

The first chapter of Birds of Passage is available on Joe’s website.  Be sure to sign up for Joe’s blog on his “Contact” page.