The Lit Scene: On Reading THE SINKING OF RMS TAYLEUR: THE LOST STORY OF THE ‘VICTORIAN TITANIC’ by Gill Hoffs

It’s odd, perhaps, to say you love a shipwreck story, especially knowing it is both true and tragic. But I did love this book, and as I was reading The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’ I was very much struck by the obvious care that went into its research and writing, and I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps Gill Hoffs was somehow destined to write it.

As the title indicates, the book details the sinking of the ship called RMS Tayleur. The date of departure was January 19, 1854. The location of departure was Liverpool. Destination: Australia.

Obviously, the RMS Tayleur did not make it to Australia. Hoffs notes up front in the book’s Preface that many women and children lost their lives, one of the many reasons that compelled her to write this book.

It is a fascinating, heartbreaking, revealing work, and I found it compelling for a number of reasons. This brand new ship and its captain were billed as the best of their time, and while there were an extraordinary number of shipwrecks in neighboring waters in this era, the RMS Tayleur, of all ships, was really considered to be as close to guaranteed safe passage as was possible. Many aboard were in desperate need of new life prospects, and were risking the lives of their families as well. And of course the passengers could not know it at the time, but 58 years later another ship would go down on its own first voyage, from the same White Star Line group. You may have heard of it? It was called the Titanic.

With this book Gill Hoffs has perhaps uncovered the reason the RMS Tayleur tragedy occurred, a reason that seems to have escaped real consideration until now. For the descendants of the survivors, and for those who died, this obviously holds critical significance.

Hoffs is a wonderful writer and human, and I hope you’ll check out her website, linked here. Her next book, The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson, was actually just published, and I can’t wait to read it.

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Toni Morrison at The MacDowell Colony

Toni Morrison was honored this summer with the 2016 Edward MacDowell Medal at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. My sister and I attended the ceremony and related festivities, and did our fair share of cheering, picnicking, and exploring the Colony grounds, which are located about half an hour’s drive from where we grew up. Medal Day is the one day each year when this renowned artist’s colony opens to the public, and Toni Morrison brought record crowds. It was a day I’ll never forget and I’m still filled with gratitude.

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The Best of Boston Literary Magazine

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A new anthology is out now featuring favorites from Boston Literary Magazine. Very excited that my short, short story “Long Distance” is included. Volume One is available for purchase here from Big Table Publishing. I just finished reading the book and it is filled with gems from so many writers I admire. Thank you, Robin Stratton! I was invited to read “Long Distance” at a launch party last weekend in Newton, but unfortunately was unable to attend. Congrats to all!

“Blood Strangers” in Blue Fifth Review

A new flash fiction of mine called “Blood Strangers” appears now at Blue Fifth Review as part of a special all-flash issue, guest edited by Sara Lippmann. Sara is an incredibly talented writer and editor, and when she invited me to participate, I knew this issue would be a standout one. Blue Fifth continually publishes exciting poetry and prose, and so having Sara join the mix just put it over the top. BFR is one of my favorite journals on the Internet these days, and I’ve been lucky enough to publish work with them before – this piece makes lucky number 4. Incredibly grateful for the continuing support from editors Sam Rasnake, Michelle Elvy, and Bill Yarrow, as well as the opportunity to work with Sara on this issue. Her notes were invaluable. It’s an honor to be included in such amazing, all-female company here: each offering is memorable, haunting, gorgeously written. And if nothing else, read Lippmann’s commentary. “We wake up, we wrestle the beast, we want things, we want to be seen, we go on wanting, that want running like a live wire through these beautiful, unshakeable stories – “to only connect.”” For more on it all, go here.

New Nonfiction in SalonZine

I’m back? Over the moon to have new nonfiction published in SalonZine, the magazine out of Sunday Salon NYC. THRESHOLD is the theme of this issue, a subject I find exciting and interesting and very much in keeping with this essay of mine, called “In the Making.” Sara Lippmann and Nita Noveno edit the zine and run the reading series and do so much for so many in the literary world and I am so thankful for the opportunity they’ve given me to share this new (hard-earned) piece. A special thank you to Sara, who has supported me and my work like the coolest, most badass fairy godmother you can imagine. You can read the issue here.

The Lit Scene: On Reading DOLL PALACE: STORIES by Sara Lippmann

As I return now to my own work, my own writing, I’m reminded of why I bother. Why try to put words to the page, link sentences arm in arm, when there is so much more (arguably important pressing things) to be done? What is the pull? Reading is the key, and it always has been for me. It’s the life force, the reason, the treasure in hand. A book – the entity itself – is a work of art, a compilation of months, of years, of thoughts and desires and obsessions, of lonely hours, powerful connections, a bringing together of this and you and me. A reader, someone who will seek out your work when they could be doing many other things, is an extraordinary gift.

I appreciate that now. More than ever. And one of my objectives this year and in years to come is to reconnect with text, with words, with the books I have loved. To find new favorites. To really sit with them and give them their due. Because if I’m being honest, there are few things I’d rather be doing. Personally speaking, I’ve been through the wringer, have met with the bottom and have since swirled and kicked back up. Feeling the need to lay exquisite words back under my feet, words familiar and new that will be around for ages, to keep me standing, to strengthen my ground. There was a time not too long ago when I swore I’d never write another word. When I couldn’t bear open a book. And now I find it hard to let a day go by without doing these things.

In light of these realizations, my bedroom table is again stacked high with books, many of them collections of poetry and short stories, a lovely and reasonable way, really, of diving quickly back into the lit game.

Enter DOLL PALACE, the debut collection of stories by Sara Lippmann.

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DOLL PALACE was published in September 2014 by Dock Street Press, and it is a tremendous and moving read. I have adored Sara’s work for years and seeing so many of her beautiful, penetrating, haunting stories collected here is pure gold. The cover is equally outstanding; the crumpled doll in the chain is perfection.  A personalized note from Dock Street Press accompanied the collection and I wish all books could arrive this way.

Simply put, DOLL PALACE is one of the best story collections I’ve ever read. Sara Lippmann is an insightful, sharp, and fearless writer who effortlessly weaves past with present to flesh out full lives in short spaces. These characters are memorable, surprising, and fully human. The stories are often dark and unsettling, with revelations at every turn. There are passages here, so many, to read over and over, arresting in their richness and depth and the ways in which they resonate outside of their pages. With that, there is also much to be said for the pacing – an urgency to keep moving ahead, to turn page after page. Repercussions of childhood, of adulthood, of the growing done in between. Repercussions of expectation. Of that perfect, flawless doll-like exterior, a dream world carousel. Repercussions of intimacy in its many forms, seeking it or running from it. There is conflict and love and desperation. Characters with stories worth telling, told by a trusted source. The collection as a whole is beautifully arranged, thematically cohesive, and worthy of every praise. Lippmann leaves it all on the page without giving everything away. It is masterful work.

Sara’s book has received many outstanding, detailed reviews, and I want to link to two of my favorites. The first is from Kathy Fish, published at The Lit Pub, and the second is from Christopher Allen, published by Necessary Fiction. Love these wise words.

For more information about the book, check out DockStreetPress.com or SaraLippmann.com.

Leaving you all now with a few DOLL PALACE lines, exquisite words in every way. Enjoy.

“The hiss of his coffee press, the delicate plinking of cups on saucers, the pop and slide of the display case, a gasping for air. Her husband was going on about family and tests and prevention and the passing of time, life’s great eraser, to make way for a future that included healthy children, unafflicted children, a future that would render Jack an unfortunate memory in an otherwise perfectly wonderful life, one worth envying, I assure you. It’d be a couple years, tops, her husband was certain.” – from “Jew”

“The girls are breathless, feverish in wants, circling and dog-earing as they squeal, they love and they love and they love, there is so much, pages snapping like whips.” – from “Doll Palace”

“Twenty-four years and five months. Phil still folded Chuck’s puppet legs into the cab of his truck and took him to a game once a season. The field had been renamed in Chuck’s honor. Students stared as Phil wheeled the grunting, spasmodic husk of his buddy through the sinking sod over to the bleachers and soaked an entire flannel with sweat. He rested a hand on Chuck’s shoulder, dressed in his shiny varsity jacket, fed him peanuts, and suffered through the whispers, then drove him home…” – from “The Last Resort”

“We split a soda (her treat) and a bag of peanuts and she swings my arm like a jump rope. There was a time when I followed her everywhere, when I wanted to be in her family, to be inside her skin, when I thought I’d die if she ever got mad at me.” – from “Everyone Has Your Best Interests at Heart”

“She sawed at the unbleached hairs on her arms, hating their hardhats and dimpled chins and callused thumbs and drills and scaffolding and bricks and mortar and man smells and shoes. She was just getting started. She hated and hated and hated herself to sleep.” – from “Starter Home”

“We refill our glasses and drink, we are boisterous and slurry, stuffed and drunk, compelled as we are to finish everything, to get what we paid for, but it is late, we look at our watches, past one in the morning (we calculate sitter fees) and the longer we sit we turn sluggish, our clothes meld to our skin, our hearts, are no longer in it. Lettie’s eyes well up but they are happy tears, she assures us, I am so lucky to have you and you so lucky to have found each other.” – from “The Second Act”

“The view delivers: snow. Falling in perverse flakes against a dull sky, dust to white on pawnshop awnings where it catches, compiling, as each speck drops in the whole, uniqueness another fallacy, another bogus line. Neon signs flicker like insect traps. Doors remain shut. Two blocks down, the ocean crashes against the shoreline. Not that I can see. It’s practically a blizzard, a paperweight stirred – but inside there’s hardly a sound.” – from “Wolf Cry”

“The whole world is cry. Water flood her cup, spill her wrist, soften the elbow, I drain in tears, but when she close the tap to breathe I pray maybe she have place deep inside the deep rise and fall of her lungs for me.” – from “Houseboy”

“Her voice breaks, You don’t understand, but before she can whisper, already, there is her husband, kissing her forehead and saying, What did I miss?” – from “Girl”

This is Me Tearing Out a Giant Sheet of Fresh Paper and Setting it Clumsily Down Beside a Canister of Old Stubby Pencils

A year and a half has come and gone since I last posted, which strikes me as ridiculous and impossible. Life has been hard, unexpectedly and necessarily so. In the fall of 2013 I fell ill with a condition no woman, or anyone, should ever have to endure. In the spring of 2014, bordering on summer, I gave birth to twin boys. I feel lucky to be well again, to be surrounded by my miraculously healthy children (three of them now), to be here. Looking forward, very much so, to writing again.

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Back in the summer of 2013, Michelle Elvy of Blue Fifth Review approached me about writing a piece of short fiction for an upcoming publication. I jumped at the opportunity, and, like any self-respecting writer (and not knowing what was ahead), waited until the last minute to send it. Lucky for me I had the majority done when the deadline came and managed, in a blurry haze, to send Michelle the story. And it is shocking to me now, reading it back, how much this piece speaks to the way I would soon be feeling. Here it is, “Soul, Sole, So” (originally titled “Sole, Soul, So”), with accompanying art and commentary. Thanks for taking a peek.

In other news, beloved Stymie Magazine has closed virtual doors. When my daughter was a baby, I spent nearly every one of her naptimes on the computer doing work for Stymie, and I do not regret a second of it. Thank you to all of our contributors to the magazine, to Erik and the super Stymie team, and to Sara Lippmann for passing the baton to me. Loved my three-year stint. Please, friends, do check out Stymie’s archives. Goodness awaits.

Writers at Dinner

I’ve been lucky enough, somehow, to share in a virtual meal with writers Kate Brown, Mary Carroll-Hackett, Rupert Fike, Tim Jones, and Michelle Elvy. It takes place over at Awkword Paper Cut, an excitingly creative new e-magazine created by Michael Dickes. Michelle Elvy hosts a monthly column, and here we are in August with “Dinner Discourse: Six Writers Share a Meal.” A shiny thank you to Michelle for inviting me to the table! I really don’t want to leave.