August 6, 2013
When I was a kid I had these book club copies of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and Edgar Alan Poe stories that included terrifying woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg, and I gazed at those pictures and read those stories over and over again, scaring myself silly with them. When I was older, my mother gave me Rebecca and I followed it up with contemporary gothic romances by the likes of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.
Later, when I was published and people were labeling the novels “Gothic” I wanted to know what that meant, so I went back and read all those old Gothic novels again: The Monk and Ann Radcliffe and everything else I could find, including some lit-crit, like Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel.
I found this, in Nightmare on Main Street by Mark Edmundson: “Gothic is the art of haunting… [it] shows time and again that life, even at its most ostensibly innocent, is possessed, that the present is in thrall to the past. All are guilty. All must, in time, pay up.”
And this, from Chris Baldick’s introduction to The Oxford Book of Gothic Stories: “For a work to be Gothic, it should combine a fearful sense of inheritance in time with a claustrophobic sense of enclosure in space, these two dimensions reinforcing one another to produce an impression of sickening descent into disintegration.”
I already understood how the European Gothic worked these themes, with complex architectural structures of castles and mazes and secret documents, to be puzzled out. And Southern Gothic, with complex familial structures of characters and grotesques, where the gargoyles are living human beings.
Grant Wood, who painted the famous “American Gothic,” is from Cedar Rapids and was also a friend of my family. That iconographic painting begins to approach what we might mean by Midwestern Gothic, I think: the portrait of those plain people, stoic, solid as a rock, seemingly simple in their appearance and attitude, but also, in their way, closed off. The man’s face, daring you to ask him any questions. Her sideways look, avoiding openness. There is a tangle of secrets there behind those faces, symbolized by the Gothic design in the window of the house behind them. To me, that Gothic window represents the complex nature of the inner life, both conscious and unconscious—filled with secrets daring to be bared.
We get a hint of that complexity in the story of a guy like Ed Gein in Wisconsin, the original psycho killer, explicated in Deviant by Harold Schechter: “…for all their very real friendliness and hospitality, Midwesterners tend to be a reticent bunch, regarding certain personal matters as inappropriate subjects for conversation or examination. They also have a pronounced—and very American—tendency to take people at face value and to pay as little attention as possible to the darker side of human nature.”
This defines Midwestern Gothic, for me. It’s a hidden (or repressed) psychological complexity of character plus the tangled structure of a narrative maze (or fortress or house), in which a basically simple, flat, rolling, open, clear (as in the Iowa landscape itself) narrative takes place.
Now, when people ask me what kind of novels I write I use the term: Midwestern Gothic. And describe it as “love and death in Iowa.”
Read the rest of the interview at Midwestern Gothic
April 25, 2013
“Chehak is a very accomplished storyteller, always in control of her narrative, which moves ahead with grace and speed. But it’s not only the plot that matters to this writer. It’s the telling little details, particularly of teenage angst and of domestic life that makes the novel rich… SMITHEREENS is a novel fully worthy of the title thriller. It’s hard to put down. It has a kind of dark allure.” -The Los Angeles Times
This compelling novel, set once again in the heartland of America, pairs two unlikely friends in a dark tale of seduction and murder. It is May Caldwell’s sixteenth summer, and life couldn’t be more dull in Linwood, Iowa. Vaguely suicidal and haunted by half-remembered scenes from her early childhood, May is a girl waiting for her life to happen. And happen it does with the unexpected arrival of Frances Anne Crane, a.k.a. Frankie, a girl with too much past and nothing to lose. Together they seduce an older man as Frankie awakens all that May has been holding inside: the mystery of her uncle Brodie’s illicit past, the painful truth of her grandparents’ slow dissolutions, and her own emerging sexuality. Where Frankie leads, May follows, and what’s left is a murder no one can pin, a family’s buried past resurfaced in a wild night of mayhem, and May’s safe world blown to smithereens in this unforgettable tale of betrayal and desire.
Available for all ebook readers HERE
March 23, 2013
I'm pleased to announce that I have some new stories coming out soon, all a part of the collection-to-be that I'm calling It's Not About the Dog. "Dawn" will be published in the next issue of Permafrost
. "Mouse Wars" is set to appear in the next issue of Verdad
. And "All The Time" will show up in Monday Night #12
early next fall.
October 26, 2012
"For most of my grownup life I edited books, most of them novels. I read short stories now and then, the way book editors do, in a professional way, because they're a good place to spot talent. And every once in a while I'd teach a class where we read short stories, because – well,because they're short. You can read them closely. They lend themselves to discussions of technique. And certain short story writers I loved, and now and then I was lucky enough to edit one of their collections. But novels were what I thought about most of the day. And at the end of the day, when I took a book to dinner or to bed – that is, when I read for pleasure – the book I took with me was almost never a book of stories..." read the rest of the essay HERE
October 4, 2012
A Partnership with
Portuguese Artists Colony
A Light Here
Sunday, October 14, 2012 at Stories Books
NOTE: Time Change!
1 – 3 p.m.
If you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently. If it never does roar out of you, do something else.
When you see it – the novel, memoir, poem, story, or the song, the painting, the dance – that the creator burned so brightly to make that they bled all over themselves without care for their sanity – you know it. We keep pushing our words further and further into the light no matter the cost, but as Ms. Woolf once said, a light here required a shadow there.
Roar Shack is a collective of writers and artists, and over the coming months we’re going to bring you voices. Some of us come from fiction, some from memoir, some from poetry, and from music and performance and just about anything that leaves its own blood on the page. We want to bring you what you may not be getting much of. Won’t you join us?
Our next show is October 14, 2012 at Stories in Echo Park (http://www.storiesla.com/#hours-location-contact) from 1-3 p.m (PLEASE NOTE TIME CHANGE! 1-3 PM!).
We dare you to miss this lineup:
Katrin Arefy: Katrin Arefy was born in Tehran. She received graduate degrees in Art and then in Piano Pedagogy from Moscow Gnessin University, only to end up expressing herself in words. While pursuing her music career as a teacher, author and artistic director, she has devoted all her free time to her passion for literature.
Susan Taylor Chehak: Susan Taylor Chehak is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and the author of five novels, including Smithereens, The Story of Annie D., and Harmony. Her short stories have appeared in Folio, Coe Review, Guernica Magazine, and Adirondack Press, among other places.
As her pseudonymous alter-ego, Kathryn Dow, Susan has recently published a new novel: The Great Disappointment, A Confession, as an e-book from Foreverland Press. Kathryn's other ongoing projects include AllTheLostGirls.com, a website devoted to exploring the lost girl archetype and the grip her story continues to have on our cultural imagination; InHollowHill.com, where she documents evidence for the existence of goblins in the 60 acres of undeveloped woodland at the edge of Nowhere, in Linwood, Iowa; and The Foreverland Chronicles at www.foreverland4ever.com, where she assists Susan in creating detailed narrative record of Foreverland and its denizens. At present, Kathryn is at work on a new novel, the first in a projected trilogy, about a world in which everyone over the age of 27 has disappeared.
Susan is also the driving force behind Foreverland Press, an e-book publisher devoted to bringing back the backlists of fine writers who might otherwise have been overlooked. Other of her online projects include, WhatHappenedToPaula.com, a collaborative web-based investigation into the as yet unsolved murder of a former schoolmate, and TheTruthAboutPaulaO.com, a blogged memoir of Susan's ongoing 12-year investigation into the Paula Oberbroeckling murder case.
Susan has taught fiction writing in the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles, the UCLA Extension Writers' Program, the University of Southern California, and the Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa. She grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, spends as much time as possible in Colorado, lives occasionally in Toronto, and at present calls Los Angeles her home.
Our September Live Write winner! Lauren Eggert-Crowe: Lauren was born and raised in rural Pensylvania. After a four year stint in the magical fairyland of Santa Cruz, where she lived so close to the ocean she could hear sea lions from her bedroom window, she relocated to Los Angeles to work as a freelance writer. She has written for Salon, The Rumpus, and L.A. Review of Books. Her poetry appears in Puerto Del Sol, So To Speak, DIAGRAM, Terrain.org, Water-Stone Review, Eleven Eleven, Maintenant, Interrupture, The Dirty Goat, Alligator Juniper, Ping Pong, and We Are So Happy To Know Something.
Her first poetry chapbook, In The Songbird Laboratory, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, Fall 2012. Her second poetry chapbook, The Exhibit, is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press, Winter 2013. She is the author of the literary feminist 'zine, Galatea's Pants, which Microcosm Publishing named one of the Top 100 'Zines by Women in 2010, and which was featured in the textbook, Girls' Studies by Elline Lipkin. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Arizona.
She was voted Best Poet of Santa Cruz in the Santa Cruz Weekly Gold Awards in 2010 and 2011.
Live music from Ariana Evans and David Kim, aka The Phonetic Disasters. You can find out more about them via their facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Phonetic-Disasters/191632780859615), where they have a few songs for free download, or find them on Youtube where they have performances and videos posted.
Live Writing: a thrilling feat of writerly improvisation! As you arrive, you get to vote on a prompt. The winning prompt will be revealed to four intrepid authors – two of us and two of you audience types, onstage for all to see! We’ll all write to that prompt while Scott plays – it’s going to be impossible not to listen to him, but no one said this was going to be easy. Then the Live Writers will each read their just-written words, and the audience gets to vote! The winner will develop the work into a finished piece to be read at the next show. The piece will also be featured on Roar Shack’s Facebook page and online.
And our Live Writers this month are:
J Ryan Stradal: His writing has appeared in Hobart, the Rattling Wall, Midwestern Gothic, The Rumpus, McSweeney's, Internet Tendency, The Nervous Breakdown, Facsimile, The Faster Times, The Foghorn, This Recording, and oh so many others. He volunteers for 826LA and co-produces the irregularly occurring literary/culinary series “Hot Dish.” He has recorded music for Monica Howe and played in bands with names like “The Runny Nose Warriors,” Smarmy Kitten, The Dexter Mann Project and Super Duper. He works in television and has served as Sr. Story producer on Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers. He owns neither a gun nor a motorcycle, which makes him unique among the men in his family.
Sean Daley: Sean Daly graduated from UCLA in 1987 with a degree in English Literature. He began writing seriously in 2008 and he is part of the Ojai Writers Workshop. His work has appeared in JerseyDevils Press, Fiction 365.com, Dogzplot.com, Ventura Arts Tales (2nd place finish for short fiction – cool), Frontlip (1st place for flash fiction – cooler still), The Bubble, Edhat, and others. He lives in Ojai with his wife and family.
Sunday, October 14
Stories Books and Cafe
1716 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026-3225
On the patio, where good things happen (oh, and where we all park)
September 6, 2012
I have another new short story online. This one is "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and is being published over two days at Necessary Fiction, thanks to Nancy Freund, this month's Writer in Residence there.
Here's a teaser:
Memory is a funny thing, not because of what comes to mind, but because of what doesn’t. All the moments, all the faces, all the places we’ve forgotten. They’re in there somewhere, aren’t they? Is it only a matter of access? The right word said, the exact scent, the taste, the touch, the sound.
Take Isabel Cooke. Here she is, in her house in her town in her world as it is now, with her husband dead a year. All the friends and colleagues who came around at first, to honor him and comfort her, have slipped back into their own lives again, leaving Isabel to fend for herself, supposing she must be over her grief by now.
You can read the whole story HERE
August 28, 2012
"What We Forget" is online at Juked. You can read it here: http://juked.com/2012/08/whatweforget.asp
August 27, 2012
This morning my son texted me this photo of a grasshopper in his garden. He knows about grace-hopers, which is why he sent it to me, but he didn't know the significance of today's date: my mother died, seven years ago today.
What follows is an email that I sent to my sister in September, 2007.
Hey, do you remember when we were at your house in Iowa, I think it was Saturday afternoon, after Mom died (I still hate saying that, it seems so unbelievably harsh and cold and unreal and strange and... understated, simplistic, it doesn't even begin to express what happened that morning), and I was outside in your back yard, I think I was on the phone with someone, it was before everybody else arrived, and I was coming back up the walk to the back door and I saw there, on the stone, a big green grasshopper? I think I even picked it up and held it in my hand for a moment before I put it back in the grass.
I know I came back into the house shaking my head, sort of freaked out, and I think I said something to you about it? Because when Ken Bastian died, in November of whatever year that was, I was alone in the house and Mom called to tell me the news and I was really upset. I couldn't believe that he'd died, in such a stupid way, driving his car head-on into a semi. The word I had then was that he'd been on his cell phone and had looked away. He'd just got married the year before, and had a great job and was such an amazing person, leading an amazing and powerful life... it just seemed so dumb, especially with so many assholes walking around alive and without purpose, and well, that this amazing man would be dead seemed insane. And it occurred to me that this was a good reason not to believe in a god, who would be so insane to let something like that happen, except that Ken was a man of deep deep faith and losing faith because of his death would have been the worst kind of reaction, something that would have dishonored, and disappointed, and dismayed him in every way. So, I had to struggle to let that go. The next day, I was in my kitchen, and there was this big green grasshopper there, up by the ceiling. This was in California. I keep that back door open a lot, so it wasn't that unusual to have an insect in there, but I'd never seen a grasshopper in the kitchen, and never one so big and so beautifully green. It crossed my mind at the time to connect it with Ken, who was so big himself...
Then, in August of 2001, we were in Colorado for Tom's 50th birthday bash and I think it was on that Sunday, Mom called me again and told me that Lloyd had died. I'd heard that he was sick from a student that I had in my class in Iowa the summer before. And she'd contacted me again in July to tell me that he was dying. I'd written him a letter then, but never expected to hear back, just to tell him that I was thinking of him and that I'd loved him dearly, all those years ago. That August seemed to me later to be a sort of watershed time... in a few weeks we moved to Montreal and then September 11th happened and the world was changed...
Anyway, the next morning, after Mom called, there was, in my kitchen again, only this time in Colorado, a big green grasshopper, exactly the same kind as had been in the kitchen after Ken's death. I laughed about it, some coincidence, eh? And marveled over it. And thought it was a sign of something, but had no idea what. Maybe just a visit from an old boyfriend, recently deceased?
But then... in Iowa, in the back yard... another green grasshopper! Amazing! I didn't really know what to make of that, either... except, wow, far out...
Yesterday afternoon, I had kind of a hard time, thinking about Mom and how I'd call her on Sundays and that I couldn't do that anymore, though in my mind I can, without much effort, still hear her voice and see her face. This morning, still feeling a little bit fragile about it, I took Louis for his usual walk. We went all the way down to the park, it takes about a half hour, and we were on our way back and since he'd finished his business of sniffing and peeing and pooping, we were walking a bit faster and I was lost in thought, thinking about Mom and how she is gone and I'm never going to see her again and never going to talk to her again, that's it, she's gone, forever... and it was hitting me hard and I was starting to freak out about it again and I'm staring at the sidewalk as I go and there's this leaf thing there and before I know what I'm doing, I bend and pick it up and I look at it and it's... a grasshopper. Made out of palm fronds. It's big! About five inches tall with long long legs and long antennae and big fat wings, exactly like those other grasshoppers that I saw, exactly that kind -- not the snapping clicking kind that you see in a field, but the soft green kind with big fat wings and long long legs.
I brought the thing home, amazed that it was right there, and that I'd picked it up, just like that.
I got online immediately, trying to find out what it might mean. First thing that comes up, of course, is the story of the grasshopper and the ant, and I'm thinking, oh, right, someone's trying to tell me to stop fooling around and playing around and get to work! Then I looked up Chinese symbols and mythological symbols, having to do with grasshoppers. And found they mean prosperity. That you'll have a lot of children. (locust swarms). (Yikes! Unless in this case "children" mean books, or something like that.) Luck. An aphrodisiac. To hear a katydid's song predicts a renewal of an old friendship. Complexity (because of all the hopping around). Also confusion (same). Also Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio, who is unnamed in the original book, but Walt Disney named him Jiminy Cricket, which is a euphemism for Jesus Christ -- what people who want to swear say when they don't want to take the Lord's name in vain, (like when Mom said sugar instead of shit) but I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean in this context....
And then I remember the story of the grasshopper and the ant in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake (because Tom and I took a summer class together when we were in college and we read that part of the book, and it was hilarious) which Joyce calls, in his unreadable way, the Gracehoper and the Ondt. It starts out (which is what we found so funny when we read it out loud): Graussssss! Opr! Which we cried out over and over again all that summer long, laughing hysterically (maybe you had to be there)...
Anyway, I do a Google for grasshoppers and Finnegan and James Joyce, and here's what I get... the story of the Gracehoper and the Ondt... Also called Graussss! Opr! Or grousehopper, springing upward... "The dead arrive in heaven like the grasshopper of Ra."
It's an Egyptian reference, from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, in which King Pepi ascends:
"As an imperishable star; Flies who flies! He flies away from you, O men! He is no longer upon the earth; he is in the sky! He rushes at the sky like a heron. He has kissed the sky like a falcon. He has leapt skyward like a grasshopper."
Mom said to me, before she went to sleep that last time, before she woke again delirious:
"I will always be with you."
So, I guess she is then.
I guess I have to believe she's gone skyward, like a grasshopper. But still, she's here, to show me, to be sure I get it, to get me to understand.
So... keep an eye out for grasshoppers! (Gracehopers?)
May 4, 2012
Jonathan Gottschall "Why Fiction is Good For You":
"The more deeply we are cast under a story’s spell, the more potent its influence. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. Studies show that when we read nonfiction, weread with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to make us rubbery and easy to shape.
"But perhaps the most impressive finding is just how fiction shapes us: mainly for the better, not for the worse. Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds. More peculiarly, fiction’s happy endings seem to warp our sense of reality. They make us believe in a lie: that the world is more just than it actually is. But believing that lie has important effects for society—and it may even help explain why humans tell stories in the first place."
Read more here: http://tinyurl.com/79mz9kh
April 26, 2012
"As Tim O’Reilly famously said, books don’t have a piracy problem. They have an obscurity problem. I have never met an author who didn’t wish that more people would read her book. Never one." Seth Godin, on DRM for ebooks
Read the whole story here: http://www.thedominoproject.com/
Online at Conte: A Journal of Narrative Writing
read it in the Spring 2012 issue of Folio by subscribing HERE
available online at Folly
read it in the Spring 2011 issue of Coe Review by subscribing
read it on your Kindle, or your Kindle App
As Kathryn Dow
“Dow’s ambitiously imaginative debut novel questions the very nature of reality… [a] diverting exploration of metaphysical concepts. Winsome and smartly playful.” —Kirkus Reviews
"Chehak's prose provides a seamless, calm flow to a novel whose elements of love and murder ripple enticingly, fully surfacing only gently, only eventually, in the most satisfying kind of storytelling." -Booklist
"Haunting . . . Clodine Wheeler is the bemused narrator who strings together brilliant beads of descriptive phrases as she sorts through her memories . . . Chehak skillfully depicts small-town meanness and ironic generosity . . . . Her mesmerizing tale has classic resonances." – Publishers Weekly
"A dark tale of obsession among the posh ranks of a midwestern town... Chehak's poetic style exposes the passionate longings beneath the mannered sterling-and-crystal patina of Cedar Hill life; she renders both violence and love with an unflinching eye and casts a mournful spell." -Vogue
"Chehak is a very accomplished storyteller, always in control of her narrative, which moves ahead with grace and speed. But it's not only the plot that matters to this writer. It's the telling little details, particularly of teenage angst and of domestic life that makes the novel rich... SMITHEREENS is a novel fully worthy of the title thriller. It's hard to put down. It has a kind of dark allure." - The Los Angeles Times
“In Susan Taylor Chehak’s skilled hands, Iowa becomes the seething, steamy setting for a tale of pure evil… This is a marvelous, creepy story.” -The Kansas City Star
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