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The 2017 Literary Prize in Fiction winner: “The Tinder Men” by David Henson

Announcing the winner of our first annual Literary Prize! The 2017 So Say We All Literary Prize in Fiction, judged by Leesa Cross-Smith, is awarded to David Henson for his phenomenal short story, “The Tinder Men.”

We’d also like to announce and honor the four additional finalists, whose work (along with David’s) will appear in the upcoming release of The Radvocate, our literary magazine, slated for mid-August.

Kathleen Langstroth, “Primary Education”
Toni Martin, “Fool’s Gold”
Gerardo Gurrola, “Gibbous”
Pouya Razavi, “Echoes”

Here’s David Henson’s story, and Laura Gwynne’s illustration!

accompanying artwork, “The Tinder Men,” by Laura Gwynne

The Tinder Men
by David Henson

Alice spends her mornings searching Tinder for men who look like they might bring weed. She makes plans to meet at a bar of their choosing, then stops responding to their texts for the rest of the day. An hour after she’s supposed to meet the men she says, Sorry, I got sucked into something.

Sorry, I got sucked into something, she texts. I got sucked into something and I lost track of time.

She’s always getting sucked into things.

Sometimes the men respond, sometimes they’re hurt and they never text again. If she hears from them that night, she texts her address. She feels better about casually inviting them over at the end of the night instead of during the day.

Alice likes redheads with messy hair. She likes sex through the underwear, around the underwear, but it rarely happens. She smokes the Tinder men’s weed and observes their many-splendored eyebrows.  

Tonight the Tinder man isn’t responding.

It’s late. Alice can smell that something organic has gone off. She wonders if the smell is coming from her. She wonders if she’s been smelling this bad all day and then wonders if she’s rotting and soon she’ll be dead like her brother, but then she sees the halved grapefruit rotting in the nearby garbage can.   

Alice always thinks she should bring up her dead brother earlier in conversation because all the best moments in life have real tension. She could say her brother died and she is destroyed, and how can this person standing in front of her ever make any kind of difference to her? Her brother died. Her faith is warped and mangled.     

The moon is wading in the black night sky, she thinks. Wading in the kiddie pool sky.

Her brother died and all she could offer was the opposite of proof. A covered up hole in the ground. A name on a stone. A story that somebody once said out loud.

The Tinder man shows up at midnight. He doesn’t mention how she flaked on the first set of plans. Alice is wearing a sweater with no bra. 

I want your body, he says as his Burberry coat slips to the floor.

The Burberries taste like Burberries, she thinks.

A woman said that to me at the gym the other day, she lied.   

She’s already very high. She says, Do you really want this body? Do you want to wear me like a bear skin rug?

The Tinder man ignores her and reaches for the joint between her lips. Later they burn a pizza together and toss pornographic playing cards across the room, trying to get them stuck in the grates of her tiny space heater.

Alice leans back hard into the last church pew. She wants to snap it in two. The wedding ceremony has been dragging on forever. The groomsmen are wearing pastel bowties and the whole thing feels kind of divorcey.

Alice has always believed that weddings are places of conflict. Her parents met at a wedding. Her parents started her family at a wedding.

Alice would have taken her brother as her plus one but of course he died. She promises that from now on, when people die she’s going to start saying they murdered themselves. They murdered themselves with cholesterol foods. They murdered themselves with life.

Alice’s brother murdered himself with the pointless thoughts that dripped into hardened stalactites in his brain.

Her friend Pat is her plus one, but not really. During the reception he mostly chats up old ladies next to the buffet. She watches him from the singles table. The special catering candles heat the silver trays all lined up behind him. She watches her friend like he is a fantastic film that will never end.

Outside, the black ocean sky is raining. Alice squints through the cold hotel window. She feels like a person looking back on childhood. The role of events in life change over time, she thinks, and she hugs that thought all the way up to her discounted room on the seventh floor.

Two days later Alice returns to work. She remembers that she was promoted just before her brother died and she took a long break. She isn’t sure whether or not she’ll be expected to be the manager when she gets there.

Every day is exactly the same at McDonald’s. Soon they’ll all be robots. Well, soon they’ll all be at home and robots will do the work. The government has no plan for how to deal with that. The government is not for them. For now, the government is against them.

She’s still sitting in her car behind the McDonald’s even though her shift ended hours ago. The engine is on. The car dings continually to remind her that she’s not buckled in.

The moon is waiting in the ocean black sky. The moon will come when you call it. The moon will be sucked under by the currents.

Alice takes her hand off the wheel and reaches into her hair. She gently pokes around and tells herself she is searching for evidence of her brother’s murder.

She thinks about how her brother used to say that the world is a collaboration of symbols that were never meant to add up to a meaningful thought. She wonders if he thought that thought on the day he died. She wonders if people have any good thoughts on the day they die.

The emoji for the world is a blue circle with some green splatters on it. She texts three of them in a row to Pat. Pat texts back a yellow thumbs up and a red apple. She takes a blurry picture of herself biting her thumb in her dark car but she doesn’t send it. She lets a few drops of blood drip onto her rubber phone case, then rolls her thumb in it. When she pushes the button for the dashboard light, there’s no fingerprint, only a smear of pale blood.    

When she gets home she signs up for a Christian dating website. She lets self-identified Christian men buy her dinner every other night for a month. They spend hours at restaurants named after days of the week. There isn’t any sex. After the first few dinners, she starts imagining she’s going on auditions to be these men’s mother. She hears it in every man’s voice. Are you willing to take care of me? She knows some of them have weed but none of them offer any.

She takes half of her dinner home in a styrofoam container and eats alone the other nights.

At work she fades into the background, watching as one employee at a time is replaced by an electronic equivalent. The new cashiers are cartoon faces on two foot tall computer screens. Besides pushing the power button, there’s nothing else she needs to do to manage them. Pat meets her in back and they smoke the last of his weed. He has also recently been replaced at his job by a car that drives itself.

Pat is staring at a flashing sign advertising the triumphant return of a pork sandwich.

Isn’t it nuts that little kids eat food every day even though they don’t know why they’re doing it? he says. Or, like, cavemen ate food their whole lives and they had no idea how food works.

They got hungry, she says. So they ate.

But they were just going around and finding stuff they could shove into themselves. That was like the whole point of being alive back then.

Before they unplugged him, machines performed all the normal human functions for her brother. Different sized tubes ran to his mouth and his wrist, secured with medical adhesive tape. His last meal was humid air and IV fluid.  

It sounds lovely, she says.

That night, Alice receives an email informing her that surveillance cameras caught her smoking behind the McDonald’s and that she’s fired. The email is from the cameras. The surveillance cameras are the ones who fired her.

It was only a matter of time, she thinks as she drops her nametag into the nearby garbage can. One of the thoughts that haunted her brother taps her on the shoulder but she deftly ignores it.  

The moon had been growing bigger each night, and now the moon was the whole sky, and you had to hope that a crater was perched over your bedroom window otherwise it would be too bright to sleep.

She’d been the one who picked her brother up from the therapist after his court-mandated appointments. When he told her that the only fix for his brain would be shutting it off, she’d suggested he drive an hour to an isolation tank she’d read about but had never been to. It cost seventy-five dollars to sit in the dark of the isolation tank for one hour, floating in the extra-buoyant liquid. That seemed like fifteen dollars too much to spend on herself. She wishes she’d offered to pay for him, but what difference could that perfect dark really have made?  

There were no more jobs to be had. Alice put a thin rubber band around the stack of unopened bills on the kitchen table. The thermostat hovered at uncomfortable temperatures.

She was mad at herself for being jealous of her brother’s carefree deadness. He wasn’t around to laugh at her or tell her she was being stupid, so she had to keep thinking that same thought over and over. 

Eventually all she could think about was that her problems would never end, but of course that isn’t true for anyone. Everything ends, but the brain has no use for finality, so it chooses to forget the lessons of dead brothers.

Instead, things were dire for a while, and then Pat borrowed money from his father and lent it to her. In fact, they all borrowed money from each other, all the people around, and they borrowed other things, and everyone knew everyone. Alice borrowed money from her dead brother. She wore his winter hat and borrowed the smell behind his ears. The government borrowed their labor, which they lent for free until they were tired and needed to sleep under the glow of the moon. The moon borrowed the night sky, and during the day they all borrowed the rays of the sun. They borrowed memories of each other and played them in their heads when they were having trouble sleeping at night. Viruses borrowed their health and they slept on their couches with the TV on. The atmosphere borrowed their breath and returned it promptly. Or didn’t.

Everyone and everything was so busy borrowing that no one thought to keep track of who owed who, and they forgot what debts were, and they forgot to renew their vehicle registrations, and whenever they felt a certain feeling inside their stomachs, they went out and found pieces of the world to put in their mouths and chew and swallow.

They chewed and swallowed, chewed and swallowed the moon white sky.


David Henson is pursuing a PhD in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His work has appeared at Fluland, Big Bridge, and won the 2016 Problem House Press short story contest. He writes and records music under the name Shadows on a River, which can be heard at shadowsonariver.bandcamp.com. He tweets @davidbhenson


If you want to support what we do at So Say We All, a literary nonprofit and small press, please consider becoming a sustaining member! Details here: www.sosayweallonline.com/membership

Walk N Roll: A Barrio Logan storytelling collaboration with Circulate SD!

Announcing a new project with our friends at Circulate San Diego: Walk N Roll. We want to hear stories about neighborhoods, particularly the Barrio Logan neighborhood: what makes it great? What sets it apart? What definitive moments have happened to you there? What does your neighborhood mean to you? Tell us about the heartbreaks, the bad decisions, the mistakes, the meals you shared with lost friends. Tell us about your home. Tell us a story.

The show is Wednesday, August 9th from 7-9 PM at Ryan Bros Coffee (1894 Main St) in Barrio Logan.

Send us your personal narrative stories, roughly between 1000-2000 words, though we will consider shorter or longer works. Try us!

If your story is accepted into this collaborative project, you’ll receive one-on-one feedback from an editorial writing coach, participation in a group critique session, and one-on-one performance coaching from our So Say We All teaching artists, and then perform your story at a collaborative event.

Submit here: https://sosayweallonline.submittable.com/submit/89511/walk-n-roll-barrio-logan-and-elsewhere-neighborhood-storytelling-project

For our general submission guidelines, read this: www.sosayweallonline.com/submissions

We look forward to reading your work and seeing you on our stage!


If you like what we do at So Say We All, a literary nonprofit, please consider becoming a supporting member here: www.sosayweallonline.com/membership.

Call for submissions: Southeast Stories

Image credit: Southeast SD Map by Isauro Amigable Inocencio Jr.

– Submit here!

So Say We All is collaborating with the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation’s Placemakers program to tell the story of Southeast San Diego through the written and spoken perspectives of the people who live and work there! Whether poetry, essays, or non-fiction prose, we want stories that take place in the neighborhood or strive to define an aspect of it, however you choose to interpret that.

Here’s a handy map detailing the neighborhoods and communities that define Southeastern SD if you’re wondering about the geographic boundaries.

Works would ideally be under 5,000 words, however we will still happily consider them if they run longer. Want to see an example of what we’re received in the past? Here’s a performed story written by Michael Billingsly that debuted at our City College Showcase a few years back! Any subject matter or approach is welcome, as long as it features the neighborhood.

All accepted writers will receive edits and one-on-one coaching from our teaching artists, have their work published through the project, and be invited to perform their piece at an upcoming performance series in the fall of 2017 in addition to receiving fellowships to attend Masterclasses by visiting writers for free.

Thank you for helping us tell the story of one of San Diego’s most significant neighborhoods, and we look forward to reading your works!

PS: Photos and artworks that interpret or document the neighborhood are welcome as well, so send us your goods!

– Submit here!

Steph Cha reads at The Foundry on June 10th!

The Foundry is our literary reading series, and our next show is this Saturday, June 10th, at 7 PM at Public Square Coffee House in La Mesa.

The Foundry is equal parts performance and… immersive bookstore. Come hear some fantastic readings, and spruce up your summer reading list. We can’t wait to introduce you to your next favorite writer(s). Saturday’s show features Matt Young, Kali Wallace, Elizabeth Marro, Hari Alluri, and Steph Cha.

Steph Cha is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is author of the Juniper Song novels: Follow Her Home, Beware Beware, and Dead Soon Enough. She is a freelance book reviewer and food writer for the Los Angeles Times.

Dead Soon Enough is the latest installment in the Juniper Song series, and a breeze to slip into, despite not having read the first two novels. Song is a delight. She’s weird, hardworking, kind, and brilliant, but also is quite troubled and a tiny bit troubling herself. Cha’s writing is intelligent, vicious, exciting, and lovely, and redefines the idea of LA Noir.

“Come on, let’s get some tacos or something. We’re at a nightclub with a metal detector, and people are staring at us.”

We walked over to a stand called Tacos Mexico. It was five minutes away, on Broadway, by the renovated Ace Hotel. The street was littered and a homeless man shouted at us as we walked by, his face distorted by anger that had little to do with us. Broadway was gentrifying in strange, random heaves, but it wasn’t the prettiest part of downtown to walk in at night. It wasn’t the safest part either, but I’d dealt with worse demons than the poor and schizophrenic.

–from Dead Soon Enough by Steph Cha

Her books are dark page turners, but also have a strong sense of place, a chilling look at race and feminism, and some killer one-liners.

“Were there no Armenian writers left?”

“I wouldn’t say that. For one thing, tragedy begets writers. You take a whole population and put them through some shit, a few of them will find a voice. Outrage has a way of getting through, even coarsely.”

“Is that what Nora’s writing is about? Outrage?”

“Outrage, pride. Two sides of the same coin when you’ve been victimized.”

–from Dead Soon Enough by Steph Cha

And yes, there’s excitement and fights!

The shock of it almost dropped me. In my short career as a private investigator, I’d been grabbed, dragged, and held at gunpoint. I’d even been knocked out with a blow to the back of my head. But I’d never been confronted with anything as straightforward and openly violent as a hand to the face.

The pain was stunning, bright and magnificent–it filled my whole head, from the ringing in my skull to the pulse in my lip to the tear in my cheek, where one jeweled finger had made first contact. My hands shot up to my face to assess the damage. The fingers at my cheek came away wet with blood.

–from Dead Soon Enough by Steph Cha

Join Steph Cha, alongside Kali Wallace, Hari Alluri, Matt Young, and Elizabeth Marro, this Saturday, June 10th, at 7:00 PM at Public Square Coffee House in La Mesa. There’ll be lots of books for sale, coffee, beer, wine, handcrafted pizza, and cheese boards! [heart emoji] [fire emoji]


If you like what we do at So Say We All, please consider becoming a supporting member for as little as $5 per month. Special discounts on shows, master classes, and advance previews! And the fiery warm glow in your heart you’ll get from sustaining us.

Elizabeth Marro reads at The Foundry on June 10th!

The Foundry is our literary reading series, featuring established and emerging writers, fiction, poetry, nonfiction, anything, from near and far. Our next event is Saturday, June 10th at 7:00 PM at Public Square Coffee House in La Mesa, featuring readings from Hari Alluri, Matt Young, Steph Cha, Kali Wallace, and Elizabeth Marro.

San Diego novelist Elizabeth Marro is a tremendous force of literary citizenship. Betsy, as we know her, is a tireless advocate for the arts in San Diego, for veteran literature, and for women writers in particular. Her debut novel, Casualties was honored as a finalist (before it was even published!) for a San Diego Book Association Unpublished Novel prize, and again this year, is nominated in the regular category as a finalist in its published state. Betsy’s writing is evocative, often lovely, sometimes witty, and sometimes devastatingly harsh.

At some point in may no longer be possible to start over. Ruth has worried about this before, but on the morning after her son’s nineteenth birthday, she feels cold with the certainty of it. There will be a time when Robbie is too old to recover lost ground, when all his mistakes have calcified into a mass so large and impenetrable that neither one of them can break through.

Not for the first time, her assistant reminds her that she may be making too much of things.

(from Casualties, by Elizabeth Marro)

Casualities was reviewed last year by San Diego Citybeat, calling it a “tremendous debut.”

Ruth’s son, Robbie, returns from Iraq a changed man. Haunted by the things he witnessed “over there,” namely the deaths of his comrades in arms, Robbie struggles to adjust to being back in the United States. He only has a few months left before his enlistment is up and he doesn’t know what to do. He enlisted in the Marines to turn his life around, but also to avoid being sucked into the trajectory that his mother was planning for him: school, work, a normal life. Now he no longer knows what any of that even means. How can he go back to “normal” when he feels anything but?

“He didn’t know who or what he was when he enlisted. He just knew what he wasn’t.”

– See more at: http://sdcitybeat.com/culture/the-floating-library/battle-waged-home-front/#sthash.JNIVvchc.dpuf

You can read the first chapter of Casualties on the Amazon “Look Inside” feature here: https://www.amazon.com/Casualties-Elizabeth-Marro/dp/0425283461

And come listen to her read at this weekend’s Foundry reading series, Saturday June 10th at 7 PM at Public Square Coffee in La Mesa, alongside Hari Alluri, Steph Cha, Kali Wallace, and Matt Young.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Marro is the author of Casualties, a novel about a single mother and defense executive who loses her son just when she thought he was home safe from his final deployment. Now she must face some difficult truths about her past, her choices, the war, and her son. A former journalist and recovering pharmaceutical executive, Betsy Marro’s work has appeared in such online and print publications as LiteraryMama.com, The San Diego Reader, and on her blog at elizabethmarro.com. Originally from the “North Country” region of New Hampshire, she now lives in San Diego where she is working on her next novel, short fiction, and essays.  Casualties, published in February 2016 by the Berkley imprint of Penguin Random House, is her first novel.


If you like what we do at So Say We All, a literary nonprofit, please consider becoming a supporting member for as little as $5 per month. Thank you!

An Interview with the Foundry’s Matt Young

The Foundry is our literary reading series, and the next show is Saturday, June 10th at 7 PM at Public Square Coffee House in La Mesa, featuring readings from Steph Cha, Hari Alluri, Elizabeth Marro, Kali Wallace, and today’s interviewee, Matt Young.

Matt Young, who we first got to know when we published his story in Incoming: Veteran Writers on Returning Home last year, and is the author of the forthcoming memoir Eat The Apple“Fractured Flashes: Writing The Very Short Narrative Essay.” (Enroll now!) (Bloomsbury, 2018). He’s a college writing instructor in Washington State and will join us to read on June 10th, as well as teach a master class on flash narrative non-fiction writing.

So Say We All’s production director and Foundry host Julia Dixon Evans recently had a chance to ask Matt a few questions.

JULIA DIXON EVANS: Hi Matt! Thanks for agreeing to speak with me. And thanks for agreeing to come out to San Diego to read and teach.

MATT YOUNG: Hey Julia, of course. I’m a bit nervous coming back to Southern California. It’s a bit like returning to the scene of a crime.

JDE: So when’s the last time you’ve been here? The subtext there is WHAT DID YOU DO?

MY: I think the last time I was there was 2011 to visit my old battalion after they got back from Afghanistan? It’s hard to remember if that tells you anything. I do remember getting sunburned so badly that one of my friends had to give me prescription painkillers.

JDE: You have recently put out some fantastic short narrative nonfiction, but you also have a book-length memoir on the way (Eat The Apple, Bloomsbury, 2018). What is gained in going short when writing narrative nonfiction? What is lost?

MY: I found flash because I was trying to figure out a way to tell a huge story with a lot of different narrative threads. Flash gave me a way to explore those threads without worrying too much about narrative continuity. The whole thing is held together thematically and chronologically with some recurring characters sprinkled throughout, but ultimately the stories are fairly disconnected and most of them can stand alone. They each pack an emotional little jab to the solar plexus in some way, which I think is common to the flash genre. You often give up context for lyricism in flash, but that’s the kind of writing I love, so I guess I don’t see it as giving up much. Brian Oliu has said, “I write to devastate.” I love that. I think that’s what you gain from the flash form, a tiny drop of devastation.

JDE: One of my favorite pieces of your recent work is “Fata Morgana,” which is a stunning, unexpected look at death, family, nostalgia, and creepy medical stuff. I love the way this is fragmented into headed sections, but has an incredibly strong narrative. I equally love and am baffled by the section headings. Tell us about those? 

MY: Thank you, that’s really kind. I don’t know what I can say about those. I guess when I started the piece it was called “Ichthyology” (which later became a section title) and it wasn’t a modular story at all. I started writing it right after my wife and I returned home from the memorial and I was still feeling really raw, and I remember having a thought while I was trying to work and instead of pulling out a notebook or opening a new document I just wrote that thought directly in the document where I was working on “Ichthyology” and it ended up becoming the “Oversight” section. The form just kind of chose itself.

Oversight
A placard on the interpretive center wall reads, Beware! Deserts might look empty, but they’re full of things that kill! More placards on the wall below show gila monsters and mountain lions and coyotes—which can kill in packs when they’re desperate. In the foreground of the placards is a poster board covered in pictures of my grandfather. Next to the poster board is a computer monitor playing a slideshow of photographs of him and our family on a loop. There is no placard on the wall of the interpretive center showing the pancreatic cancer that killed him—though neither is there a placard of a rattlesnake.

(excerpted from Matt Young’s “Fata Morgana, appearing in Split Lip Magazine, 2017)

JDE: “Fata Morgana” is a relatively short piece — 1700 words (I counted) — but this is your thing, the very short essay, often referred to as flash nonfiction. I know I have a default, a word count that I always seem to end up near, and I assume most other writers are the same. But I also have a dream word count, an aim. I’m wondering if pieces like “Fata Morgana” and your other short works fall into either of those categories: short because you seem to have no choice, the length chooses you, or short because you work at it and try to get a story to be particularly short? 

MY: Yeah, like I mentioned “Fata Morgana” started out as something totally different. It was going to be longer. It was going to be more about my grandfather, his life, fly fishing, our relationship, grief. And then I think my grief got in the way of that and I let it. Sometimes though I do try to work into flash, I think it’s a good way to sharpen your prose.

Ichthyology

At the memorial service, held in a regional park interpretive center, I read a placard that informs me the Sonoran Desert is the most biodiverse desert in the world. I think about how the night before, my family gathered in the middle of that desert at a sushi restaurant in a strip mall. Another placard tells me there are thirty species of fish endemic to the Sonoran—suckers, shiners, pupfish, chub, trout, catfish, more. I wonder if my grandfather ever caught any of those native fish with the fly gear he gave me two years ago. I wonder if he tied any of the flies himself. Then I wonder if I’ve already lost some to poorly tied knots or overhead foliage. I think of a large trout that broke my line a month back swimming somewhere in tributary river in Eastern Washington with a piece of my grandfather stuck in its jaw. I tell myself that’s where he’d rather be anyway. Don’t handle them too much, Grandson, catch and release, he wrote in a note that came with the gear. In his younger years he would’ve built a throne from their skeletons and not thought twice. He wrote, I haven’t trusted my legs against the river for a long time. None of the fish we ate at the restaurant were native—they were all caught, bashed over the head with a club, gutted, filleted, and shipped to what used to be a primordial ocean to be unceremoniously masticated in a mix of saliva and cheap beer.

(excerpted from Matt Young’s “Fata Morgana, appearing in Split Lip Magazine, 2017)

JDE: Your upcoming class with us on June 10th, “Fractured Flashes: Writing The Very Short Narrative Essay,” seems to focus on the idea of fracture. Structure, content. What draws you to this concept? What sort of things does fractured writing challenge? Or what kind of things do writers or readers alike need to be untaught to swallow something fragmented?

MY: I write a lot about memory and I also blur the line significantly between fiction and nonfiction in my writing, which I think—or at least hope—gets the reader to consider the subjective nature of memory and truth. I was really nervous when I started writing about my experience. I thought, What will the guys I served with think? Do they remember this the same way? Will they call me a liar if they don’t? I even started questioning my own recollections. Fractured narratives tend to have this effect—they obfuscate and gray the black and white, they make us question everything. That tends to upset what we’ve been taught about truth. But I think it’s important to remember that truth and fact are very different. Truth is subjective. I think that’s something we’re all getting a pretty rough lesson in right about now.

JDE: You’re a veteran, and an active contributor to the newest bloom of veteran literature finally making its way into the hands of readers. Though “Fata Morgana” makes no mention of it. Do you feel a responsibility to have your work periodically check back in, and re-establish your place as a veteran writer?

MY: No, I don’t. I don’t know that I want to be defined in that way. Is that pretentious? Should I just give in to that designation? Anyway, I read very little veteran or war writing while writing the book. Dispatches by Michael Herr, In Pharaoh’s Army by Tobias Wolff, and Jarhead by Anthony Swofford—nothing from the Forever Wars. I do think war has leached into our cultural groundwater, but I think to continually look inward at that thing you lose what’s going on in the periphery, forget that life is happening outside of those other places. It makes us look into a mirror instead of out a window. Measuring ourselves against already published narratives can be really damaging, can make us feel like our experiences aren’t worth writing about because we see them as different or less than those that have been published. They of course can be useful in some ways, but I say look outward as much as you can. Expand horizons. Go read speculative fiction or poetry. Maybe it will help you create something different, you know?

JDE: What does it mean to you to be a veteran writer not explicitly writing about the things the civilian world accepts in a piece of veteran writing?

MY: I guess it means I’m just another writer, but I’m okay with that.

JDE: The writing you do that is explicitly ensconced in being a veteran is also somewhat irreverent, though I know that word is thrown around a lot. More simply put, you tend to zoom in on one element, one scorn, one moment, one thing to cope with. What drives this sort of writing?

MY: Self-loathing? Haha. I feel like the thing I zoom in on a lot of the time are my own shortcomings. Most of the things I write that have to do with my service use the war or the Marines as forward narrative momentum—background. Otherwise I’m usually poking fun at myself or trying to figure out why I acted the way I did, which maybe might help someone else.

JDE: Your book, Eat The Apple, is forthcoming next year. First of all, tell me about that title. 

MY: It’s a Marine Corps saying: Eat the apple. Fuck the Corps. It’s not exactly a term of endearment. It’s a nod to the impermanence of an enlistment.

JDE: Did you set out to write a book-length work? Or did you start writing with the intention of it being a shorter piece, and then just couldn’t stop? Or something else?

MY: I started out not wanting to write it at all. I’d tried writing fiction and nonfiction about my experience and it just wasn’t good—it felt indulgent and overly dramatic, and also like I was trying to tout this experience I thought of at the time as unique. Something that gave me specialized knowledge that elevated me above people who hadn’t served in some way. It felt wrong. So I went to my grad program selling my faculty on writing weird speculative stories set in the Midwest. I wasn’t super proud of the work I was doing, but it wasn’t that bad. Then for a graduate student reading I wanted to try something new so I sat down and popped out four really short vignettes about being in the Marines. They all had different voices, were written in different perspectives, they were funny and tragic and they got a good reception. I tried to call it a fluke for a couple months, but I kept going back to them, and then that summer they all just kind of poured out of me. I probably wrote two hundred pages and ended up with over a hundred usable pages and then kept developing those and creating new stories over the next year. I ended up with a thesis length manuscript, graduated, and then spent the next year finishing the book.

JDE: Do you draw inspiration from different sources for different end products? Who are some of your big go-to writers?

MY: I watch a lot of movies and television. I read a lot of speculative fiction and poetry. I borrowed forms from medical evaluations and diagrams, multiple choice tests, military publications. Some writers I’m really into right now are Claire Vaye Watkins, Brian Oliu, Elena Passarello, Chris McCormick, Brit Bennett, Chris Bachelder, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Ben Loory, lots of others. The thing that probably inspired the book the most was Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, which I’d read during undergrad, but came back to and keep coming back to.

JDE: As you wrote your memoir, what other things were you doing? Not just what books you were reading, but big things like where were you in life? And also small things like if you remember a movie or an album or a friendship from that time.

MY: A lot. When I started, it was 2013 and I had just moved to Ohio from Oregon. We were listening to a lot of Wilco during the cross-country drive. My wife and I had gotten married in June of 2013 and then we moved in early August. I was working towards my MA. My wife was getting her second Master’s degree. It was my first year teaching—building syllabi, instructing, assessing. I saw Twelve Years A Slave in a snowstorm in some town in Ohio. There were eight people in the theater, one guy walked out during the scene when Patsey gets whipped. I used to meet a buddy of mine who was in the composition and rhetoric program every week to have breakfast and watch the newest episode from the first season of True Detective.

JDE: I could get behind that for breakfast. 

MY: In the middle of my first year of grad school I found my biological family. Then I contacted them about a week before my wife and I went to Thailand for our delayed honeymoon. Then we drove out to Massachusetts to meet them when we got back—they had gotten back together some time after putting me up for adoption and nine years later had another kid, and another, and another. So I got to meet my biological mom, dad, two brothers, and sister. It was wild. I think those emotions made it into the book. We’re close now—me and the bio family—we stay in touch, I visit whenever I can. We’re going out there in July actually. My brother just graduated college and my sister just graduated high school. My middle brother is thinking about joining the Marines. That was one hell of a digression. Sorry—it’s hard to bring that up and not go into some kind of detail.

JDE: No, I think this is exactly what I meant, how could you even separate the writing process from what you were going through at that time? The big, emotionally draining stuff, but also yeah, True Detective for breakfast.

MY: Oh! I spent most of that summer and fall writing to Slothrust’s album Of Course You Do—great lyrics, vocals, and guitar. The week before my thesis defense I ran my first marathon in Cincinnati—the training for the marathon really helped me tap into some weird places and also helped with memory recovery. When I graduated from my Master’s program in 2015 my wife got a job in Washington State, so we moved again. I was accepted to a couple writer’s residencies with Words After War and Carey Institute’s Logan Nonfiction Program. I worked third shift at UPS when I returned from those through the winter then started adjuncting at a couple community colleges. The writing of the book was really like a three-year process. I’m still running through final edits right now. So I guess it’s verging onto four years.

JDE: Have you always been a writer? Or is this something that you discovered after you served in the military?

MY: Like capital W Writer? I wrote a bit in high school for our literary magazine. I was a burnout and a wannabe punk and I wrote shitty articles about why pot should be legal. I didn’t really start writing with the intent to publish until after the Marines in college. Though I did write a really shitty novella during my third deployment to Iraq. I wrote it as a serial to the woman who’s now my wife to try and impress her—I can’t explain my thought process at all in that regard. But we’re married now. So I guess I did something right?

JDE: Does it even matter when people find writing? Or is it something that you notice in other writing?

MY: No. I think people come to writing at different times. I do think some people are naturally predisposed to writing (just like some people are predisposed to addiction or athleticism), but I also think it can be learned and cultivated and lost.

JDE: I like that. Where do you fall with writing?

MY: I’ve always loved to read, which piqued my interest in writing when I was young, but I don’t know if I have natural writing talent. I’ve always been happy making stuff up or imagining things, scenarios, people.  I think what I have is a natural enthusiasm for writing, and a desire to get good at it — I like making people feel things. I’ve been privileged enough to work with some great teachers and mentors in the past eight years who’ve fostered that enthusiasm and desire and have helped me make that brain-to-page connection. I feel really lucky thinking about that.

JDE: What are you working on now?

MY: I just got done building some raised garden beds. I just finished a draft of an essay about John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’m going through the first pass of the memoir. I’m teaching. I just ran a half marathon, and I’m training for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. I’m hoping to do some fly fishing and work on my roll cast at some point this summer.

JDE: I had to google roll cast which I’m not afraid to admit. Thank you so much, and we can’t wait to have you read to us at The Foundry

MY: Thank you, and me too! I’m looking forward to meeting you all in person.

For some more of Matt’s writing, check out “A New Species of Yucca,” at Tin House.

So when we find the leg, we think we might be delusional from any number of things. But the leg is there and we think we can hear one another’s thoughts about the leg: Where’d this fucking leg come from? Why’s it in the middle of the desert? Whose leg is it? It’s not mine. Is it mine? I bet whoever’s it is probably misses it. Is it wearing pants? Think there are cigarettes in the pocket? It is wearing pants. Linen, maybe silk—this could be a rich leg.

(from “A New Species of Yucca” by Matt Young. Read more at Tin House.)

Catch Matt Young, along with Hari Alluri, Kali Wallace, Elizabeth Marro, and Steph Cha, Saturday, June 10th at 7 PM at Public Square Coffee in La Mesa. And don’t forget to enroll in Matt’s class that morning!


Matt Young is a Marine Corps infantry veteran, teacher, editor, and writer. His work can be found in Incoming: Veteran Writers On Coming Home, CONSEQUENCE magazine, Split Lip, Word Riot, Tin House, River Teeth, and many others. He teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at Centralia College in Washington State. He is the author of Eat the Apple (Bloomsbury 2018), a multi-genre flash nonfiction war memoir about his three combat deployments to Iraq between 2005 and 2009. Find out more at www.mattyoungauthor.com or follow him on Twitter @young_em_see.


If you like what we do at So Say We All, an education, performance, and publishing nonprofit based in San Diego, please consider becoming a sustaining member here.

Fractured Flashes: Matt Young teaches a master class with SSWA!

The Foundry #5 is coming up on June 10th, and with it, Incoming  contributor Matt Young is coming to town to teach a special master class with So Say We All that same day.

Fractured Flashes: Writing the Very Short Narrative Essay
A So Say We All Master Class with Matt Young

 

An in-depth look at the fractured parts that make us, and how to mine those moments of our lives in order to craft effective and engaging narrative flash creative nonfiction with the intent to publish. Students will read and discuss professional essays, explore memory recovery, discover ways to integrate research and personal experience, begin crafting a narrative, learn to give and receive effective feedback, leave with a draft-in-progress, and create a community of peer writers.

About your instructor:

Matt Young is a Marine Corps infantry veteran, teacher, editor, and writer. His work can be found in Incoming: Veteran Writers On Coming Home, CONSEQUENCE magazine, Split Lip, Word Riot, Tin House, River Teeth, and many others. He teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at Centralia College in Washington State. He is the author of Eat the Apple (Bloomsbury 2018), a multi-genre flash nonfiction war memoir about his three combat deployments to Iraq between 2005 and 2009. Find out more at www.mattyoungauthor.com or follow him on Twitter @young_em_see

Fractured Flashes: Writing The Very Short Narrative Essay
A So Say We All Master Class with Matt Young
Saturday, June 10th
10-2 pm

LOCATION: WORDS ALIVE
5111 Santa Fe St., Ste 219 (UPSTAIRS)
San Diego, CA 92109

$45 public
$35 member
Full Veteran Writers Division Scholarships available!

REGISTER NOWhttps://squareup.com/market/so-say-we-all/item/master-class-with-matt-young

Members: Enter code MCMEMBER at checkout to get your discount (and be honest like your mama taught you). To become a member for as little as $5 per month, visit www.sosayweallonline.com/membership

To apply for Veteran Writers Division Scholarships for this fantastic class, fill out this application. The scholarship deadline is May 20th, and we will notify you by May 25th.


If you like what we do at So Say We All, a literary non-profit, please consider becoming a supporting member here.

 

Southeast Stories: FREE Writing Workshop in Skyline Hills

So Say We All is collaborating with the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation’s Placemakers program to tell the story of Southeast San Diego through the written and spoken perspectives of the people who live and work there! Whether poetry, essays, or non-fiction prose, we want stories that take place in the neighborhood or strive to define an aspect of it, however you choose to interpret that.

 

Together with the Skyline Hills Public Library, we are hosting a FREE generative writing workshop to help those of us who live, work, or otherwise exist in the area of Southeast San Diego to write their stories. This workshop is open to everyone: all ages, all levels. No prior writing experience necessary. You do not need to have started a story to attend. There will be in-class writing time, so bring something to write on/with.

Southeast Stories Writing Workshop
Wednesday, May 17th
6:00 – 8:00 PM

Skyline Hills Public Library
7900 Paradise Valley Rd, San Diego, CA 92114
(619) 527-3485

FREE
RSVP
(not required) –
https://www.facebook.com/events/798290263657673/

Led by So Say We All teaching artist, Jim Ruland:

Jim Ruland is the co-author of My Damage with Keith Morris, and Giving the Finger with Scott Campbell Jr. of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. He is also the author of the award-winning novel Forest of Fortune and the short story collection Big Lonesome. Jim’s work has appeared in many publications, including The Believer, Black Warrior Review, Esquire, GrantaHobart, Los Angeles Times, McSweeney’s, Mississippi Review, and Oxford American, and has received awards from Reader’s Digest and the National Endowment for the Arts. He runs the Southern California-based reading series Vermin on the Mount, now in its thirteenth year.

Image credit: Southeast SD Map by Isauro Amigable Inocencio Jr.

The deadline for our Southeast Stories project is June 2nd. We hope this workshop provides the communities with the inspiration and tools to tell their own story, in their own words.

For more information, please contact us.


If you like what we do at So Say We All, an education, performance, and literary nonprofit organization and small press, please consider becoming a supporting member to sustain this work.

“The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” at Diversionary Theatre!

Long Story Short Presents: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Saturday May 13th at Diversionary Theatre

So Say We All’s Long Story Short presents an evening of curated, live, unscripted storytelling. Stories told the old fashioned way. No notes.

These stories, on the theme of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” are selected and workshopped versions of some of our favorite stories to appear on our Long Story Short stage over the years. Join us at Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box for some very fine stories!

Featuring:
Michael Billingsley
Kirk Faulkner
Paul Georgeades
Suzanne Hoyem
Chris Onderdonk
Caty Schmitter

with host: David Latham.

Tickets: $8 advance ($10 at the door)
MEMBER DISCOUNT: $5 advance ($8 door)
(Members, you should receive a discount code in your email! If you are not yet a member and you’d like to support and sustain the work we do, you can become a member here for as little as $5 per month!)

Saturday, May 13th

7:00 PM
Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box
4545 Park Blvd, #101
San Diego, CA 92116

Call for submissions: Incoming, “Sex Drugs and Copenhagen.”

So Say We All’s Veteran Writers Division is accepting submissions for its next Incoming anthology, tentatively titled: “Sex, Drugs, and Copenhagen.” We were originally going to call it “Sex Drugs, and Coping Mechanisms” but couldn’t help paying homage to the great and horrible chaw that has kept so many service members awake on watch through the night.

We’re looking for non-fiction stories related to coping mechanisms, affairs, violating protocol in the name of escapism, mental health vacations, shore leave / R&R adventures, emergency sex, adopting a base cat, or other extreme actions taken to alleviate boredom and preserve sanity during one’s service or the period that followed during reintegration to the civilian world. We’re interested in any interpretation you might take on the theme, so feel free to surprise us.

We hope in choosing this topic that we’re able to offer veteran writers a chance to consider their service through humor, absurdism, and surrealism if they find it appropriate (though all takes on the theme are welcome), and provide our readers insights into the lesser-talked about  inglorious aspects of service: the tricks and tales of what people have to do to endure boredom, loneliness, heartbreak, trauma, and other human traits that undermine the all-consuming need to remain “effective”. Active duty writers concerned about negatively affecting their careers are welcome to submit under a pen name. We get it.

Veterans of all branches and generations, active duty service members, military family members, and interpreters are welcome to submit non-fiction works up to 7,000 words in length or less. Previously published work is welcome as long as you indicate in your cover letter where the work received its first publication. Simultaneous submissions are encouraged. Contributors will receive a contributor copy by mail.

You can learn more about our previous volume, Returning Home, read reviews, and hear stories from previous contributors at www.incomingradio.org“.

We look forward to reading your work!

– So Say We All