Content Tagged ‘writing’

The Starving Artist: A Thanksgiving Meditation on Food and Literary Fuel

by Anna Montgomery Patton

There is a strange ache that comes with hunger.  One must take inventory of one’s body, locate the source of the hunger. Stomach? Brain? In fact, the feeling of hunger is not a message delivered to the brain from the stomach. It turns out that Neuropeptide not only communicates a desire for food to the brain, it also reduces pain, stress, anxiety, and blood pressure. Sometimes when I feel hungry I automatically assume my body is telling me it wants food. Perhaps it is simply wanting some sort of nourishment. And what I, and many others, find satiating is reading. Words are delicious.

It is no surprise, then, that an incredible amount of restaurants all over the world share names with well-regarded literary magazines and journals. During a meeting of the Ecotone practicum last semester, we discovered Prairie Schooner. No, not the noted literary journal of the University of Nebraska, which has been in circulation since 1926. This was Prairie Schooner of Ogden, Utah, a Wild West–themed restaurant where one can “dine in a covered wagon next to an open prairie fire while enjoying our delicious hand cut steaks, fresh seafood, and signature desserts.” I have not had the opportunity to dine at Prairie Schooner, but my experience reading an issue of Prairie Schooner was similar to enjoying a satisfying meal. And should that not be the goal of successful writing? If nothing else, a writer strives to leave a reader full, if not a little uncomfortable.

The discovery of Prairie Schooner (the restaurant) led me down a rabbit hole of dining opportunities linked to the literary, some more “fine” than others. Ploughshare Brewing Company in Lincoln, Nebraska (“Share the Bounty! Get Behind the Plough!”) was named best new restaurant in 2014, and boasts original brews and brats among its vittles. Wellington, England, is home to Tin House, a Cantonese restaurant with an overpriced (in my humble opinion) chow mein takeaway. McSweeney’s serves up twenty-one pieces of shrimp for a reasonable $4.50 in Pittsburgh. They are better known for their $1.95 red hots: hot dogs in steamed buns with McSweeney’s meat sauce and onions. The website warns, “onions buried, may cause sauce to fall off hot dog due to bun crisis of 2002.” I am uncertain about what this means, but it seems of a piece with the quirkiness and “daily laffs” of McSweeney’s.

Threepenny Cafe in Charlottesville, Virginia, not only won the OpenTable 2015 Diner’s Choice Award, and serves a $33 three-course prix fixe menu that sounds delectable (think charred romaine salad, pan roasted rockfish with champagne sauce, pecan bread budding with bourbon creme anglaise), but they have a lovely outdoor patio and live music. Back in the United Kingdom, the Granta has a mouthwatering menu of modern spins on British pub classics. Every Sunday they have a home-cooked roast along with seasonal vegetables, and Yorkies, also home-cooked. The literary Granta is similarly classic and attuned to long-time traditions.

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House Guest with Jamie Quatro: Moments of Arrival

In House Guest, we invite Ecotone and Lookout authors and cover artists, as well as editors from peer presses and magazines, to tell us what they’re working on, to discuss themes in their writing or unique publishing challenges, to answer the burning questions they always hoped a reader would ask.

Jamie Quatro’s story “Wreckage” appears in Ecotone’s Anniversary Issue.


Tshoka: we stayed our first and third nights

Last January my daughter and I traveled to Sikkim, a restricted state in northern India nestled between Bhutan and Nepal. After spending a few days at a home for Tibetan refugees and other at-risk girls, we took a four-day trek in the Himalayas, up to fifteen thousand feet. It was a cushy trek, as treks go: Nepali cooks came with us, and dzos (half-yak half-cow) carried the bulk of our gear. Still, even with just our daypacks to carry, the hike was challenging, especially as we began to experience the effects of elevation. On the second day the climb became sharply vertical. We moved at a painfully slow pace, using the mountaineering “rest step,” in which you lock out your downhill leg to put the weight on the skeleton versus the muscles.

At night we slept in rustic huts. We were days out of reach of any communication. Other than our occasional conversation, the dzo bells as they neared and then passed us, and the wind, I mostly listened to myself breathe. On the trail, away from “civilization,” halfway around the planet, the smallest comforts became huge. My tiny tube of rose-scented moisturizer; the one pack of pre-moistened wipes I’d brought along; my down jacket. Over and over I found myself silently blessing Patagonia, the attention to technical design elements which mean little in the urban, southern U.S. but mean everything on the trail in temperatures that fluctuate from twenty-three degrees Celsius during the day to below zero at night—like cinch cords inside the pockets, so you don’t have to remove your hands to tighten the waistband. I developed an almost passionate attachment to my Nalgene water bottle. The cooks boiled water over an open fire at night so we could fill our bottles before bed. I’d slide my piping hot Nalgene into a sock and stuff it into my sleeping bag for warmth. By morning the water would be cold again, ready for an electrolyte tablet and rationed sipping.


The summit at Dzongri

But the thing that could (and did) bring me to tears was—after hours of trekking—the sight of prayer flags along the trail. The prayer flags meant we were approaching a place of rest: a summit, plateau, holy lake, or temple. Every time I saw the bright flash of red and blue, green and yellow in the trees or rocks ahead, I felt connected, again, to the world-at-large. Others have been here before you; others will follow. At the summit in Dzongri there were flags everywhere—wrapped around stupa-shaped rocks and strung between bushes. Flags upon flags upon remnants of flags. The idea is the circularity of existence, life replacing death replacing life. The greatest human accomplishments—the highest peaks we’re capable of reaching—even this is fragile, will fade and blow off. There was something about being at that elevation, above the welter and noise below, that reminded me of the space out of which writing comes. This is where, in a spiritual sense, I need to exist as a writer, I thought. Away from “the industry,” the constant chatter, the noise of readings and conferences. Of course those things have a place. But it’s not the place the work comes from. The work requires silence, rest, a kind of holiness, and—so important—non-attachment. You can’t write in total freedom until you’re okay with the fact that you might not keep a single word. The possibility that none of it may make it into print.

Unknown-2After the trek, at the Tibetan Refugee Center in Darjeeling, I bought an embarrassing number of prayer flags to take home as gifts. I’d planned to hang the ones I kept outside, as one is supposed to: let them deteriorate in the elements, kindness and compassion spreading out into the world. But when I got home I tied together several lengths and strung them above the kitchen table where I work. I like to equate showing up to the page each day—whether the pages are ones I write or edit—with those moments of arrival in the Himalayas. I like the idea of work being holy, connected to the past, a form of active rest. I like to show up each day remembering the silence at the summit. In some ways, I think my work is a way to practice staying there.

Jamie Quatro is the author of the story collection I Want To Show You More, a 2013 New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Another story collection and a novel are forthcoming from Grove. A contributing editor at Oxford American, she lives with her family in Lookout Mountain, Georgia.

House Guest with Chantel Acevedo: Growing up Cuban, or How to Make a Writer

In House Guest, we invite Ecotone and Lookout authors and cover artists, as well as editors from peer presses and magazines, to tell us what they’re working on, to discuss themes in their writing or unique publishing challenges, to answer the burning questions they always hoped a reader would ask.

Chantel Acevedo’s story “Strange and Lovely,” a Notable story in this year’s Best American Short Stories, appears in Ecotone 17.


There are certain personal characteristics that seem essential for writers to cultivate—Persistence, A Sense of the Dramatic, and A Tough Skin. I’ve always thought that a Cuban-American childhood is the perfect crucible in which to practice these traits.

1) Persistence: As any published writer will tell you, talent is only part of what it takes to be a writer. A kind of doggedness has to accompany the task. After all, writing a novel or a collection of poems is a marathon, not a sprint. We Cuban Americans who grew up in the 70s and 80s understood this in a different way. We practiced persistence at an early age, especially since we often lived with abuela and abuelo, mami and papi, and all of them were stricter than Sister Maria Francisca at the Catholic School down the street. To get what we wanted, we Cuban-American kids had to be persistent enough to wear down the adults in our lives. Want to shave past your knees sometime before your fifteenth birthday? Better if you start asking permission on the eve of your thirteenth birthday. It will take them at least two years to cave. And if you’ve ever found yourself waiting for a literary agent to respond, or a literary magazine to publish your poem, you know what that waiting can feel like.

2) A Sense of the Dramatic: Stories are built around conflict. Conflict is what people mean when they say “Raise the stakes” in the stories we write. Cuban-American kids understand drama. We were fed on a sense of the dramatic. I vividly recall riding my bike back and forth down a stretch of sidewalk no longer than fifty feet, up and down, up and down, under the gaze of my abuela who watched me from the porch. If I went farther, she argued, someone would probably SNATCH ME. There was the perpetual fear of snatching, of lightning strikes, of sharks and sand bars with which to contend. The drama even followed us inside our very homes, where the nightly sh-sh-sh of the pressure cooker working its magic on black beans was a warning to every child in the house to stay out of the kitchen. That sucker could explode. Drama was everywhere, and for a burgeoning writer, that perpetual feeling of impending spectacle is a turbo boost to the imagination.

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On Location with Miha Mazzini

Miha Mazzini, whose story “That Winter“ originally appeared in Ecotone and is now featured in Astoria to Zion, sent us this fascinating brain comparison. Read on to find out why writing is so addictive.


This is the place I usually live: (PICTURE A)

Sometimes, after a long procrastination, in quiet surroundings, when I’m alone, I start writing and the place changes: (PICTURE B)

I had a chance to scan my brain while doing research for my nonfiction book about writers and creativity, Born for Stories. The general rule for interpreting the scans: the brighter the color, the greater the flow of blood.

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AWP Video Series

During the AWP conference in February, three Ecotone contributors—Cary Holladay, Rebecca Makkai, and Shawn Vestal—gathered to help celebrate the publication of Astoria to Zion and were kind enough to sit down with us afterwards and discuss their stories in the anthology and the importance of place in their writing. Today we kick off this series with Cary Holladay, who talks about place, travel, and risk in her writing. Her story “Horse People” appears in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade, published by Lookout Books (2014).

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On Location with Lauren Groff

In our new department On Location, we feature photographs submitted by authors, artists, designers, and friends of Ecotone and Lookout, showcasing spaces that are meaningful to them, or that inspire their work—anything from a desk or bookshelves to a place they gather information. We’re pleased for Lauren Groff, whose beautiful story “Abundance” appears in Astoria to Zion, to kick off the series.


Lauren Groff writes:

Ten years ago, my writing space had to be a separate room with a lockable door, chaise longue, bookshelf, and idea board. It had to be scrupulously neat. I refused to speak to anyone between waking and working; I’d brew a pot of coffee, lock the door, light a candle and meditate, then get started. If anyone had interrupted me, they’d have died a horrid death.

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Making A List: Three Great Memoirs About Place

Three Great Memoirs about Place

With the March 12 release of Ben Miller’s River Bend Chronicle: The Junkification of a Boyhood Idyll Amid the Curious Glory of Urban Iowa, the Lookout interns wanted to celebrate five strong memoirs about place.

Only three are listed here since River Bend Chronicle is a soon-to-be fourth. (Rounding out our list will be the forthcoming joint effort by Lookout Interns and PubLab TAs that will focus on lives subject to the cruel whim of the Adobe Creative Suite and there’s always a disturbing amount of doughnuts.)

But for now, books that have been released:


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