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“Souvenirs” reviewed at “Necessary Fiction”

Souvenirs Cover Mock UpEric Andrew Newman at Necessary Fiction has reviewed Matt Tompkins’s Souvenirs and Other Stories (Conium Press, 2016).

He notes “In his book Souvenirs and Other Stories, Matt Tompkins is able to bring magic to the mundane . . . ” and he says the stories “all pack a narrative punch.” The reviewer goes on to compare Matt’s style to that of George Saunders and Manuel Gonzales.

Eric closes the review by saying “While every narrative in Souvenirs and Other Stories seems fairly simple on the surface, they ultimately have multiple layers and grapple with more complex issues than those seen at first glance. Not only do the stories wrestle with loss, but also companionship, family, reality, and sanity. Each of the stories deals with the kernel of a bigger issue, but never in a heavy-handed and always in an entertaining way.” Read the full review at Necessary Fiction‘s website.

Introducing our new fiction editors

We’re pleased to formally announce our four newest staff members: Holly Lopez, Meredith Maltby, Marina Petrova, and William VanDenBerg! They’ve already begun reading submissions and have proven themselves valuable members of The Conium Review team.

Holly Lopez is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. Her work has appeared in Plots With Guns, Charlotte Viewpoint, and Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good. She is also the recipient of the 2012 Marjorie Blankenship Melton Award in Fiction. As an editor, she appreciates when writers subvert expectations and produce stories that are fresh and unconventional. She’s most interested in strange stories that also have dimension, red-blooded characters, and effectively tap into the human condition. Some of her favorite authors include George Saunders, Donald Barthelme, Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, and Karen Russell.

Meredith Maltby is the poetry editor for the Tulane Review and was a featured poet at Design Cloud Chicago’s HERE / NOW event. Meredith has previously published her work in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Chicago Tribune, ROAR: a literary journal for women of the arts, and Gravel Journal, among others. She appreciates interesting and strange writing from underrepresented voices. She admires and is influenced by Amelia Gray’s Gutshot, Lincoln Michel’s Upright Beasts, Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, Bonnie Campell’s Mothers Tell Your Daughters, and anything by Ariana Reines or Melissa Broder.

Marina Petrova was published in The Conium Review: Vol. 4, and when we posted our call for editors, she was eager to get more involved with our small press. She graduated from the MFA program at The New School in May 2014, where she had previously served as a reader for LIT. Her work has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Underwater New York, and Calliope Anthology. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories. In her non-writing life, she also works as a Business Analyst for a Media Tech company. Marina is a native Russian speaker, and growing up she was influenced by Chekhov, Nabokov, and Bulgakov. More recently, she’s become a huge fan of Donald Barthelme, Italo Calvino, Ben Marcus, Junot Díaz, and George Saunders.

William VanDenBerg is a first year MFA student at Brown University. He is the author of two chapbooks: Lake of Earth from Caketrain Press and Apostle Islands from Solar Luxuriance—he’ll be signing copies of these chapbooks at our AWP Conference table in Los Angeles (table #1238). He loves the work of Donald Barthelme, Ann Quin, Lindsay Hunter, Amelia Gray, and Steven Millhauser.

Visit masthead page to learn more about these editors and the rest of our staff.

Emily Koon is the 2015 Innovative Short Fiction Contest winner!

Emily Koon photoAmelia Gray has selected Emily Koon as the 2015 Innovative Short Fiction Contest winner for her short story, “The People Who Live in the Sears.”

Amelia chose this this story “for its life and humor, its world-building and pace.” She also noted “I found the really unique thing about this story was its movement; it first sits in one place like a man on a couch at the Sears, picking up little objects and people and turning them over. Then, it moves quickly from room to room and then from house to house, swallowing up forests. The story closes in on a shopper or a person and then widens out just as quickly. On top of all that, it’s funny; a little George Saunders, a little Don Barthelme, but best of all a lot of its own thing, the neon Jazzercize glory of the 80s going up like the asbestos-fueled fire it features.”

Emily Koon lives in North Carolina. She earned her MFA from Emerson College in Boston. She has work in Portland Review, Bayou, Atticus Review, and other places and can be found at twitter.com/thebookdress.

This year’s finalists were Rita BullwinkelAdrian FortIngrid JendrzejewskiMarina Petrova, and Adam Webster. Honorable mentions include Michelle DonahueRegan Douglass, and Kim Hagerich.

The Conium Review editorial staff thanks everybody who submitted and supported our annual Innovative Short Fiction Contest. We’ll announce next year’s judge soon, and we hope many of you will consider submitting again in 2016.

 

“Why VIDA Matters to Me: Part II, Words are Power (Or Another Rant about Stephen Tully Dierks),” by James R. Gapinski

Preamble (again, in case you missed Part I)

A few months ago, I was talking about the VIDA “count” with a friend-and-fellow-writer.  The count has been at the forefront of our editorial discussions this year—The Conium Review journal has a large gender gap, but we’re trying to change that this year and beyond.

In the middle of the conversation, my friend-and-fellow-writer said something like “I feel like, as a woman author, I should care about VIDA, but I don’t.  It doesn’t matter to me.”

“Doesn’t matter?”  I couldn’t believe it.  But over the past few months, I’ve dug deeper.  I’ve explored some critiques of VIDA, and I’ve discovered how some writers, editors, and readers consciously or unconsciously determine that underrepresentation and misrepresentation isn’t a ‘big deal.’

I can’t speak for my friend-and-fellow-writer, but I can speak for myself and why VIDA matters to me (and by extension, why the VIDA count is on The Conium Review’s radar).

Part II, Words are Power (Or Another Rant about Stephen Tully Dierks)

While the VIDA count matters to the integrity of literature and books (see “Part I” of this essay), it has deeper connotations too.  Words are power.  By silencing women, the publishing industry explicitly proclaims that women do not matter.  The “important authors” that we read in MFA programs are mostly white men (or maybe not—that depends on your MFA program—but generally speaking, most academic programs venerate a ton of white men alongside tokenistic women and minorities here and there).  Men are the ones who currently have the most omnipresent voice, and so we can’t help but pay attention.  White men have become the metaphoric “megaphone guy” from George Saunders’s essay “The Braindead Megaphone.”  (Yes, I realize Saunders essay isn’t about this topic specifically, but the metaphor fits.)  Men have the power.  Words are power.  Silence is subjugation.

Just look at Stephen Tully Dierks.  I can’t write an essay about misogyny in literature without talking about Dierks.  It’s on everybody’s minds right now.  It’s current.  It’s worth mentioning again, because it speaks to the larger problem (not just a problem with “Alt-Lit,” but a problem with the literary community as a whole).

I didn’t know the name Stephen Tully Dierks before September 30th, when VIDA shared a Facebook link to the Gawker article “Hip Alt-Lit Editor Quits Public Writing Career After Rape Accusations.”  Since then, I’ve read Sophia Katz’s essay, in which she details the sexual assault perpetrated by Dierks.  I’ve read a firestorm of Internet commentary.  I’ve read Dierks’s half-assed apology that included way too many supposed excuses for his despicable actions.  I’ve read about the other victim who came forward.  Whenever something pops up about Dierks, I read it.

Most of the literary community has supported Katz.  Many have taken to the Internet to express well warranted outrage.  A smaller number of people defended Dierks.  While I am all for “innocent until proven guilty,” Dierks’s half-assed social media apology points squarely toward his guilt.  In it, he does not deny Katz’s version of events.  On the subject of Dierks’s apology, I find one line most revealing.  He notes “I clearly gravely misread the situation and Sophia’s actions, words, and silence.”

In Sophia’s account, this silence is evident.  Certainly, she is not silent the entire time.  She tries to talk Dierks out of it.  She says “no” more than once.  But she eventually gives up because he keeps pushing and pushing.  He is offering her a rent-free place to stay in Brooklyn—difficult to come by—and she has no other alternatives besides the street.  He coerces.  He pressures.  He gives her intoxicants.  The entire situation is engineered to throw the balance of power in his favor.  She is silenced by his power.  She had little space to resist.  He forced her, even if he didn’t do it with physical violence.

Dierks says he misread her silence, but silence is not consent.  Again, I do not know Dierks, but from all accounts, he is a predator.  He invited a very young girl to stay at his place—a girl without financial means to escape and stay elsewhere—he tried to impress her with all his connections, he made her sleep in his bed even though she brought a sleeping bag, he waited for the lights to go out, he ignored her whenever she asked to stop or requested that he put on a condom.  He used his power.  He took away her capacity to resist.  He silenced her.

This is a man who worked as an editor.  This is a man who is making decisions on which voices to publish and which to reject.  And while he is the ultimate example of a piece of shit editor on everybody’s mind right now, any editor who willfully silences women is perpetuating a community where people like Dierks can thrive under the radar, his abuse going undetected for quite a while.

While there is a lot of outrage floating across the Internet, many only extend criticism to the Alt-Lit scene.  This problem is bigger than Alt-Lit.  This is a mainstream problem.  Maybe editors are more subtle in the mainstream—maybe they don’t coerce young authors like Dierks did—but they perpetuate the underlying culture that made Dierks believe he was simply “misreading the situation.”

This is why VIDA matters.  We need to shift the balance of power, and it’s something that needs to be addressed across the board, not just in the Alt-Lit scene.  There are gender gaps—and power gaps—everywhere.  Voices are being silenced.  Certainly, the Dierks case is extreme, and these gaps don’t always lead to rape, but they still lead to marginalization and a feeling of helplessness.  The publication gender gap hurts the community as a whole.

Journals need to be part of the solution, not the problem.  It’s like Roxane Gay says in her essay “Beyond the Measure of Men,” “If women aren’t submitting to your publication or press, ask yourself why, deal with the answers even if those answers make you uncomfortable, and then reach out to women writers.”

Because we need Dierks (and others) to look at the literary community and see all the empowered, loud, wholly un-silent women.  We need him to realize that the literary world is one where he is no longer in control.  We can only move toward that goal when women are more widely published.

Talking about Katz, Dierks, consent, and silence is a good start.  The conversation has already exploded across social media, and hopefully it will become something deeper and more reflective than simply calling out Dierks.  We need to call out the entire mindset that preceded this incident.  We need to reflect on the VIDA count now more than ever.

About the Author:

James R. Gapinski is The Conium Review‘s Managing Editor. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. His work has appeared in theNewerYork, Line Zero, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere. James lives in the Boston area with his partner, two cats, and a collection of 8-bit video games.

“Why VIDA Matters to Me: Part I, Men Only Tell Half the Story,” by James R. Gapinski

Preamble

A few months ago, I was talking about the VIDA “count” with a friend-and-fellow-writer.  The count has been at the forefront of our editorial discussions this year—The Conium Review journal has a large gender gap, but we’re trying to change that this year and beyond.

In the middle of the conversation, my friend-and-fellow-writer said something like “I feel like, as a woman author, I should care about VIDA, but I don’t.  It doesn’t matter to me.”

“Doesn’t matter?”  I couldn’t believe it.  But over the past few months, I’ve dug deeper.  I’ve explored some critiques of VIDA, and I’ve discovered how some writers, editors, and readers consciously or unconsciously determine that underrepresentation and misrepresentation isn’t a ‘big deal.’

I can’t speak for my friend-and-fellow-writer, but I can speak for myself and why VIDA matters to me (and by extension, why the VIDA count is on The Conium Review’s radar).

Part I, Men Only Tell Half the Story

I’m getting tired of hearing the same half of the story on a continuous loop.  Certainly, there are good male authors (I hope I’m one of them), but the literary world is publishing way too many of them while simultaneously ignoring way too many women.  Sure, men are capable of writing new, innovative fiction.  However, that fiction is invariably filtered through the same gendered lens.  We can pretend that gender doesn’t matter, but we secretly know that it does.  Right?  A man, for example, could not write Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls.  A woman, for example, could not write Junot Díaz’s Drown.

It’s tough to consider “a man could not write” or “a woman could not write” arguments in isolation, because gender is just one part of who a person is.  You can easily imagine all sorts of differences between authors.  And you can imagine how every iota of difference creates a different experience and a different story and a different lens.  But on a fundamental, broad-stroke level, gender matters.  The underrepresentation of women matters.  VIDA matters.  Because if the publishing industry continues to discriminate against women, we’re ignoring half of the conversation.  We’re missing out on a huge chunk of the human experience.  We’re hearing the same monotone voice over and over, ignoring the women who have entirely unique stories to tell.  Stories that we need to hear.

The male narrative has been shoved down our throats so often that it’s all many readers know.  This brings us back to The Conium Review.  We’re guilty of having a shitty count (VIDA doesn’t officially count us, but we’ve ran our own numbers). However, we’re hitting the reset button, learning from our first four issues, and making changes at the journal.  We’re not going to get truly innovative fiction while only publishing a single worldview.

In a 2011 interview (reprinted in the anthology Paper Dreams), Cate Marvin of VIDA recalls her reaction to the first “count” in 2010; she mentions reading male-dominated literary journals, noting “The fact is, I often felt bored when reading these publications.  (And I felt guilty for being bored!)  Now I know why (whereas before, I felt I ought to be interested).”  Frankly, male authors are starting to bore me too.  It’s not that these authors don’t resonate with my experience.  Some of my favorite authors are men: Etgar Keret and George Saunders, specifically.  But other men on my list o’ faves have been replaced by Aimee Bender, Amelia Gray (super excited that she agreed to judge our Innovative Short Fiction Contest), Lucy Corin, Karen Russell, Karin Tidbeck, and other women.  They tell the other half of the story.  Women turn the literary monologue into a dialogue, and that’s pretty damn exciting.

Even if somebody overlooks the obvious social justice issues, the low publication rates of women matters because it negatively impacts the literary narrative.  We keep getting that tired monologue.  Personally, I want to read a variety of voices.  I don’t want the same ol’ same ol’.  I want to be challenged by what I read (and what I write), and that doesn’t happen when the literary community recycles the same half of the conversation in slightly different packages.  That’s why VIDA matters.  It impacts anybody who loves reading and writing—female and male alike.

About the Author:

James R. Gapinski is The Conium Review‘s Managing Editor. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. His work has appeared in theNewerYork, Line Zero, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere. James lives in the Boston area with his partner, two cats, and a collection of 8-bit video games.