Directed by Alan Smithee #4: The Look

A series of musings on movies, memories, and storytelling.

by Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor

Once upon a time, I lived on my family’s land in a house my grandfather designed on FM 1387 in between Midlothian and Waxahachie, Texas, near a tiny little town called Ovilla. This land, although we moved into Waxahachie when I was ten, is often the image I think of when I come across the word “home.” The scratchy knee-high grass. The goats and cows. The black fence and mimosa blossoms. The smell of honeysuckle. The blackberry bush and the peach trees.

I spent the first ten years of my life standing on hard, quartz-ridden black dirt underneath an unrelenting sun, surrounded by whispering wind and miles and miles of cedar-tree-spotted plains. I was, I liked to think, the next link in the chain of Wild West warriors that made up the Hayes clan.

I liked to think I was Texas tough.

Of course in reality I was a scrawny underweight girl, all knees and elbows, prone to ear infections, afraid of the dark, who got stage fright ordering at restaurants.

I’m more of a romantic dreamer than Texas tough. There’s a Kodak photograph buried somewhere in my parent’s attic of me as a six- or seven-year-old at the state fair, standing next to my father and grandfather. I’m wearing a black cowboy hat and black cowboy boots—(they HAD to be black because I wanted to be an outlaw, not a lawman)—that my grandfather had bought me. I’ve got a stern look on my face, like one wrong move and I’d shoot you dead. I adored those boots and that hat because they were sort of like a costume you could wear out and about without Mom telling you to put on something more presentable. No, they weren’t my beloved Batman, Tigger, or Scooby Doo costumes that I wore at home—but at least they were something.

At least they were an outward representation of the character I felt I was building myself to be.

Now, let’s not start philosophizing about how “everyone wears masks” and have some sort of existential identity crisis in the middle of a lousy blog post. I’m just saying people like building and rebuilding their character—the person they present themselves to be—and that who they end up being is one part who they are, one part who they were brought up to be, and one part who they want to be.

And when I first saw The Big Sleep, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be Lauren Bacall.

Although she was a New York girl, she should have gotten an honorary Texas tough badge. Brash, but cool and collected. Never screechy or hysterical like a lot of the other girls in the black and white movies I watched. Even when she played a minor role, she seemed to be in control of the whole film somehow, all the character development, action, and scenes playing out according to a master plan of her making.

She had “the Look.” Sexy. Sassy. Dangerous. A strong woman who could be the femme fatale, the young debutante, or the doting lover but in any case wasn’t naïve, wasn’t lost, wasn’t unfocused, knew exactly what she wanted and how to get it. She was the forerunner of the strong women portrayed in this year’s Wonder Woman box office success.

I do not possess anywhere close the level of cool conveyed by Lauren Bacall. But recently I read her memoir, By Myself and Then Some, and was amazed to read that her famous “Look” came about when she had to lean against the wall with her face pointed down so she could raise her cigarette to her lips without her hand shaking from nervousness.

Toughness is in the way you carry yourself, not in what you feel. It’s a piece of your character that you choose to put into place—not something God-given, not something granted to only Texans or brassy New York actresses with smoldering good looks.

Which is good news for us who don’t feel so tough sometimes.

And good news for us writers, who need a bit of toughness, perseverance and resilience, just to keep putting our pen to paper or our fingers to the keyboard. Writing is tough. It’s about as relentless as the sun over my Texas homestead, about as hard as that quartz-ridden black dirt. And it means putting on masks, wearing costumes out and about, pretending life on your family’s rural land was idyllic and meaningful—assigning meaning to yourself and your experiences and sharing them, declaring them important for others to understand and recognize too. Pretending the quartz is diamonds. That takes guts, grit, toughness, and that’s writing.

Of course maybe I’m overthinking it. At the end of the day, maybe being a writer has nothing to do with toughness or the reshaping of your identity—maybe a writer is just plain and simple one who writes and can’t NOT write.

Maybe you just are what you are—your look is just your look—and it’s as simple whistling according to Bacall’s famous double entendre line from To Have and Have Not:

“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”


Cassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She received her bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various print and online literary journals.
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ARKANA UPDATE

A brief compilation of Issue 2 Notes from the Editors.

by the Arkana Staff

Issue 2 has been live for about a month, and we as the Arkana staff have had plenty of time to reflect on the work in our last issue. Here’s what our genre editors are saying about Arkana and our second issue:

“We sought a synthesis of the real and the ideal.”

“To me, this is the important work of Arkana: fully committing to diversity in a way that goes beyond mere lip-service or checkmarks in boxes.”

“When we get a piece that shows us a slice of someone’s experience that we’ve never seen published elsewhere, or a piece that opens up an exciting thinking space—like a hidden passageway in an old familiar library—that’s when the staff starts having conversations.”

“The characters in these stories are survivors.”

“We read each piece that is submitted and publish excellent prose with a clear voice that elucidates people’s real lives.”

“There was a feeling that we had touched common humanity and heard voices we needed to hear that we hadn’t exactly heard before. There was an awe that always accompanies the taking in of good art.”

“We trust our contributors to be the experts of their experience.”

“Please tell a struggling artist how much their work means to you. We all need to know that somebody is listening, that somebody cares.”

“We want to hear your voices. We want to continue to hear the voices that have been silenced, but speak to us and bring us the awe.”

Comb through our editor notes to read more about how our second issue came together and what it represents—where does Arkana stand in the modern world and publishing industry? As poet Oliver de la Paz said in his interview with us (included in issue 2), writing can be a time machine. It can transmit the past, transform the present, and transport us into the future. So make sure to take a look!

And submit, submit, SUBMIT! We want to read your work, see your passion, hear YOUR voice. We probably won’t be reading work until the school year, but we accept submissions on a rolling basis—so send ‘em our way whenever they’re ready. We can’t wait to get started on the next issue!

Follow our blog for periodic behind-the-scene updates, notes from the editors, and personal musings from our staff. Head on over to our main website for submission guidelines, more info about what exactly Arkana is, and just to read and/or listen to (because we have a brand new audio feature) some great new literature.

We’re so glad to have you—go to arkanamag.org now!

Directed by Alan Smithee #3: Match Cut

A series of musings on movies, memories, and storytelling.

by Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor

Hands down the best thing about movies is that you can use them as an excuse to eat popcorn.

When I was a kid, me and my dad would have movie nights. Typically the billing consisted of Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, the Three Stooges, or old Universal horror pictures—Dracula, Frankenstein, and, my favorite, the Wolf Man. At first I cared little about the movies—I didn’t really get why they didn’t have any color, or why the actors talked so fast and stiffly—but I absolutely loved the way my dad made popcorn. At the time I thought he was some kind of master popcorn chef who knew this amazing secret ingredient that no one else knew to add. In reality, all he did was melt butter in the microwave and pour it into the popcorn bag. My job was to shake the bag using both hands, careful not to spill popcorn everywhere—though I don’t know why I had to be careful about making a mess when he didn’t. He never covered the bowl of butter with plastic wrap, so our microwave ended up looking like a warzone, much to my mother’s chagrin.

The Wolf Man is, I think, the first non-animated movie that truly captivated me. It was the first movie that made me care more about the story than the popcorn. I was amazed especially by Maleva, the gypsy woman who tries to help Larry Talbot after he is bitten by her son, a werewolf. I liked her mysteriousness, her sensitivity, her knowledge, and her dedication to her family.

And of course I was also captivated by the whole idea of werewolves, human beings transforming into out-of-control beasts.

I wasn’t scared at all by the movie. Maybe I’d already been desensitized somehow by television (I used to like the show Cops), other movies (Bambi?) and brow-beaten bible stories, but I didn’t hide my eyes or bury my face in my father’s shoulder when kind, mild-mannered Larry Talbot turned into a giant man-eating wolf. Not a bit. Instead, I couldn’t look away. How AWESOME, somebody becoming something else, something so different that his own father doesn’t recognize him!

But Maleva did recognize him.

The match cut is a transition in film editing in which one shot cuts to another shot that has graphic elements—a subject or action—matching the previous frame. It makes readers see parallels between two different subjects and also can represent a jump in time. For instance, in the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey one of the monkeys throws a bone into the air. The bone tumbles against a blank sky, and then there’s a cut to a satellite tumbling in space. So the audience can follow that time has shifted forward and that there are parallels between the bone and the satellite—two of the few things easily followed in 2001.

I wonder who I would be match cut to if the options were Maleva and Larry Talbot. This is one of the many pointless question I wonder about. I also wonder about why I wonder about so many pointless questions.

Yet this isn’t a pointless. Somehow I think this question says something about my heritage, my vocation, my very essence.

Heavy stuff for a pretty cheesy 1940s Universal horror flick. Allow me to elaborate:

My mother’s side of the family is traditionally more stoic, more mysterious, more sensitive. There are bigger holes in the history of that side of my family—my grandfather’s “lost years” in between getting out of the Army in his twenties after WWII and marrying my grandmother when he was around forty, my grandmother’s tendency towards silence and pragmatism when asked about anything. How they come from swampy Caddo Lake in East Texas hidden among the weeping willows and curtains of gray moss. They remind me of Maleva.

My father’s side of the family is more passionate, hard, tough. I have heard stories about my great-grandfather—my father’s father’s father—his resilience and quick temper, how he raised his several brothers and sisters single-handedly during the Great Depression, how when he got mad he would very slowly and deliberately take off his glasses, fold them, put them in his pocket, and then commence to pummeling whoever was the poor soul that had made eye contact. I have seen threads of that temper in my grandfather and father and most certainly in me. Especially when I’m driving and somebody cuts me off.

That side of the family reminds me of the werewolf, Larry Talbot—the man suddenly turned beast.

Most likely I’m a bit of both, and since I’m really not that unique a human being, you could assume that if I’m a bit of both everybody is a bit of both, too.

You need both to tell a good story.

We at Arkana claim that our mission is to find stories that “work to discover and uncover the overlooked, the misunderstood, and the silent.” In the Wolf Man Maleva always recognizes Talbot, even when he’s a monstrous beast that even his own father doesn’t recognize. Stories, or at least the kind Arkana is after, wouldn’t work without both the dysfunctional monsters and the people able to still see the human in the beast.

A good storyteller combines the out-of-control nature of passion and feeling with the quiet wisdom of reflection.

And a good story listener supplies the popcorn.


Cassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She received her bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various print and online literary journals.

Issue 2 Notes from the Editors: Poetry

A reflection on Arkana‘s first year in poetry.

by Drew S. Cook, Poetry Editor

Last month, the second issue of Arkana dropped, and we in the poetry section had a lot to be happy about. We had two new readers join us, and it was great to have more eyes and thoughts on the pieces that we selected. It was also a sentimental moment for me, since I expect that this will be my last issue as Poetry Editor. Not having any predecessors, I had no one with whom to compare my contributions. Perhaps I did well; perhaps I did not. In any case, as a team we did manage to publish some well-made, affecting work from varied identities and points of origin.

To me, this is the important work of Arkana: fully committing to diversity in a way that goes beyond mere lip-service or checkmarks in boxes. The world of poetry is like any other industry: there are people who have power and people who do not. There are matters of fashion to consider, and there are practices ascendant and descendant. There are cliques, and there are pressures to conform. As a Poetry Editor, I have felt a duty to consider these things, for even though I have, since grade school, found myself aligned with unpopular, unloved children, there is also a need to build platform, to attract readers. After all, without readers, we have not succeeded in giving voice to the voiceless. Rather, we have only dragged them from one silence to another.

I do hope that I have succeeded in finding balance between appealing to poetic orthodoxy and lifting up voices that have been excluded by that orthodoxy. In the second issue, I feel that the team established a pleasing variation between traditional and more contemporary presentation. We additionally managed to lift up varied perspectives based on geography and identity. In other words, we sought a synthesis of the real and the ideal.

The specific poems that the team chose for the second issue were all in keeping with Arkana’s mission. That is, they reflect the team’s respect for the dignity and variety of human experience. They also reflect a general lack of interest in the tyranny of the fashionable. I do not have any idea whether these poems would appeal to any particular tastemaker or school of thought, nor would I like to find out. In the end, we can only hope that you will see them as we do: as well-constructed, affecting works of art. I cannot speak for my successor, but, to me, there is nothing else that matters more.

Thank you, fellow reader, for joining us in this new adventure. Please continue to submit. Please tell your friends to submit. Please keep reading. Please tell your friends to keep reading. Most important, please tell a struggling artist how much their work means to you. We all need to know that somebody is listening, that somebody cares. Be that light in another’s life. See you when issue three hits!


Read or listen to the poems included in Arkana’s Issue 2:
“Creative Writing in Oman”
“Flea Market”
“Don’t Forget Aleppo”
The poetry contest winner: “Poem for Thalia”
“When Can You Come”


Drew S. Cook was born in Ouachita Memorial Hospital near the banks of the Ouachita River.  His hometown of Hot Springs is cradled by the Ouachita Mountains and lies east of the Ouachita National Forest. The sights and voices of that region continue to inform his writing. Drew studied literature and philosophy at Hendrix college before moving to Ohio, where he did information technology work in manufacturing plants for over a decade. Drew has since returned to Arkansas to study writing at the University of Central Arkansas. His interests include pentameter and lithium. Drew’s poems have appeared in PleiadesBear Review, and elsewhere.

Directed by Alan Smithee #2: Stingers

A series of musings on movies, memories, and storytelling.

by Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor

The only movie I’ve ever started and been unable to finish is Bambi.

Yeah, that’s right—the animated Disney movie with the cute forest animals. When my parents put it in the VCR and I settled in to watch it as a small kid, I was really into it until that stupid song “Little April Shower” starts playing and—*spoiler alert*—Bambi’s mom dies. I then proceeded to start bawling, moaning, and chastising my parents for allowing me to watch a film that I believed at the time children should never be exposed to.

Yeah. Bambi. The one kids all over the world adore.

To this day I cringe when I hear “Little April Shower.” I still, although I like to think I’m quite a bit more stable than I was as a kid, have not watched the full movie, perhaps out of some distant childhood fear carried over into adulthood but more likely because I’m lazy and just haven’t bothered to put it on if only for a degree of closure. I can only imagine what my poor parents were thinking when I had a giant meltdown over a Disney movie—I bet they wondered how in the world they managed to bring into the world such a messed-up kid.

You would think maybe I just didn’t like dark movies. But my favorite childhood movie was The Lion King—a.k.a. Hamlet for Kids. So we have our death, betrayal, and revenge bases covered. Perhaps I cried because I didn’t think Bambi really had the gumption to get revenge—he was a little momma’s boy set adrift into the big bad world with nobody but that stupid rabbit to guide and protect him.

Or maybe I cried because, for some reason, in that moment I felt a surge of uncontrollable empathy.

Stories will do that to ya. Like with relationships and fatty food, sometimes you go in looking for a good time and end up feeling more than you bargained for.

In movies and screenwriting, there is often “stingers” at the end of scenes—sharp lines that wrap up what a scene is trying to do or say. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. Door slam. Cut. And ta-da the scene is complete. These stingers drive home the point of the scene and are often emotionally charged.

In real life, endings are sometimes emotionally charged, and sometimes not. I actually kind of wish there were stingers marking some of the endings that have happened in my life—many of the endings that haunt me the most are the ones where things sort of just drifted away. No Rhett Butler. No door slam. No cut. Sometimes I think real life is like the movies, or at least could be. Other times I think I’m too much of a wishful thinker.

I can’t remember the last silly show me and my sister put on to entertain our parents and grandparents before me and my sister grew up. I don’t know what my last high school class was before I graduated or who was in it. I couldn’t begin to tell you what I was really thinking when I was a little kid ordering my parents to turn off Bambi.

I could have used a stinger for each of those moments, cementing them into my reality.

But instead they’re just lost, blurry memories that I know must exist, but I can’t exactly bring to mind, that I can’t exactly conjure in THIS moment right now today as I sit here at age twenty-two, by some twist of fate at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas instead of at my home in Waxahachie, Texas.

My, my I can be such a bummer sometimes. But fear not—good news is on the way:

In stories, we can find what is lost, cement what has crumbled, prime for action what has long lay dormant. I feel like writing down those moments now makes them real somehow, validates them as reality. I feel like the simple act of telling the story is the door slam, the stinger, and the endings have been clarified.

And even better, every time I feel great empathy from a story well told, I feel like my feelings about the endings have been validated as well. I feel connected to humanity. I still feel like a total mess, but like everybody else is a total mess too.

And being a total mess can be wonderful.

That shared sense of messiness pops up in great stories of all shapes and sizes. I feel it every time I open a book, read submissions or what we’ve published in Arkana, or watch a movie. Dysfunction is reality. Dysfunction is life. Dysfunction is interesting. And people are horribly dysfunctional, horribly interesting.

So, as my stinger for this post, here are a few reading suggestions from the pages of Arkana, featuring the human condition’s captivating messiness:
A flash fiction story about growing up, “The Life Cycle of a Human Girl”
A short story including a magical deer, “Be Thou Ravished Always With Her Love”
And a poem on the power of creative writing, “Creative Writing in Oman”


Cassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She received her bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various print and online literary journals.

Directed by Alan Smithee #1: The Ugly

A series of musings on movies, memories, and storytelling.

by Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor

Fade in. World of darkness turned to light, blackness to color, silence to sound. Quiet rustle of feet on a sticky floor, people adjusting in their seats, and fingers tickling through popcorn dissolved into a completely new reality.

I love the movies. I love them once they’re finished, displayed as a spectacular fog of light in a theater or a pixelated glow from my TV screen. I love them when they’re mangled, cut-up pieces that have yet to be assembled. I love them when they’re nothing more than a stripped bare screenplay, ink scratched or stamped onto coffee-stained pages. The movies to me represent a collective consciousness.

I’m not a psychologist or philosopher, but I am a storyteller—I think human beings are connected by the stories they tell. And the great thing about movies is that they present the story on a massive and celebratory pedestal for anyone and everyone, from any walk of life or background, to see and understand—my conservative parents, my semi-liberal sister, my street-smart coworkers, and my book-smart classmates can all see a film like The Life of Pi and be awed.

Movies are the imagination seen, the imagination realized—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And, yeah, there can be a whole lot of ugly.

Here’s a tip: if some movie nerd tells you his or her favorite director is Alan Smithee—laugh because it’s supposed to be a joke.

Alan Smithee is the pseudonym used when a director for one reason or another (probably “artist differences”) either does not want to be credited in a film or has had his or her credit removed. For instance, in some cuts of the 1984 movie Dune, the directing credit reads “Alan Smithee” instead of the real director David Lynch.

Perhaps it’s my sneaky nature, or the fact that as a fiction writer I love a good lie made into truth, but pseudonyms have always interested me, so when I recently heard about Mr. Smithee I was instantly hooked.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Indeed, Billy-Boy, but would a rose by any other name still be a rose? There is something about “Smithee” that makes me think pirate—I admire him a little—a fictional character who has managed to force his way into reality with nothing except for a name and a willingness to claim the sloppy jobs no one else wants to take credit for. Who is this Alan Smithee? What does he look like? What does he feel?

All we know about him (or her?) is his name and where he lives—in the cobwebbed credits of the tarnished and abandoned.

He sounds like one cool dude.

I wonder how it feels to be the marker for when something has gone terribly wrong, the label that symbolizes dysfunction. I see a bit of myself in Alan Smithee, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Would we need storytellers if the world was full of harmony and everything worked out in the end? My favorite book and one of my favorite movies is The Grapes of Wrath. I doubt that amazing artwork would have been made or appreciated if something and a lot of somethings had not gone terribly wrong.

It’s the duty of the artist to expose the beauty in the ugliness, the light in the darkness, the color in the blackness, and the sound in the silence. Every single artist is an Alan Smithee—we see the value in claiming the mangled messes of the world. We see that somebody has to see the world for what it is and still take ownership of it.

And still, I like to think, love it.

The movies have shaped the way I see my world. I didn’t realize until recently how much a person’s favorite movie says about that person. During summers I’ve been working at a fast food place in my hometown. Last summer, when one of my coworkers heard I wrote screenplays she gasped and asked me if I had seen The Life of Pi. I answered yes, that the visuals in that movie are amazing, and—being maybe a bit pretentious—I added that the book is amazing too. She told me that The Life of Pi is her all-time favorite movie.

This woman’s life was so dysfunctional it sounded like a blues song. Barely any money, just diagnosed with COPD, living with what seemed like a no-good man. At first, although I loved her company and talking to her, I grew very tired of her same old stories, frustrated that she didn’t make better decisions in her life. But when I heard her favorite movie was The Life of Pi, a light bulb went off. This woman is a beautiful person, I realized. She must ponder spiritual questions, feel at times shipwrecked and unmoored, and without a doubt relish the beauty surrounding her. A whole new dimension of her character was opened up to me through simply learning her favorite movie.

American Beauty. The Apartment. Touch of Evil. Sunset Boulevard. The Maltese Falcon. The Usual Suspects. Once Upon a Time in the West. At different times I say different titles for which movie is my all-time favorite—depending on what I feel in the moment. I’m too careful and self-conscious now about giving a single one.

It’s always hard—linking a name to your character, revealing yourself to the world, taking credit for the mess you are.

Perhaps I’d have more luck asking Alan Smithee for his favorite movie.


Cassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She received her bachelor’s from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various print and online literary journals.

Issue 2 Notes from the Editors: Nonfiction

A brief note on writing and Arkana‘s nonfiction process.

by Jacqulyn West, Nonfiction Editor

I’ve finally learned to answer “yes” when people ask, “are you a writer?” Since I don’t write fiction and have a tenuous relationship with poetry, it’s seemed like a stretch to say what I’ve been writing is what others consider writing. Serving as Arkana’s nonfiction editor has changed my perspective and boosted my confidence, both about calling myself a writer and about nonfiction as a laudable and important genre.

Over the course of our first two issues, we’ve read over a hundred nonfiction submissions. We’re looking for pieces that fit our mission to publish work by people whose voices are not often represented in media, or work that challenges us to look at things with a new and different perspective. Many of the works we’ve received and read are good prose, but they don’t bring the fresh take or unusual aspect that we’re looking for. But when we get a piece that shows us a slice of someone’s experience that we’ve never seen published elsewhere, or a piece that opens up an exciting thinking space – like a hidden passageway in an old familiar library – that’s when the staff starts having conversations. “Did you read that piece? Could you believe they said that?! I’ve never heard anyone describe it that way. We should publish this!”

As a genre, nonfiction is nearly everywhere, from your shopping list and refrigerator notes at home, to personal ads and obituaries in the newspaper, to more formal and familiar essays and think pieces that describe or explain a person’s perspective or experience. Since nonfiction proliferates in our everyday lives with devices in our purses and pockets and screens everywhere, we’re dedicated to our search for the “mysteries and marginalized voices” in Arkana. We want to be the place where conversations start about ideas that folks have been carrying around without articulating, or where conversations continue about passionate concerns among our contributors and readers.

If there’s just one take-away I hope our blog readers and potential contributors get here, it’s that we trust our contributors to be the experts of their experience. We read each piece that is submitted and publish excellent prose with a clear voice that elucidates people’s real lives.


Check out the two works of nonfiction included in Arkana‘s Issue 2:
“An Opening Closed to the Public: A Black Lesbian Separatist at Play”
“Pruritus”


Jacqulyn Harper West is a poet of unfinished parts who prefers writing nonfiction. Her heart is in classic country music, especially the Bakersfield sound, and her scholarship ranges from feminist explications of her hometown’s cultural heritage tourism sites to code-meshing and hip hop as texts in first-year and creative writing pedagogy.

Issue 2 Notes from the Editors: Fiction

A story about the fiction included in Arkana Issue 2

By Cassie Hayes, Fiction Editor, and Liz Larson, Fiction Reader

A thing is incredible, if ever, only after it is told.
            —Eudora Welty, “No Place for You, My Love”

We’re going to tell you the story of the stories that the Arkana fiction editorial team chose for inclusion in our second issue. Is the story of the stories incredible? No. Not really. No golden beam of light came down to shine heavenly light upon any one of the four stories included. No angels sang. There were no trumpets or burning bushes or any other foolproof sign that said we have to publish these, that it is our moral responsibility to share these stories with the world.

But there was a haunting feeling left over after we read them. There was a feeling that we had touched common humanity and heard voices we needed to hear that we hadn’t exactly heard before. There was an awe that always accompanies the taking in of good art.

We had many exceptional fictions submitted, and we were hard pressed to make the tough choices. Believe us, every editorial team loves that kind of problem.

We noticed the uptick of diversity of submissions for this issue. Thank you submitters for listening to our mission statement, and keep that coming, please. We want to hear your voices. We want to continue to hear the voices that have been silenced, but speak to us and bring us the awe.

In the end we had to just go with the stories that worked together, forming a unified whole of themes and ideas. Because we have such sunny personalities, the four stories we ultimately chose deal with death. There’s a strange darkness to every one of them, but also a stiffened lip, “there’s no storm we can’t weather” sort of feeling too. The characters in these stories are survivors. Survivors who, like only survivors can, see and celebrate the beauty of life.

“Central Park: A Ghost Story” involves a strange attraction in blinding snow, the struggle to keep warm, to see, and to get back home. “Falling Season,” our contest winner, similarly involves attraction, strange because of societal norms, and the struggle to overcome the death of a parent. “The Winter Cabin,” our contest runner-up, like all the other stories, deals with attraction in the face of death—in this case a terminal illness—and also like the other stories shows nature as a dynamic force surrounding the characters. Finally, “Follow the Sun” portrays a woman determined to keep moving after the death of a spouse, facing ageism, poverty, and plain old bad luck.

Reading submissions and choosing which pieces to accept is a humbling experience. Yes, humbling. Far from the Judgy McJudgypants persona you might think of in regards to editors at literary journals, we are not of jaundiced eye. More often than not, we feel the awe. Then, after the awe, we cut our eyes right and left, nervously making sure no one has seen our hand, that we actually care very much about the work we read and our submitters. But alas, our tells are loud and we give lousy poker face.

We can’t hide our excitement about these stories. Every time we open up a new submission, we find new complexity—that richness of experience that unfolds when you get to meet another voice. There are always new ways of seeing things, fresh perspectives, and just damn good prose that await our not-so-jaded eyes.

There’s also a feeling of being connected to the larger literary world when you’re getting to read submissions and publish wonderful stories like the four included in this issue, and that feeling is very humbling. We have a responsibility to publish work that both fits into the current literary landscape but also pushes the boundaries of contemporary fiction and society. Stories, when they are shared, can bring human beings together like nothing else, bridging ideologies and backgrounds and fostering empathy. Like the mythic Jacqulyn West, Arkana nonfiction editor, chanteuse, and wicked raconteur wrote in her blog post “Arkana Rooted in Diversity”: We’re all in this together, and we want to represent.

The story of the stories is hardly awe-inspiring. Behind-the-scenes production, getting the art out into the world, involves all the dull bits of reality that the art itself tends to cut out. Reading through submissions, emailing each other about the work, trying to pick four stories out of a plethora of good pieces, inputting those works on WordPress, sending out contracts, etc.

Hardly incredible, even when told.

But, still meaningful. After all, our main goal as an editorial team is not to have a great story, but to share the great stories we come across with you. And that duty and privilege, at least in our humble opinion, is incredible and awe-inspiring.


Check out the four works of fiction included in Arkana’s Issue 2:
“Central Park: A Ghost Story”
“Falling Season”
“The Winter Cabin”
“Follow the Sun”


Cassie Hayes is a fiction writer and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Arlington and now attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program and interns at the Oxford American.
Liz Larson is a member of the Arkansas Writers MFA Program at the University of Central Arkansas. She is a bigly believer in risk-taking. Though fearful of falling down, she will do it with aplomb.

ARKANA UPDATE

Launch Party Photos.png

by the Arkana Staff

It’s alive! It’s alive! Our new issue is now LIVE on the main Arkana website. This issue features plenty of mysteries and marginalized voices, including our recent contest winners and one of our contest runner-ups. We have poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and even translations—and we’ll be including an audio element of pieces being read aloud.

The poems included in this issue touch on nature, writing, art, beauty, and tragedy: “When Can You Come” by Ace Boggess, “Flea Market” by Cassandra Rockwood-Rice, “Creative Writing in Oman” by Kirsten Hemmy, “Don’t Forget Aleppo” by Shahé Mankerian, and our poetry contest winner “Poem for Thalia” by Elizabeth Oness.

The translations, full of mystery, spirituality, and grappling with loneliness: “You come again, Michael” by Zahid M. Naser (translated from Malay by Pauline Fan) and “Man Dines in His Father’s Slippers” by Marko Pogacar (translated from Croatian by Andrea Jurjevic).

The fiction, about the determination to survive and welcome life’s strange attractions despite potential death and destruction: “Central Park: A Ghost Story” by Michael Zimmerman, “Follow the Sun” by Karin Gall, our contest winner “Falling Season” by Judith Kessler, and our contest runner-up “The Winter Cabin” by Matthew Caldwell.

The creative nonfiction, which argue and muse about belonging, identity, and the significance of skin: “An Opening Closed to the Public: A Black Lesbian Separatist at Play” by Shawnta Smith and our contest winner “Pruritus” by J.D. Schraffenberger.

This issue also includes an interview with the poet Oliver de la Paz about publishing, writing, and inspiration.

To celebrate the new issue, yesterday we had a launch party at the Lantern Theatre in downtown Conway (pictured above). Editors read and spoke about the work and we voted to nominate pieces for the Best of the Web and the Pushcart. The party was a great way to get together with the community behind Arkana—the team of people behind the website—and to celebrate the wonderful work we uncovered and unveiled for this new issue. We were also excited to celebrate our recent additions of translation, audio, and our blog to the magazine, as well as this past year’s success in gaining readership and launching this now-not-so-brand-new online literary journal.

Stay tuned here at the Arkana Blog for upcoming notes from the Arkana genre editors about what unifies the pieces we picked for publication, how we decided which pieces to publish, and where our work fits into the current literary landscape. Meanwhile, check out the work for yourself here.

In Defense: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to this Form

Converting a TV Script to an MFA Play—a tale about defending a Master’s Thesis.

by Jacqulyn West, Nonfiction Editor

In order to graduate with a Master of Fine Arts degree, you have to write, complete, and defend a thesis. Your committee guides you through the process of writing, and finally spends about an hour interrogating your work, at which point you answer their questions in order to defend the choices you made, and ultimately, the quality of your work.

Since the Arkansas Writers Workshop allows candidates flexibility in choosing a genre, these can look widely different from one another. These reports are based on my observations at the defenses of our upcoming graduates.

First up is Shua Miller, Arkana Scriptwriting Editor, who is the first in our program to write and defend a script for his thesis.

We gathered in a conference room on the third floor of Thompson Hall, the building where most of our Writing courses are conducted. The wide room is filled with long tables arranged in a U shape surrounded with big office-style armchairs.

Shua sat at the end of the left side of the U – the hour’s hot seat. His committee lined the outside to his right, and the audience took the other side of the room, filling the remaining seats on the opposite side. Many of us had completed our teaching and classes for the day, and came for the comedy we were sure would ensue. We were not disappointed.

Originally, Shua intended to write a TV series with an ensemble cast about some misadventures in a small Arkansas town in order to complete his MFA and create a script that could be filmed with the help of some talented folks across central Arkansas. That did not work out, but the descriptions of what he had planned had me laughing out loud only a few minutes into his defense. I won’t give any spoilers, just in case that opportunity manifests in future.

Shua’s thesis advisor insisted that the work he completed for the MFA would need a defined end point, but Shua didn’t want to end his TV show after only one season. Back to the drawing board, where he decided to table the TV idea and instead write a play to complete his degree.

Meanwhile, the November 2016 elections obstructed that plan. Shua says he heard from and about many outraged artists who couldn’t make art following the presidential election, and after some days of sorrow, rage, and reflection, decided to use his response to fuel yet another new trajectory for his work.

Shua thought a master’s thesis should be a little confusing and theatrical, but still had that quiet voice inside reminding him that simple is good, and encouraging him to use the skills he developed as a graduate student in writing, but the first draft of his play came out too pretentious. He actually created more work for himself by trying to make the work complicated instead of following his instinct to simplify, an instinct that had been honed by his coursework.

But how can classes about poetry and fiction inform and improve play writing?

Shua says they all tie into each other. From poetry, he learned an economical focus on images, and used that economy in constructing concise informative dialogue among his characters. Prose taught him how to describe efficiently by using fewer but better words. Both forms helped him understand pacing, diction, and word choice. Now he writes to find the musicality and rhythm of how his words can best fit together.

The play, tentatively titled “Stamp of Hope,” depicts an angel and a demon working in the bureaucratic behind-the-scenes offices of hell. This appeals to me in a serious and personal way because I was an administrative specialist for a university English department before coming to UCA to join this program. I already like this play.

“The things we imagine when we think of hell—fire and brimstone, tortures and flames— those things are like an amusement park. But someone has to do the paperwork in the office to make sure those things run. That’s what this play is about.”

I’m laughing through tears and squirming in my seat.

“This vision of hell is more like science fiction than traditional or Biblical depictions.”

I’m nodding so vigorously that my chair is squeaking.

“Most of all, I don’t want my audience to feel like I’m telling them what to think through the characters or the action.”

I’m wishing I had the means to produce this play, because I know there are people like me who would empathize, sympathize, and laugh – like me – through relatable tears. People who, like Shua’s unusual creatures – including the human office manager – are doing with their time, how they interact with each other, and their own internal struggles, and still manage to find hope in the most desolate of places and situations.

While some defenses can be intense grilling sessions, this one felt more like a conversation, dashed with smart office humor and enough humility to make it accessible to just about anyone on a scale from demon to angel.


Jacqulyn Harper West is a poet of unfinished parts who prefers writing nonfiction. Her heart is in classic country music, especially the Bakersfield sound, and her scholarship ranges from feminist explications of her hometown’s cultural heritage tourism sites to code-meshing and hip hop as texts in first-year and creative writing pedagogy.