ARKANA UPDATE

by the Arkana Staff

Hello friends of Arkana! We are now reading for our fourth issue, and we’re on the lookout for some new work that questions, explores mystery, and discovers and uncovers the overlooked, misunderstood, and the silent. Keep your fiction and creative nonfiction under 4,000 words total, your poetry up to three poems, and your illustrated narratives or scripts short enough to fit in on our website.

We’re specifically looking for historically underrepresented writers, especially writers of color, writers in the LBGTQ community, and writers with disabilities. Arkana‘s mission is to give a platform for marginalized voices, so if you are in one of these groups, we need to see your work! Another of our goals as a journal is to represent works whose genre or form has been historically underrepresented in literary magazines. In our second issue we included two translations, and in our third issue we included an illustrated narrative. We’d love for more translations or illustrated narratives, but we’re especially hunting a stellar short script, for the stage or screen, that we could include in our fourth issue. So if you’re working on a script or have a killer script idea, please send write up and polish your script and send it our way.

We accept work from writers of all shapes and sizes, writers with fancy MFA degrees and writers still in high school, writers from our home-base of central Arkansas to writers from around the world. Plus, we include an audio feature with our issues—so, if you’re accepted to the journal, you’ll literally get to have your voice heard.

Stay tuned with the Arkana blog to find out more about what’s happening with the journal and our staff. And if you’re interested in submitting, check out our Submit page on our website, and read some of the notes from the editors under the Arkana News heading on our blog to get a feel for what our editorial teams are thinking when they read submissions and put together an issue of the journal.

Please submit—we want to hear your voice!

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The Way of the Writer

A review of The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson.

by Cassie Hayes, Managing Editor

Reading Charles Johnson’s book The Way of the Writer is a lot like listening to your dad. One-third of it is fragmented, rambling anecdotes about people you have only heard of vaguely. One-third is a lecture about how society is going to pot. Then there’s a third of hard-earned and sensitive wisdom that keeps you pondering for days. And the wisdom is why it’s worth it to keep listening.

The book came about when the poet E. Ethelbert Miller asked Johnson via email a long series of questions about Johnson’s life, career, philosophy, and craft. Johnson later took what he’d written to Miller and edited and combined the emails to become The Way of the Writer, something akin to Stephen King’s On Writing, but more literary, more academic, and more philosophical, probably because of the different personality behind the writing. Because of the fractured origins of the work, the book feels very pieced together, going through wide-ranging subjects and—sometimes annoyingly—repeating and cycling back to information and ideas over and over again. It’s not completely a craft book. It’s not completely a memoir. It’s not completely a philosophical exploration. It’s not completely anything—except an opportunity to be a fly on the wall as E. Ethelbert Miller’s brain-picking questions lead to a very talented and brilliant philosopher, educator, artist, and writer opening up about what he’s learned over his long and productive career.

Throughout the book, Johnson preaches discipline, patience, dedication, curiosity, and getting pure enjoyment out of your work. His advice ranges from the broad, such as that a writer may have to “work a lifetime before he (or she) stumbles upon that one story that becomes an archetype for our thoughts, feelings, and experiences,” to advice more specific, such as how to better develop dialogue and characterization and the importance of plot in fictional works. These more craft-specific chapters are what I find most compelling. The chapters that feel more like memoir come across as preachy, and the philosophy chapters—such as the entire sixth and final section of the book—come across as pompous and educated-out-the-wazoo.

But in those craft-based chapters, Johnson’s sensitivity and his true passion for literature and young writers shines through. “Despite its importance,” Johnson writes, “art should always be a form of play.” He rants about “the natural, inevitable, and annoying human tendency to oversimplify people and things (or any phenomenon) to make them manageable,” which makes me want to give him a standing ovation. He includes writing exercises and tips he used in his classes while he was teaching at the University of Washington, gives several examples of books that have helped him and his students over the years, and even offers a chart of a hundred of the best opening sentences of some classic books.

Although you could certainly take the fact that he includes the opening sentence of Middle Passage, his own book, on this list of best opening lines as proof that he’s not exactly the most humble or unbiased of guys, I like how personal the book is. This book is not meant to be a “how to be a writer” book. It is the way of the writer—what works and what doesn’t for this particular writer, Charles Johnson.

Out-of-touch and elitist at its worst, refreshingly old-school at its best, Charles Johnson’s The Way of the Writer is a fascinating read in which you feel like you’re swept away in the writer’s own thought process and struggle to make meaning of his life, world, and craft. It ends on a sour note, with the final section focused more on philosophy than writing and that detracts from the power of his earlier craft-based discussions. (A good rule of thumb for you writers out there: if you start rambling about Sartre, you’ve probably gone on too long, and you had better have a dang good reason for it.) But, despite the ending, there’s a lot to learn from someone who’s had such a long, disciplined, and passionate career. I would highly recommend The Way of the Writer for anyone interested in fiction or teaching, and it’s an interesting and helpful read for anyone interested in nonfiction. There’s not much about poetry, but the ideas behind the book are useful for anyone interested in pursuing the writing life. (If you’re willing to tune out the constant name-dropping of John Gardener, which verges on the obsessive.)

In his chapter on writing book reviews, Johnson writes that he tries to include as many quotes from the book being reviewed as possible, so that readers of the review will be able to get a taste of the author’s writing for themselves. So, I will end this blog post book review with words directly from the introduction of The Way of the Writer:

“It is all one piece, this writing life, and each activity—professional and personal—enriches the others. Everything flows from the same source—the love of art. All art.

For the kind of writer I’ve just described, what might have been selfish or ego-driven at the onset of his or her career gives way—as is always the case with love—to the simple desire to humbly serve and possibly enrich, if we are lucky, literary culture of our time.

My hope is that, if nothing else, readers young and old, beginners and veterans, will experience on these pages devoted to the craft, the discipline, the calling of writing, that predisposition to love the goodness, truth, and beauty found in fine writing (and all well-wrought art). And to see that serving such a mistress for a lifetime is, in the truest sense of the word, a privilege and a blessing.”


Cassie Hayes is a scribomaniac, film aficionado, and sometime taco-maker from Waxahachie, Texas. She got her undergraduate degree in English from the University of Texas at Arlington, and she currently attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program at the University of Central Arkansas. Her work appears in From Sac, Five:2:One, Work Literary Magazine, and elsewhere.

ARKANA UPDATE

by the Arkana Staff

TODAY our brand new issue went live on our main website: arkanamag.org! This issue contains twelve new works of literature, including four short stories, four poems, an illustrated narrative, a work of creative nonfiction, and two author interviews.

The short stories range from the exploring the magic of nature in “In the Forests of the Night,” to coming-of-age tales as kids encounter life’s complexities in “Shelter,” to the supernatural mysteriousness of “Empty as Churches,” to the humorous anecdotes of “The Obituary” and “The Poets Registry Office” in “Two Conversations.”

The poems—“Grandma’s living room of false gods,” “Sunflower,” “My Beautiful Radium,” and “Mad Woman” deal with madness and hate, family and place, and all touch on our mission statement’s promise to “seek and foster a sense of shared wonder.”

The illustrated narrative, “Being Rita,” is a beautiful work pairing visuals and the written word, both mediums coming together to portray the confliction of having difficult or unpleasant family members.

The creative nonfiction, “To the First Time Flier,” presents a narrator musing on America and privilege when talking with an immigrant on a flight to America.

And, finally, members of our staff were lucky enough to get to interview two authors for this issue—Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and the forthcoming An American Marriage, and Alexander Weinstein, author of the speculative fiction short story collection Children of the New World.

Also, we’re super excited to feature four original works of art with some pieces in this issue. Make sure to check out Sarah Simon’s work with “Grandma’s living room of false gods,” Thomas Gillaspy’s work with “Empty as Churches,” Deborah Torley Stephan’s work with “In the Forests of the Night,” and Rollin Jewett’s work with “Two Conversations.”

We hope you enjoy all the new work we uncovered through reading through submissions and through some wonderful writers and authors taking the time to send work our way. Anyone who wants to come is invited to our Issue 3 launch party, and stay tuned to our blog for some notes from the Issue 3 genre editors about the work included in the issue.

Head on over to arkanamag.org to start reading Issue 3 or our archived issues now!

Issue Three Launch Party

An invitation to the launch party of Arkana’s third issue.

by the Arkana Staff

YOU’RE INVITED to the launch party for Arkana’s third issue! The party will be held on December 5 at 5pm at the Lantern Theatre in Conway, Arkansas. We’ll be celebrating all the hard work of our staff as well as the work of our twelve new contributors that will be included in our upcoming issue.

We’d love to see you there!

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More Poetry from the Poet-Tree

Poet Tree

An exquisite corpse from the writers at the C. D. Wright Women Writer’s Conference 2017.

by the Arkana Staff

On November 3 and 4, Arkana was excited to have a table at the inaugural C. D. Wright Women Writer’s Conference book fair. We asked visitors to our table to write a few lines of poetry on “leaves” of green paper, which we then put on the bare branches of our “Poet-Tree”. Later, these lines of poetry were compiled by members of our staff to form an exquisite corpse poem.

Enjoy the following poem by the writers at the C. D. Wright Women Writer’s Conference!


I am nothing but a rope of smoke
Tied around the stars

Why be loved like the sun, only craved when I’m gone
Unbridled intensity–cut it off before I burn

There was wrong, and there was left

Will you? Will you listen. And if I were beautiful, would you recognize my scent? Would you memorize

She took a dress and went that way

She was the kindest form of chaos

We want for no one we hold on to everyone. To remember is our lot in life–the everyday woman

He heals all but the hidden wounds

And what is it meant to be, only beautiful in writing and austerity?

I write because I think I think because I can

I write before I die I love before I hate

Be a leader, in a world ever changing, hold up the victories, hold up the heartbeats, hold up each other

Nothing ever really dies, you know?

Crash upon the earth with the brown leaves of time

Too humid for fall

The leaves are falling, carried on great gusts of wind- like red crispy snow

The sweet stickiness of a November thunderstorm

Wipers swish over wet windows

The fog rolled over her misting

Beware the stinging ladybugs of Arkansas

The imitation of her magic, the arduous donation of the scarf, the veil, the necklace around her throat

Mimosa, Chocolate, or Kerosene?

I walked down the old lane and questioned choices made before my knees started aching. Then I thought of dragons & fairies and pirates with long hair gleaming in the sun. And I forgot, and choices were good again.

Do you hear my hum of bees
wax of words
the honeyed seas salt of my last waking thought

I could only speak for myself

The Green Ocean that you can never hold your head above. While sitting in that ocean you are always waiting for that moment that you sink. You gasp for air while your head bobs in and out. Then you’re gone.

Where water is still it will deepen.

I must learn to live my own, carve the lesson in my bones. When I stand before my own gods, I must stand there all alone.


*Photo credit: Drew S. Cook

Diversity In Publishing: Will It Ever Be Rectified?

A personal discussion of the need for diversity in publishing.

by Victoria Mays, Scriptwriting Editor

I am black. I am a female. As a writer, those very distinct qualities that are genetic and unalterable are the very things I fear being discriminated against in publishing. Though one may believe the fight for gender equality in the field has been conquered, the question still remains: Did we fail to include minority women? In my case, black women. So, that still leaves me at two strikes. When I was asked to do a presentation over diversity for class, I wasn’t surprised by the numbers for the lack thereof in the industry. It wasn’t news to me that the fight still isn’t over and that it may never be over.

As a black woman, I feel the need to create literature that will be empowering and uplifting to people that can identify with me personally or know someone that can. Throughout my high school and early college career, I studied some of the so called greats in the literary canon: Virginia Wolff, Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Mitchell and Oscar Wilde. Though I admire and respect the energy and passion they put into every work that has gained them the fame they have today and wouldn’t dare rob them of it, I have always wondered why there weren’t any black writers amongst the literature we read. Writers like Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Walter Mosley and Richard Wright that captured the essence of the black soul and shared the struggles that my ancestors had to endure and overcome in their time.

Being a writer of the times, I feel the call to represent the beautiful and ugly things that black people have encountered in their human experience. In his essay, “Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing,” Jame Older stated, “Publishing is always negotiations between what you want to say, what you can say, and what society will allow you to say.” Not only do I have to worry about publishing quality work, but also facing the fear of presenting quality work that isn’t accepted because of the message that it conveys. Will it be another story thrown into the pile of work that doesn’t contain the idea of a universal character that “generally indicates a false neutral that more or less resembles whiteness?” (Older)

The VIDA Count, a system that “started when the cofounder Cate Marvin sent out an email addressing the lack of feminist conversation in contemporary literature,”  has expanded to include data that addresses race and ethnicity, gender, sexual identity and ability (Prufer). The data covers information for a variety of publications. While we still have work to do as far as increasing diversity in the publishing realm, VIDA shows us where change and progress is needed. If everyone in the industry were to get on the page and use the data that is free and readily available to the public, we could take steps in the right direction.


Victoria Mays is pursuing a MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Arkansas.  She is a freelance editor and writer.  When she’s not crafting stories, she is inspiring people through her blog, Soul-Liberation.

Keeping our heads above water: can the lit mag survive?

The struggle for lit magazines to survive in the 21st century.

by Gabrielle Lawrence, Poetry Reader

“The problem is not whether print will survive, but how literary publishing adapts to a world where to publish something has lost value,” Jane Friedman writes in an article titled “The Future Value of the Literary Publisher” from Literary Publishing in the 21st Century. It’s no secret that the shift from print to digital sent the publishing industry into a crisis, and with literary journals already existing in a vacuum or a “null economy” as scholar and founder of Versal Megan Garrcalls it, there’s no clear view of the future of publishing. In a time where literary magazines are seemingly becoming irrelevant and dying out, why should we still publish? Editors, readers, and writers are losing faith in the power of literary journals, but we recognize it’s value in contributing to the richness of our literary community.

Megan Garr interprets the literary journal economy as an industry dependent upon both capitalism and the gift economy. Capitalism is of course referring to the exchange of gifts and services such as press and postage. The gift economy refers to the exchange of time, content, and recognition on behalf of the authors and the editors with hopes of greater future returns such as exposure.

However due to the imbalance of the industry, our most common circular business model is failing. That is, hoping that sales from magazines and profits from community-run programs will pay for the expenses of the magazine. For journals without external funding from universities, endowments, etc, we’ve seen this model deteriorate over and over again. There just seems to be no money in the literary magazine world anymore; in the publishing world anymore. Now that publishing is effortless thanks to the digital world, it seems as if there’s no esteem in the practice let alone profit to be made. With externally funded magazines competing in the same space as volunteer and donation based magazines, and the failure of the recommended retail price not offsetting the costs of production and distribution, the industry seems “doomed to need something outside of itself to survive” Garr says.

So why do we do we continue to pour our own time, money, and resources into something that continues to unravel? For the good of the literary society? For recognition and reputation? For the sliver of a promise for greater future gain? Both Garr and Friedman suggest we start there, with the questions that mean the most. Discover the why, and build it into a brand. Focus on branding our publications and drawing out a devoted readership. Focusing inward, on our business models and really crunching the numbers. Or banding together and consolidating in an effort to stretch resources and pool our shares of the market. The point is most literary journals are barely staying afloat, as is the publishing industry. Arkana takes its mission seriously, we’re passionate about telling and sharing stories, and we recognize something needs to change. We can start by breaking away from old habits and having more open and honest conversations about our purpose, our finances, our business models, and how to adapt for the rapidly evolving future of publishing.


Gabrielle Lawrence is a poet and writer.  She is pursuing her MFA in poetry at the University of Central Arkansas. Her writing can be found in Gravel Magazine, Words Apart Magazine, The Chaos: Journal of Personal Narrative and West Wind Literary Journal.

ARKANA UPDATE

by the Arkana Staff

We’ve received so many awesome submissions during our issue three reading period that we’re having some tough discussions about what to include in the upcoming issue of the journal. Thanks so much, anyone who sent work our way!

In November, we’ll be transitioning from reading/discussion mode to production mode—putting together the issue. This means the glamorous work of copyediting, proofreading, matching artwork with written work, reading and re-reading the issue, and getting it put up on our website. For a bunch of lit nerds like us, despite the hard work of production mode, we’re ready for the fun of formatting the issue and making public the work we (and YOU, writers, artists, and readers) have uncovered.

Recently, some changes have appeared on our website. We’ve added an Archive page to help you get to the work that you want to read. So feel free to comb through our back issues before the new issue drops in early December.

Also, on our About page, take a look at our masthead, updated with the new issue’s staff, comprised of grad students here at the Arkansas Writers MFA Program. Want to hear from these folks? Follow our blog to hear the voices of the people dedicated to the misunderstood, overlooked, and silent.

The blog itself has been revamped to make navigating to old posts easier. So check out the menu at the top of the page to find some thought-provoking writing about everything from the publishing world and grad school life to pop culture and movies.

We’re hard at work on the new issue! Meanwhile, keep up-to-date with the workings of Arkana by following us on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and our brand-spanking-new Instagram). Or just head back over to our website and get lost in writing of mysteries and marginalized voices.

As always, thanks for reading, and happy writing!

An Excerpt from Mental Illness and the Poetics of Failure

Brief musings on costumes, artists, and mental illness.

by Drew S. Cook, Poetry Reader

A surprising number of photographs of people dressing like Sylvia Plath for Halloween can be found via a Google image search. One might ask: what does a Sylvia Plath costume look like? I imagine her 1953 interview of Elizabeth Bowen for Mademoiselle. In the months leading up to the interview, she shopped voraciously, feeling a tremendous pressure to not only give a good interview, but to meet the standards of appearance that were aggressively asserted both by Mademoiselle and society at large. Despite the pressure, Plath delivered in terms of both substance and form, nailing her first interview for the magazine, to which she wore a highly fashionable dress, fitted jacket, pearls, and gloves.

If we accept The Bell Jar as autobiography, then the entire Mademoiselle-New York adventure is prelude to a significant mental health crisis. Yet, this is Sylvia Plath. Driven by self-loathing and genius to persist, to outshine, to overcome, Plath’s smile seems genuine in the photos that remain of that momentous occasion—after months of certainty that she will fail, she discovers that she is knocking it out of the park. This is the smile of a mentally ill person who has, yet again, kept herself alive in the land of the sane. Three years before her fateful encounter with Olympic-tier gaslighter Ted Hughes, Plath is a young woman who, on her own in the big city, survives. She despairs, she is outside, she is neurodivergent, but she belongs wholly to herself.

The iconic moment with Bowen is not the costume, though, that Halloween celebrants choose. To them, Sylvia Path is a woman—any woman—with a cardboard, mocked-up oven over her head. Plath is only her suicide, only her sickness. She is not even a poet anymore. Instead, she is just a joke about a chronic, sometimes fatal condition known as bipolar disorder.

Plath’s story offers a cautionary tale to mentally ill artists. No matter one’s achievements, no matter the effort, to write as a mentally ill person is to expose oneself to ridicule from bad actors, and uninvited psychoanalysis from the well-meaning. It is, in the terminology of feminist rhetorical theory, to subject oneself to “containment.” One can no longer write about a thing; rather, one is perceived as writing from a place.


Drew SCook is many things: an expert in obsolete operating systems, a student of literature and poetry, a psychiatrically disabled person. He is other things, too, and grew up in the Ouachita Mountains, whose sights and sounds continue to inform his writing. Drew is currently a Co-Executive Editor at Trio House Press. His poems have appeared in Nimrod Journal, Pleiades, and elsewhere.