Be More Imprecise

Stunning Sentences

In nearly every creative writing workshop I’ve taught, someone asks for more—more details, more specificity, more singularity. Rarely does anyone recommend vagueness or imprecision.

In story, you need both. Specificity brings your characters to life, moving them from cliché to a complex, idiosyncratic individual. Specific details also flesh out the narrative dream, helping the reader experience your fictive world.

But lack of specificity, giving only a partial glimpse, can create suspense and an opening for the reader to engage more fully in the story. By being imprecise, you spark a reader’s imagination, and the result is a richer, more engaging experience. James Baldwin uses lack of specificity to great effect in his stunning short story “Sonny’s Blues.” Continue reading

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Did You Hear? Up Above My Head

If you’ve never of Sister Rosetta, you’re certainly not alone, but you’ve been missing out on some some incredible early gospel/r&b/rock&roll, as well as a crucial puzzle piece in the history of American Music.

Here’s another great song from Sister Rosetta: “This Train”

Brook Reeder

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The Boomstick Film Club: Safety Last!

Watch it with us: Filmstruck or iTunes

In addition to my usual indie discoveries, I’m going to start tackling some classics here. Not that they need me to bring attention to them, but when a film endures this long, it’s usually because there’s a lot to talk about. I tried to go see a Harold Lloyd movie at the Film Forum a few years ago but was stymied because, I shit you not, the theater caught on fire about twenty minutes in and had to be evacuated. So Safety Last! was my maiden voyage with Mr. Lloyd, and what a treat it turned out to be. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, this is a perfect place to start. Continue reading

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Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

Ottessa Moshfegh lifts the rock of our inner lives to see what sort of critters writhe beneath in darkness. While she thoroughly explored the inner lives of troubled protagonists in her novels McGlue and Eileen, Moshfegh’s tight-yet-roomy plotting lends itself well to short fiction. Because of this, there is perhaps no better display of her unique talents than Homesick for Another World, which features new pieces alongside stories that previously appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. In each story, a cockeyed protagonist is confronted by exactly the kind of pain they need to grow. That may sound rote, but Moshfegh dazzles with her abilities to sidestep sentimentality in favor of plot development, to humanely portray the broken, and to slowly unfold a surprise. Continue reading

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Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is the founder of MuslimGirl.com, an online magazine and community for Muslim women. Her memoir, Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, was published by Simon & Schuster in October 2016 and was listed as a New York Times Editor’s Pick. Al-Khatahtbeh’s work has appeared in New York Magazine, Time, and Teen Vogue, among others. You can follow her on Twitter at @xoamani. Al-Khatahtbeh is based in New York.

E.B. Bartels: First off, how did you start writing nonfiction?

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh: I started writing nonfiction as a means of survival. For me, writing was the only space I could squeeze myself into. Chronicling my experiences became a way to make sense of them. It also felt like the only way I could get my voice out there. When I held the pen, I was the one with the mic. It not only empowered me with a platform, it also connected me with my friends and other likeminded people.

EB: You created the website MuslimGirl.comCould you speak a little about the history of the site and how you have used nonfiction to form a community online? Continue reading

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What to Read in February

A Separation by Katie Kitamura: “A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. For the moment it’s a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go look for him, still keeping their split to herself.”

Amiable with Big Teeth by Claude McKay: “Building on the already extraordinary legacy of McKay’s life and work, this colorful, dramatic novel centers on the efforts by Harlem intelligentsia to organize support for the liberation of fascist-controlled Ethiopia, a crucial but largely forgotten event in American history.”

Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson: “When the Twin Towers suddenly reappear in the Badlands of South Dakota twenty years after their fall, nobody can explain their return. A chronicle of a weird road trip, a provocative work of alternative history, and a dazzling discography of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Shadowbahn is a richly allusive meditation on the meaning of American identity and of America itself.”

Also this month: We’ll interview Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, author of Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, and review Ottessa Moshfegh’s new story collection, Homesick for Another World.

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