Transforming the Ordinary: Reflecting on “More Stories About Restaurants” by Sona Tazin

I enjoy reading fantasy. I like to be transported into other worlds, and I like stories with adventure and magic. I like experiencing other people’s lives in fiction, living through the characters a life I can never experience myself. It is a rare occasion when I pick up a novel that lacks some kind of fantastical element. However, I think I sometimes forget that the ordinary can be just as impactful and extraordinary as fantasy.

“More Stories About Restaurants,” found in Artful Dodge 14/15, is a collection of vignettes describing the life of someone who works in a restaurant, and it reminded me that there is magic in “ordinary” fiction. It is simple, raw, and honest, and it almost made me cry. I felt so desperately for the narrator, her struggles with her life’s direction, her desire to be included, the small community she formed at the restaurant. This is a story that celebrates the hardships of ordinary life and presents those hardships in a way that is honest and heavy with emotion. It is truly authentic. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Artful Dodge 14/15 and giving this story a chance. It is not long, but it conveys so much in just a few pages. As someone who reads almost exclusively fantasy, trust me when I tell you that this unique story has its own kind of magic.

 

—Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor

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Believe it or Not

Superstition is as much a part of life as eating cereal for breakfast, whether we want to admit it or not. Instead of throwing people in ponds to see if they’re witches or crossing ourselves as we pass by graveyards at night, we confront our superstitions more subtly. Most everyone I know has had a “lucky” object at some point in their life, and many people still “knock on wood” to cancel out words of bad luck. I suppose I’ve always been a little more superstitious than my peers, the first to throw spilled salt over my shoulder and the last to look in a mirror in the dark. I know that saying “rabbits rabbits rabbits” as soon as I wake up on the first of the month is supposed to bring me money, accidentally killing a bird is a bad omen, and saying the name of the Scottish play while in production will bring woe to the theatre. Well, I suppose I don’t really know if adhering to superstition will do anything at all. That seems to be the grey area for all of us; we don’t want to risk the seven years of bad luck from breaking a mirror, and if a four-leaf-clover can really help us, then there’s no harm in carrying one around.

A story in Artful Dodge 42/43, “Los Gatos Bus,” explores another kind of superstition: the sight, or a sixth sense. In this story by Kathryne Kulpa, a husband and wife sitting at a bus stop have an interesting conversation with a batty old woman who seems to have intuitions about them. When the wife goes to make a phone call, the old woman confides in the husband that his wife has “the black” on her and does not have long to live. This leads the husband and the reader to wonder if the woman is making things up or if her words have some sense. Can there be sense in superstition? Overall, the story provides a subtle but engaging commentary on the superstitions and beliefs we all hold, whether we’d like to admit them or not, and how we face them silently, always questioning the possibility that anything is possible.

—Holly Engel, Assistant Editor

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Sisters and Worms: Reflecting on “Tent Worms” by Kathyrn Youther

I have never liked bugs. I am frightened by their segmented bodies, their legs, and their beady eyes, the way they have survived for millions of years and how they will probably still call Earth home long after humans have disappeared. Insects and creepy-crawly creatures, however, have always fascinated my twin. When we were little, we would spend countless hours running through the woods behind my house, and Colleen was always stopping to pick up the worms writhing in the dirt at our feet or pointing out the water striders racing across the surface of the creek. Once, we ran into a group of silk worms. I was horrified. I can still remember how unnatural the threads of their silk felt against my fingers, the contortions of their rubbery bodies twisting through the air, swinging from the tree branches like grotesque trapeze artists. However, they enraptured Colleen. This type of relationship between siblings, worms, and bugs is a prominent plot line in a short prose piece found in Artful Dodge 32/33.

            “Tent Worms” by Kathyrn Youther is, on the surface, the story of a family and their tent worm problem, but it focuses more specifically on the relationship between two characters: the narrator, Lizzy, and her sister Ruth. What I found most intriguing and haunting about this story was the connection between the tent worms and Ruth. Her character’s continual association with the wriggling worms was both disturbing and intriguing to me, reminding me of my own twin. A recurring plot point in the story is that Ruth loves to dance, just like the “twisting” tent worms. This reminded me of the wriggling silk worms my twin and I found. I can clearly remember Colleen pointing to them and exclaiming, “Aren’t they so cool!?” while I shivered in open disgust. In “Tent Worms,” Lizzy is haunted by the images of the “twisting” worms and their connection to her sister, just as I was horrified of the silk worms weaving their webs. I think it is fascinating that I find such ordinary creatures so disturbing while writers like Kathyrn Youther can wind them into a narrative as haunting and compelling as “Tent Worms.”

 

—Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor

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Dodge Contributor Katherine Zlabek Wins Prestigious Writing Prize

The Dodge would like to congratulate Katherine Zlabek, who contributed the story “Hunting the Rut” to Dodge 52/53 a few years ago, for winning the 2018 Non/Fiction Collection Prize in January of this year. This annual award presented by an Ohio State University Press publication, the Journal, is not only a cash prize, but the publication of the writer’s collection of short stories and/or essays. Katherine’s story collection, When, is due for publication in fall 2019.

If you are interested in learning more about Katherine and her work, check out her website.  There, you’ll be able to see news and a list of some of her other publications.

 

—Holly Engel, Assistant Editor

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When the Ninth Life Ends

“There’s a river we never leave…” begins a poem in Artful Dodge 42/43, “River” by Bruce Bond, “which is why, as I checked my watch that morning / before we drove to put our cat to sleep, / I felt a heavy current at the backs / of my knees…” Anyone who has ever owned pets will be much too familiar with the cycle of life. Our house has always been full of cats. The cats that I chased when I was little are gone now, but many more have found their way into our home. I remember when the first cat, Nostalgia, died at the ripe old age of 21, how my parents and I bought a small pet gravestone online and how my mom hugged me as we buried her. This is the first time I remember having to understand death, and involving cats, there were many more times to come.

I’m very familiar with the feeling of deception that accompanies putting an animal down, one that Bond addresses in his poem. The speaker knows the cat trusted him as she was carried to the vet, “oblivious” of her shortened future. Then, in the next few stanzas, he describes the moment of her death as an “overdose of life.” A few months ago, in the cold of March, a cat had kittens under our porch. We thought the kittens would be killed by the below-freezing temperatures, but one day, the mother cat brought them to us, very much alive and healthy. That was an “overdose of life” to me. Perhaps kittens being born and an old cat being put down are not so different after all. Each is a transition, not diminishing, but proving the beauty of life.

 

—Holly Engel, Assistant Editor

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Humanizing the Legends: Forged Letters

In the first several issues of Artful Dodge, there was a section titled “Forged Letters,” where famous literary figures of the past wrote to the editors and readers of our magazine. The letters contained everything from advice to criticism, briefly remarking on the legacy and works of each author. The Artful Dodge “received” these letters from Vissarion Belinsky, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Edgar Allen Poe.

My favorites in the series are the letters from Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe. Dickens is perhaps the most critical in his writing, immediately chastising the editors of the Artful Dodge for our name and providing quite a long explanation of the standards to which literature should be held. I found the letter to be immensely entertaining, though not quite as enjoyable as Poe’s.

Edgar Allen Poe proclaims to the editors of the Artful Dodge that he is thrilled to see how far the world of literary publishing has come since his time. The letter is as dramatic as any of Poe’s stories—he comments about the worms in his grave and the mystery surrounding his own death. He proceeds to tell the story of the “agony” he endured both as he was dying and afterward, when his literary executor “endeavored to smear [his] name in every way possible.”

The Forged Letter series was not only entertaining, but also humanizing, the editors of the magazine and the respected literary figures of the past becoming more “real” throughout. Letters that openly criticized the Artful Dodge demonstrated that the editors were aware of their potential shortcomings, choosing to embrace rather than deny them. However, I think the greatest asset of the Forged Letters series is how it dealt with the voices of the famous authors writing to the magazine, removing the esteemed figures from the realms of their respective works. I believe we forget, sometimes, that Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens were people and artists before they were famous. As they both point out in their letters, they did not have easy lives.

You can read all of the letters in the “Forged Letters” series on our website, here.

 

—Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor

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Shifting Seasons: Announcing Our New Reading Period and the Unveiling of Issue 54/55!

The upcoming cool months of autumn are a time of change and celebration. The leaves are turning from green to gold, Jack Frost comes to visit, and pumpkins ripen on their vines. Let the autumn season’s shifting colors inspire you! Yes, after months of anticipation Artful Dodge is eager to “leaf through” your work. 
 
October 1st –December 1st we will be accepting poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, art, and translation on Submittable. While we are thrilled with everything you send us, please be patient and give us six months before you inquire about the status of your submission. We have a small staff of editors and want to give every piece our careful attention.  We are in fact still working through our current backlog of submissions, and hope to get decisions back to those writers soon. 
 
So, before the snow begins to fall, we hope you’ll send us your stories, your poems, your essays! 
 
But that’s not all.  The unveiling of our new issue, Artful Dodge 54/55, will take place November 30th at Lakeland Literary Festival, at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio! Our new issue, among other voices, includes interviews with and new poems by Khaled Mattawa and Marge Piercy. 
—The Artful Dodge Editors
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