Snob me once, shame on me… oh, who am I kidding, writers have no shame.
But I do.
Shame on me!
This has been many years in the making. I have not written much in give or take 3 years. I did not leave writing; I just found that after a rather tough patch in my life, I didn’t really feel like saying much. Or maybe I didn’t have anything important to say. I tried occasionally, but most of what I wrote fizzled. So, I tried another approach since just working at my writer’s block didn’t prove fruitful. I would let it sit, and sit and sit. Once in awhile I’d try again. After two years I thought I was never going to write again.
But I’m jumping the gun, before any of that happened, about 3 months into my writer’s block, I had tried getting on the saddle again. I always had a ‘cure’ for even most stubborn of blocks. Everything I tried brought up this inner voice, which would go something like: “I should take a writing course, this usually helps, especially the ones where you have writing prompts.” But I would respond to this voice: “writing prompts are for amateurs, real writers don’t need prompts, real writers write from…. from wherever it is they write from.” Eventually I ignored the voice and I started using prompts as usual. I just Googled prompts and came upon the Writer’s Digest prompts. And I loved them.
The prompts got me going, and I went and went and then it was just too much, and I staggered and slowed to a crawl, behind the Duracell bunny. They no longer worked, the writing lacked sparkle, it lacked that je ne sais quoi that all writers have when they read back their own words. The one readers also get when they pick up a book and read a couple of sentences and then buy the book. That was simply not there.
It was hard, because I thought the block was over, but it wasn’t. Certainly not in the way I had expected. It turns out when you actually have a writer’s block it isn’t that easy to climb out of the gaping blank page.
So, what happened?
Well, one day at a time, the block started to go away on its own.
Writing just is (and some days it is not), but the muses are still there, waiting and whispering, and I hear them calling.
Sofia Borgstein is half Dutch and half Mexican, although she was born in Malawi. She has been writing since she was 13 years old. She has been published in magazines in Mexico and the Netherlands. She currently lives in the Netherlands with her husband and two children, where she is working on several projects.
On a dry and windy day in January 2012, Cecile, Samir, Sofia and Vanessa walked out of the notary’s office in Rotterdam, nervous and excited at having registered officially as a foundation. Now more than five years later, we are still up and running and barely managing to cope with the influx of submissions.
We are privileged to meet writers from all over the world with such varied backgrounds. This edition is long overdue, since our special poetry edition in October. In these pages you will find, for the first time, poetry intermingled with flash fiction, stories and essays.
Originally I planned to start the article talking about ebooks. Talking about the Internet. I was going to quote Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium. I was going to say that more people are reading on screens than ever before, and that bloated, antiquated conceptions about “the novel” would have to change to meet the new ways in which we read. This isn’t that article. That one is still rattling around in my head somewhere, and I think it would’ve turned out pretty alright in the end. But that’s not the article I’m writing right now.
This is going to be something else entirely, because, as of this writing, Donald Trump has been President Elect of the United States of America for five days. In the first 72 hours alone there have been an alarming spike in incidents of hate across the U.S. Protesters pour into the streets. The tension is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’m watching at a distance, seeing it all unfold from an ocean away. It’s got me scared. It’s got me angry. And it’s got me—once I finally managed to shut the news and close Facebook and sat down to write this article—thinking about how truly irrelevant literary fiction has become in American culture at large. Read More
Inflated black balloons drift inside shopping venues! Black signs hang in department store windows! Marketing firms and modeling agencies post Gisele Bündchen hopefuls at traffic lights. They’ll smile while handing out black fliers announcing grandiose discounts and sales. The catchphrase is repeated on national TV, in public squares, shopping malls. Expectations have been nurtured to go through the roof. Welcome to Black Friday in Brazil!
The scourge of American-branded commercialism reverberates well into the tropics. Over the past decade it has turned Brazil into Black Friday spectacle. It started with images from the heartland of unabated consumerism—shoppers of all stripes pitching tents in front of chain stores, staying awake throughout the night, not as a vigil to bring awareness to any social malfeasance, but to stampede into those stores at dawn, pushing, shoving, and brawling their way to discounted merchandise. It’s as if securing a half-priced cellphone, laced with tungsten, tantalum, and other minerals extracted from the Democratic Republic of Congo will halt a seventeen-year-long conflict that has taken the lives of over five million people. Maybe purchasing a clothing item on sale will magically force U.S. owned companies to improve working conditions in their outsourced sweatshops in India, Indoenisa, Bangladesh, and elsewhere. That such zeal and vigor is expended on a day of frivolous, erratic shopping is yet another indicator of the bankrupt moral coffers of a society reared to value material possessions more than anything else.
No matter the ironies of a day like Black Friday, the frantic images of a chance to scoop a hot deal proved irresistible in Brazil. A meaningless hodgepodge of consumerist fervor now drapes over a nation that, in 2013, had to implement Mais Médicos (More Medics), a health care program that imported 4,000 Cuban doctors to work in impoverished and remote areas.
It’s been disappointing, to say the least, to witness the ease with which Black Friday has taken hold in Brazil. America’s mass consumerist ideals and its media influence abroad are no joke.
Jun Cola is a translator based in Brazil, who has translated everything from Marvel Comics to academic papers, travel & tourism magazines to fiction, real estate contracts to poetry, and then some. Jun is working on bringing Brazilian voices to the world stage.
I remember my college lit teacher ranting about how both the writer and the reader are selfish little animals that are “in it” purely for personal gain – about how a writer always writes about himself and a reader always reads about himself, and all-in-all they are both just self-centred little scumbags. A bit of a gross generalisation there, if you ask me, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In the end, I guess that is roughly why I always enjoyed reading – because of the kick I got out of it, not because I was keen on picking someone else’s brain. And speaking of picking brains, some neuroscientists and psychologists seem to be quite partial to finding out what reading fiction does to us – neurologically. And from their findings it seems that we might not be such selfish little dirt bags after all.
It hardly comes as a surprise that there is no special part of the brain dedicated solely to understanding stories (or at least we didn’t evolve that far yet, ha!). Instead, we use basic cognitive functions to make sense of what we are reading. In other words, our brain uses the same tools for understanding the stories as it does for understanding the real world. Therefore, when we read stories, we invoke our personal experiences. Have you ever read a story and had a “been there, done that” moment when the protagonist was going through a situation very similar to one of your own experiences? Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, says that we can not only relate to fictional characters (duh!), but through reading, we are also able to gain new insight into things that have happened to us in the past. And like that, real life shapes fiction, which shapes real life, which shapes fiction, which… you get the idea. I think this also sums up the reason why two different individuals can interpret the same art of fiction completely differently. Read More
My favorite novel of the past ten years is almost certainly Light Boxes by Shane Jones. I love it for all sorts of reasons, too many to name, not the least of which being its ability to make me feel like I’m deeply inhabiting its setting. And this is all the more impressive when you factor in that Light Boxes is a surrealistic text. Little of what happens in this book is possible under the known laws of physics and rationality. Yet when I read it, I feel like I’m there. I feel like I’m in snowbound. I feel like I’m one of the villagers in this town that cannot exist, part of a war effort waged against the month of February, which casts a long shadow over their lives, and refuses to end.
I feel this because Jones’ prose emphasizes the tangible. He highlights the physical. Part fabulist, part poet, he uses simple, direct language to draw the reader’s attention to equally simple and direct elements, which he often repeats. A kind of rhythm develops. Again and again we see balloons, snow, clouds, birds, moss, honey, smoke. These are simple, tangible building blocks, yet they come together to build a rich and fascinating world. Despite a surface-level simplicity, Jones’ world conjures its own kind of complexity through the use of familiar language in unfamiliar contexts, and the depth of feeling this relationship evokes in the reader. Read More
In the summer of 1848, a young woman from Rouen, France — Delphine Delamare — who is unsatisfied with the routine of married life, commits suicide. She is in debt, under financial and emotional pressure. When Madame Delamare ends her life by taking prussic acid (known today as hydrogen cyanide), she leaves a young daughter and a mourning husband behind; and her story appears in many newspapers in Normandy.
Inspired by this incident, Gustave Flaubert creates his groundbreaking novel “Madame Bovary”, which became a cornerstone in modern literature. The hype about the book was not indeed overrated. Its literary brilliance can be understood when we look at the socio-economical criticism and the realistic feature of a romantic novel. In Vladimir Nabokov’s words, it being a book that “lives much longer than a girl” makes the book a strong sociological reference still in today’s society. Emma Bovary, without doubt, is a solid character that in every era people can identify themselves with. Read More