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In Praise of Writers Past

Curtain Calls update: My review from Kirkus should arrive any day now. I hear it in my mind like a ticking clock, or is that a ticking bomb? I’m also looking for readers to provide reviews to Amazon and Goodreads. If you’d like a free ARC for your Kindle, e-reader, or print copy in return for a brief review, please contact me. There’s no obligation that the review be positive.


One of the nicest aspects of taking a workshop class at Hugo House has been the opportunity to read the work of some of the best writers from a few decades ago. Our instructor, Joan Leegant (a pretty great writer of her own), is partial to some of the big names in the short story world, writers like William Trevor, TC Boyle, Jill McCorkle and Bernard Malamud. Most of what I read these days is recent fiction, which I use as a guide to content and style that might make my writing more palatable to the gatekeepers, so it’s been a nice change to revisit (or in some cases, visit) stories that connect to the values from my past.

Make no mistake, those values have changed—rather drastically. It’s hard to reconcile a modern novel like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, which I just finished—a book that received dozens of rave reviews, and in which the protagonist ultimately, in order to cure herself of her lust for her ex-boyfriend’s cock, sleeps all night with her nose in his ass (doesn’t really matter what the metaphor is there, does it?), with something like Malamud’s use of fantasy in the search for moral truth[1].

The concept of morality seems to have taken on a parochial meaning in fiction today. The emphasis now is on self-validation, whatever the lifestyle portrayed, and on shock value. But I’ll save that blog for another day.

Granted, I find some of the work of the “establishment” writers, the ones who regularly make it into Best American Short Stories, ponderous and infused with a Disney-like sentimentality, but those previous generation writers still have a lot to teach us, if we care to learn. While reading Trevor I had a little style epiphany—his use of multiple POV, and the seemingly inconsequential details each character noticed, became the literary equivalent of pointillism. Like a Seurat painting, those dots congeal into a panorama when the viewer steps back and looks at the whole thing. The effect is stunning. It’s not something often seen in today’s rather solipsistic fiction.

Malamud holds a special place among the greats for me. About twenty years ago, when I was an undergrad at Cal State Long Beach, I took an English class in literature and composition. My semester project, assigned to me by the instructor, was an analysis of Malamud’s 1959 “The Magic Barrel,” a story I grew to revere as the months went on. My paper turned into a thirty-page tome, which, ahem, was still being used as that professor’s model of a research paper fifteen years after I graduated. How great it was to read some of his work again, grounded as it is in Jewish moralism. Frankly, I found his themes refreshing. I guess if one waits long enough, everything seems new again.

Artistic styles change through time. Whatever one thinks of current trends in fiction, this must occur, as each generation seeks its own truth. Maybe that’s why some older fiction appeals to me, as it’s framed within the values I learned a long time ago. Still, I am enjoying these stories. I will read more of them.

[1] From his essay in The Magic Worlds of Bernard Malamud, pp 47-61.

Morning News

12/31/14: Tahoma Literary Review issue 2 is now available. Great poetry, fiction, and for the first time, nonfiction. You can purchase a copy on Amazon, or download an e-file on our site.

11/2/14: Tahoma Literary Review co-Publisher Kelly Davio and I will present "The Literary Magazine Goes Digital" at the Northwest Bookfest in Kirkland, WA on Sunday, Nov. 2. There's still time to attend the conference, which runs Nov. 1-2 and includes two days of intense workshops (and lunch is included). You can register on their web site.

09/23/14: My story "How to Live at a Hotel" received an Honorable Mention in the Stoneslide Corrective Fiction Contest. Publisher Christopher Wachlin said he would also like to run it in an upcoming issue of Stoneslide .

08/19/14: Minneapolis, here we come. My friend Lori A. May's panel proposal for The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) annual conference has been accepted, so she and I and three other writers will present "Literary Citizenship: It’s Not About You," in April, 2015.

03/31/14: My story, "Plunge," is live at Stoneslide Corrective. They're a cool new journal and book publisher. I used a pseudonym for this one, for future marketing considerations, as they say.

02/28/14: I'll be moderating a panel titled "Stoking the Fire," about finding the writing life that's best for you, at the annual AWP conference on Feb. 28.

10/03/13: Here come da judge! I've been named final judge for the Adult Fiction category of the Detroit Working Writers 2014 conference. I'm excited, because judging the Poetry category will be US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey! Just being mentioned in the same sentence with her is an honor.

9/24/13: Woodward Press co-publisher Dora Badger and I will present a discussion on Self Publishing Options at the annual Rochester Writers Conference on Saturday, October 5 at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Registration is still open for the event, so if you're in the area please join us.

8/1/13: The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) has accepted my panel proposal for the 2014 annual conference in Seattle. "Stoking the Fire: Maintaining the Passion for Writing When Success Eludes" will feature co-presenters Kobbie Alamo, Teri Carter and Q. Lindsey Barrett.

“Curtain Calls,” Print Version Coming In April

Curtain Calls: A Novel of The Great War is my new book through Woodward Press. The Kindle version is available now. The print version will be released in April. The novel follows three American performers who travel to Paris in the summer of 1914, where they become caught in the passions and politics of a nation on the brink of war. Separated by events, they fall in with factions for and against the conflict, and move ever deeper into a mysterious underground world of political intrigues.

The Face Maker and other stories of obsession is my collection of short stories out now from Woodward Press. Kelly Davio, author of Burn This House, says. "In stories that range effortlessly across time period and place, Joe Ponepinto delivers the kind of masculine character we crave in literary fiction; these characters wrestle with the most essential questions of morality, and they bare-knuckle box with their human frailties." Find it on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Want a signed copy? Email me at jpon (at) thirdreader (dot) com.

For the editing and tutoring services I offer, please see my companion site at Third Reader.

I am the co-Publisher and Fiction Editor of Tahoma Literary Review, a literary journal.

For links to some published stories, go to my Publications page.

Tahoma Literary Review Now Open for Submissions

TLR is officially open for submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. To find out more about this new (paying) literary journal, please visit us at Tahoma Literary Review.

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