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Interview: Deesha Philyaw

Image is the book cover for THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES by Deesha Philyaw; title card for the new interview with Courtney Harler.

  Deesha Philyaw, acclaimed author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, is graciously serving as our guest judge for the CRAFT 2024 Short Fiction Prize. In this interview conducted over email, Editor in Chief Courtney Harler asks Deesha to…

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Canines by Jona Whipple

Image is a color photograph of a basketball hoop under a cloudy sky; title card for the new flash creative nonfiction essay, "Canines," by Jona Whipple.

  She says go like this and bares her teeth at me, lips pulled back. All the other girls lean in to see inside my mouth, too close. I smell the leather of their shoes, but I don’t flinch. Jagged,…

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Interview: Clare Beams

Image is the book cover for THE GARDEN by Clare Beams; title card for the new interview with Abby Manzella.

  I began reading Clare Beams’s extraordinary work with her first novel The Illness Lesson, which follows young women at a newly founded school in nineteenth-century New England where the students begin to mysteriously fall ill. That novel brought to…

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Author’s Note

One day, in casting around for a story, a line came to me: Sometimes Mrs. Bowman rode the school bus to her jobs, and I paused to think, what a boon, there she is—that adult in a coverall, who rode my school bus a couple of times before the days I was able to read. That single scrap of far-off memory set my imagination on a tear. “Don’t Laugh” is pure make-believe, and yet, with such an honest scrap pile to pull from (kindly bus drivers, fields of derelict cars, hand-me-down bookbags), writing the scenes felt truer and truer as I went along.

It’s been many years since I left the rural community where I grew up, and I’ve spent a lot of time writing stories about the new places I came to independently. With this story, it was a delight to craft a tale out of so many pieces of earliest memory, and to push its narrative along through the voice of a kid, Rosie Cotton, to whom I had easy access. By providing Rosie with a couple of tools I had myself at her age, I was able to better perceive what her reactions would be, and what path she’d choose to put herself on. The tension of the story would be in the space between Rosie’s thoughts and actions, and in letting her decide how far she’d go with her impersonations of the people she lived among. Unconsciously, I protected Rosie’s sensibilities—her awareness that people deserved her attention, that people were brave and easily misunderstood—even while Rosie’s own intentions were being misconstrued.

How people talk and carry themselves through the world, how they engage with others, or disengage, has always been something I’ve paid attention to. Among my earliest memories is one of a stranger, a local preacher, who visited our house out in the country. What made the man stand out was the quality of his voice, whatever he said, and his way of looking at my parents, and their way of looking at him, as they made dialogue together. While I don’t remember it, I’m certain I would have tried impersonating him after he left—not for the attention, not for a laugh—but because he left his impression upon me, and it’s always felt oddly reassuring to connect, to notice some quality about another person that is absolutely theirs alone, then be able to reveal this trait to other people in a true enough way that they re-see it for themselves. A carefully rendered impression can sometimes feel exactly like crafting a story.

It was a pleasure writing “Don’t Laugh” and remembering what it felt like being little, with a hardwired compassion for other people who lived so differently from almost everyone else. I wrote this small tale to fulfill a challenge, and unexpectedly, I’ve tapped a vein, and found a character, Rosie Cotton, with a voice that keeps talking, story by story.

 


VAL BRAMBLE is a nurse at a small island health clinic off the coast of Portland, Maine. When writing stories, she draws from what she is learning about people struggling with illness and social stressors. She also draws from her experiences trying to pursue theater acting, and from her childhood growing up on farmland with her sisters and brothers in rural southwestern Pennsylvania. “Don’t Laugh” is her first published story, and she’s so grateful to CRAFT.