Author Archives: Taylor Lauren Ross

About Taylor Lauren Ross

i live, i laugh, i love… i write.

“Are We Not Men?” by T.C. Boyle

Illustration by Kristian Hammerstad from The New Yorker

A prolific American author, T.C. Boyle has published 26 books of fiction (two more since the last time we read a story of his for our published piece) and his short stories have appeared in magazines including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and McSweeney’s. He received both his MFA and PhD from the University of Iowa, and he is a creative writing professor at USC. His work has been translated into more than two dozen foreign languages, and he’s won numerous awards.

This week we’re reading “Are We Not Men?” and here are some questions for discussion:

  1. What techniques does Boyle employ to make the world he’s created believable? To what extent do you find this story a warning?
  2. What do you make of the way Boyle uses the “cheating” trope? Would you agree or disagree that he turns it on its head?
  3. In what ways is the protagonist relatable? How do you feel about the girl, and the natural baby versus the one picked from a menu?
  4. How does Boyle explore economic status in this story?
  5. What do you make of the various creatures in the story, from the Cherry Pit to the dogcat to the micropig to the crowparrots? Discuss the animals’ relationships to each other and to the protagonist. What does each animal symbolize? What do you make of the ending?

 

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“Nine Inherited Disorders” by Adam Ehrlich Sachs

I discovered this story in an issue of n+1, and my first reaction was, What was that? I have to share this with MUG! Turns out, this “story” is a selection of vignettes from Sachs’s book, Inherited Disorders. Adam Ehrlich Sachs writes from Pittsburgh, and his fiction has also appeared in The New Yorker and Harper’s, among others.

Discussion Questions:
1. The author explores the father-son dynamic in a variety of ways. What is the he saying about legacy? In what ways is the legacy passed down by one’s parents inescapable? To what extent can we surpass the legacies of our parents, or can we?
2. In several of these pieces, Sachs has created characters who write/say/do one thing but mean something else. Or they insist that their work/actions should not be taken at face value and instead mean something unapparent to their audiences. How does the author explore perspective versus intentions? How does he use this juxtaposition to enhance the story?
3. Why these nine?
4. To what extent do these pieces stand alone? What effect do they have together?
5. How does this story explore the extent to which a thing or person can simply be, versus how things/people are defined by others?

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“The Relive Box” by T.C. Boyle

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A prolific American author, T.C. Boyle has published 24 books of fiction and his short stories have appeared in magazines including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and McSweeney’s. He received both his MFA and PhD from the University of Iowa, and he is a creative writing professor at USC. His work has been translated into more than two dozen foreign languages, and he’s won numerous awards.

I first discovered this story in The New Yorker, and I later had the pleasure of hearing T.C. Boyle himself read it aloud at the LA Times Festival of Books.

Questions:

1. Consider the line, “deep in this moment which would give rise to all the rest.” What do you think of the protagonist’s idea that by pinpointing one moment in his life, he can understand everything that came after? How does this story explore the way(s) in which past and present are linked?

2. What techniques does Boyle use to cultivate the tone, both of the story as a whole and of the protagonist’s particular voice? How do these interact?

3. What did you think of Boyle’s use of the second person (“But let me explain the technology here a moment, for those of you who don’t already know”) and the way the author acknowledges the reader. Does this work/not work and in what ways?

4. This story is, in many ways, an exploration of grief, loss, and healing. With a device like this, which allows you to spend time with a (dead) person, would you ever really able to let go?

5. How does Boyle use the relive box to illuminate and explore the father-daughter relationship in this story?

6. What is the significance of Queenie?

7. What do you make of the conclusion? How does it further illuminate the story, and what do you see happening in the future for Wes (and Katie)?

This story will appear in Boyle’s upcoming collection, The Relive Box and Other Stories, which he’s currently working on. In a post dated July 11, 2016 he said he was revising one called “Are We Not Men?'” and that it “is not far off the mark with regard to the reality of what we are unleashing on the world with CRISPR/Cas-9 technology.” Can’t wait to read that one! In the meantime, enjoy “The Relive Box”–looking forward to discussing it!

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“Covered Up Our Names” by Jackie Lea Sommers

Hunger Mountain Cover
One of the best parts of the AWP Conference last month was visiting the book fair and hauling in a sweet stash of literary journals. I was drawn to this one because Hunger Mountain is VCFA’s journal–and Vermont College of Fine Arts has one of the best YA programs in the country. Also, let’s be honest: horses and hearts.

This session’s published piece, “Covered Up Our Names,” by Jackie Lea Sommers, appeared in Volume 18, the Winter 2013/2014 edition of Hunger Mountain, and was the story for which Sommers won the Katherine Paterson Prize from Young Adult and Children’s Writing. Sommers’s first novel, Truest, also YA, was published by HarperCollins in September 2015.

A few discussion Q’s:

1. Aside from the ages of the protagonist and supporting characters, what makes this a YA story? What makes it a literary YA story?

2. Did you find this story (or parts of it) predictable? Which parts, why, and how does being able to guess what’s going to happen enhance or detract from your experience?

3. Sommers uses an Emily Dickinson poem to tie in major themes, and the title comes from the poem. Discuss the poem’s/title’s significance.

4. YA often deals with heavy subjects, from eating disorders to rape to (as in this story) cancer. What makes this one different/special/work?

5. What techniques does Sommers use to balance the story’s heavy themes/subject matter?

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“The Closest Thing to Animals” by Sofia Samatar

Becca and I were chatting about the intersection of literary and science fiction, and she suggested I read “The Closest Thing to Animals,” by Sofia Samatar. It sucked me right in and I thought, this would be great for the MUG published piece! It’s a wonderful example of contemporary science fiction, especially as the lines between all kinds of genres become more and more blurred.

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories (due out March 2016). She has won the John W. Campbell Award, the Crawford Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award.

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“The Closest Thing to Animals” Image Header, firesidefiction.com

 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How does Samatar sculpt the voice? How did you feel about the speaker, and did your feelings change over the course of the story?
  2. What can we learn from the way Samatar explores and blends race, science fiction, and character development?
  3. How does Samatar achieve a successful exploration of friendship?
  4. To me, one of the main questions here is: What is essential? How does Samatar answer this?

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“The Crabapple Tree” by Robert Coover

I’ve become increasingly interested in the “modern fairy tales” trend, and I had just gotten acquainted with the Grimm tale “The Juniper Tree” after reading Lorrie Moore’s short story by the same title when I discovered “The Crabapple Tree” in The New Yorker. I’m pleased to share this story with MUG this week!

Robert Coover is an American author with ten novels and numerous plays, novellas, short stories, etc. to his credit. He’s known for experimenting with metafiction and magical realism, and he has taught at several universities, including Brown. You can read “The Crabapple Tree” here.

Image from The New Yorker; Artwork by Edel Rodriguez

Image from The New Yorker; Artwork by Edel Rodriguez

Questions for discussion:

  1. What do you think of Coover’s choice to make the speaker of this story an outsider, and to have her telling of it so far removed in time? What do you make of her voice? What purpose do these choices serve?
  2. Fairy tales often traditionally served as warnings for children… what does this tale caution against?
  3. Is the Vamp under the crabapple tree?
  4. Who is the villain in this story?
  5. What do you make of the final line?
  6. How does the Grimm story enhance your reading of this story? In what ways is “The Crabapple Tree” more “adult”?

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MUGster Mike Sets Instatrends

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For a long time (whole. months.) I avoided getting on Instagram. Friends, fellow artists, and the Internet—i.e. the fifty million listicles popping up in all my other feeds about the “30 Best Insta This” and “40 Best Insta That”—urged me join. Finally, when fabulous fellow MUGster Mike said he was working on some text/art hybrid pieces and having some success on Instagram and I should check it out, I decided to join the Insta-craze. Instagram turns out to be an awesome platform for creatives, and I decided to write this blog post because I want to share with you Mike’s awesomeness, in particular.

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As digital media becomes an ever-growing part of writing, hybrid pieces are gaining traction and Mike is on trend. Here I’ve selected a few of my recent favorites of Mike’s work. Follow him on Instagram @mikey_mandala.

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I know, I know. You’re reading this and saying: These are SO COOL. Taylor, thanks so much for sharing this with me! I’m totally going to follow Mike on Instagram. And wait—Tay, aren’t you on Instagram, too?

Well, yes, since you ask… You can follow me @taylorlaurenross.

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“Referential” by Lorrie Moore

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This week we read a short story from Lorrie Moore’s collection, Bark: Stories, called “Referential.” This was not my favorite story in the collection, nor did I think it was the best one, but I chose it for the discussion factor and its relation to the story we read for our last meeting. Last session we read “Symbols and Signs” by Vladimir Nabokov. Having read the Nabokov, we can clearly see Moore’s nod to his work. (I actually read the Moore story first, and wouldn’t have known of its similarity to Nabokov’s if not for the subtle “After VN” included at the end of Moore’s text.)

Questions for discussion:

1. In the Telegraph article, which I have now linked since reading it won’t spoil anything for you, Moore is quoted as saying, “I wondered what would happen if the parents actually made 9780307740861_p0_v1_s260x420the visit to the son or if the adult couple weren’t actually married, etc. So I wrote something that tracked the Nabokov closely but also did its own thing. I wasn’t sure if this was even proper or permitted as an homage. I included some language from the story, since I didn’t want anyone to think I was hiding something. I only wanted to honour the original and its power both as story and as inspiration.” Do you consider this story proper or permissible? How does Moore walk the line of plagiarism? What does she do (particularly well) that Nabokov doesn’t? What techniques could/would you borrow from her?

2. I know it will be hard to say, having now read Nabokov’s story, but do you think Moore’s story can stand on its own? What do you think you would have made of it if you had not read the Nabokov first?

3. Discuss the difference in Moore’s treatment of mental illness.

4. Would you consider this darker? More or less satisfying?

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“Symbols and Signs” by Vladimir Nabokov

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Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov is best known for Lolita, of course. This week we’re taking a look at one of his short stories, “Symbols and Signs,” in which a couple goes to visit their son in a mental institution. They’re turned away, however, because he has recently attempted to commit suicide (again). Questions for discussion:

1. Nabokov composes this story without dialogue until the final section, the final third of the story. Why do you think he does this? What effect did this technique have on you/your experience of the story?
2. The New Yorker published this story in 1948. What do you think of Nabokov’s treatment of mental illness in this story? What might we do similarly and/or differently when writing about mental illness today?
3. What is the significance of the phone ringing?
4. In an article recently published in The Telegraph (which I am not linking here, because it will spoil much of our discussion for the next published piece I’m going to give you) the writer notes, “Among the cryptanalytic interpretations of [“Symbols and Signs”] is the suggestion that referential mania is contagious, and has been passed on to the story’s readers, who are compelled to read clues into its every aspect (the title, of course, being nothing but an encouragement).” Discuss.

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Ta Da! RLR Vol I Issue 1

When a former mugster came to us and said, “I want to start a literary journal. You in?” I was pumped. I expected to be reading and editing, of course, but I guess I didn’t really think about all of the other demands we’d need to meet–generating an editorial team, sending contracts to writers and artists, minute layout decisions about the website and everything from font to spacing to whether author bios should be italicized or not, for starters.

Now, many months later, the inaugural issue of The Riding Light Review is available for purchase online! On the website, you can read a few stories in full and excerpts of the others. You can grab your copy of the ebook and/or print versions HERE! Your support makes the dreams of many writers and artists come true…

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Beautiful cover art by my sis, Jourdie Ross

This journey has been a phenomenal learning experience, and I’m so pleased I get to work with such a rockstar team of women. I’ve learned a ton as an editor, and I’ve also gained a lot of compassion for other editors. As a writer submitting my own work to journals and praying for acceptances and wondering why on earth it takes SO LONG sometimes to receive a response, now I get it. There’s so much that goes into creating a publication that I didn’t realize. I’ve worked at established magazines before, but literary journals are different, due in large part to the selection process of creative content. It’s not original advice, but this experience has taught me that writers should indeed: have patience, maintain compassion for editors, and seriously, work on your craft.

 

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