Writer’s Workshop

13th Floor Magazine: The Meaning of Our Name

b7d5317c45674fbfcfa69c10833f24f2--thirteen-number-number-

By: Madison Larimore

October is special. Fall has settled in, the leaves are turning, Halloween is fast approaching, and another Friday the 13th is behind us. This time of year like no other marks change, transition, tradition, and superstition, and this October, we are thinking about our origins.

13th Floor Magazine was born in 2013. The original members, all graduated now, were searching for a unique, evocative name to call their new publication. One of the members lived on the thirteenth floor of an apartment building in downtown Omaha. 13th Floor Magazine had a nice ring to it, and though it was important that the publication name was catchy, it was more important for it to be meaningful.

The number thirteen has a bad reputation, scaring people so much with the threat of bad luck that most thirteenth floors are skipped altogether. But it can also be thought of as a number associated with things that are strange, misunderstood, weird, quirky, or unexpected. We strive to make our magazine just that—an outlet where students can be honest, creative, and best of all, where they can defy expectations.

This magazine doesn’t skip floors. We do not exclude. We embrace and we celebrate.

Share your unique voice with us by our next publication deadline: Halloween.

Publishing Tips

By: Kelsey M. Bee

As writers, many of us can agree that the publishing process is exciting, but at times, it can be equally panic-inducing. So often do we pour ourselves into that one piece that inevitably becomes a tender extension of ourselves. We owe it to that piece to let it breathe outside of our notebook; we know it deserves a life beyond our laptop. But then, we start to think about the logistics of sending that piece out, and the alarms in our heads go off: How do I go about doing this? What if it gets rejected? What if it gets accepted?!

When it comes to publishing, it is okay—normal even—to feel a little out of the loop. Publishing know-how comes with trial and error, familiarizing oneself with the market and the process, and consistent research. Below are some tips that might help those who are considering sending out pieces for publication, to 13th Floor Magazine or otherwise.

Tiered Lists

To help combat some of the fear and frustration, it is a good idea to compile a tiered list of journals or magazines in which you hope to be published. This list, which often has three or four tiers, enables you to narrow down the possible outlets for your work while also pushing you to research the publications. If that sounds tricky or time consuming, that’s because it is. Luckily, websites like Duotrope, Submittable, and Poets&Writers have gathered information about numerous publications, their submission deadlines, and any upcoming writing contests. These sites are great starting points for crafting your own tiered list. It will help you assess which publications are top-tier, second-tier, or third-tier. This might depend on the reputation of the publication, but it can equally depend on what you value in an outlet for your creative work.

Submission Guidelines & Masthead

When sending out your work, it is imperative to look through each journal’s submission guidelines and masthead. Often times, submissions can get rejected for not adhering to the guidelines, and we can all probably agree that if we are to get a rejection letter, we’d rather it be for the actual work rather than submitting incorrectly. Many publications have a masthead, or a Meet the Staff page, which identifies editors and their specific positions. If this is available, it is beneficial to know a little bit about which editors will likely be reading your piece. Additionally, it might be a good idea to address your cover letter to the lead editor of the genre that corresponds to your piece.

Attend Conferences

One way to help ease the stress of sending work out for publishing is to attend conferences. This can sometimes be expensive, but universities frequently offer travel funding for students, and it is definitely worth looking into. Conferences are a great place to network with fellow writers—established or up-and-coming—with representatives from MA or MFA programs, and with representatives from literary magazines or journals. Although networking might seem just as frightening as sending work out for publication, it can be a lot of fun even for the most introverted of writers. Conferences are great opportunities for like-minded people to learn from one another about the ins and outs of our industry, something that has proved invaluable over and over again.

If you’re feeling nervous about publishing fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, that’s natural and understandable. Just be sure it doesn’t hold you back from submitting your work.

The Spirit of the City: Kings of Broken Things

 

By: Phil Brown

By trade, Omaha’s Theodore Wheeler is a civil law and politics reporter. That background shines through his moonlight work in fiction. An alumnus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who received his M.F.A. from Creighton University, Wheeler has seen publication in various literary magazines across the country, and published a fiction chapbook and a short story collection in the past two years. This August he published his debut novel, Kings of Broken Things, through Amazon’s new literary imprint, Little A.

Representing seven years of work according to the author, Kings is ambitious in scope, attempting to wrangle the entire sprawling city of Omaha into focus a few years into the 20th Century. Wheeler writes about a time fraught with sweeping change and social upheaval, and a particularly formative time for the young city of Omaha, Nebraska. On his website, Wheeler professes the desire to channel DeLillo, Denis Johnson, and Colum McCann, and Ralph Ellison in his work. While he may not yet be included in that pantheon, Kings certainly doesn’t lack for trying.

The narrative follows a few main characters around the city as social tensions rise. There’s Karel, a recently immigrated adolescent from Europe; Jake, a farm boy come to make it big in the city; Evie Chambers, a kept woman who dwindles in a lonely brownstone; and even a few chapters devoted to the infamous Tom Dennison, a true ghost from Omaha’s past: crime lord, political boss, real-life supervillain. The experience a city far removed from the one we know now, but one that resonates with it, a distant echo.

We read about Karel’s attempts to adjust to life in America, learning baseball, attempting to care for his sickly younger sister, and always striving to fit in with the rest of them. Jake begins to sink into the city’s underworld, working for Dennison, sometimes dirty work. Evie works to survive as well, in a part of town not too hospitable to young women. They have intertwining connections to each other; Jake mentors Karel, Jake and Evie strike up an affair, Dennison looms over all.

The spirit of Omaha in the novel is much the same as it is now, although it may not be immediately recognizable. The town grew due to the hunger for growth and labor caused by its position as “Gateway to the West.” The restless insatiability of the city for resources is well-captured in the novel. The plight of laborers, many of whom are immigrants or racial minorities brought in cynically to break the backs of domestic workers, is clearly drawn. The ugly racism and violence that followed as a result of the domestic workers’ fear, instability, and weakness, is also indelibly marked. This is the heritage of Omaha.

Wheeler’s prose is often evocative, particularly when writing about Karel, his youngest protagonist. Rarely a wrong note is struck with his description of the young immigrant’s adjustment to life in Nebraska. Most memorable are the passages devoted to baseball. Even readers who don’t appreciate the sport will have to grudgingly respond to the game as Wheeler writes it. Karel, his adventures, and his young friends, are the strongest parts of the novel.

Old Man Tom Dennison, too, is well-rendered. Presented as pragmatic before anything else, and with a staunch refusal to chew the scenery too much, Wheeler’s Dennison is a cold, yet still human, worthy antagonist. The novel is less effective in degrees when it studies Jake or Evie. The pair are more conventional characters, their plots often falling into well-worn grooves in the American fiction landscape. Nonetheless, time spent with them is rarely unpleasant.

Kings shines in the details: there’s a sense of thoroughness throughout the book, of solidity. Wheeler builds a city in the novel, brick-by-brick, and it feels authentic. Wheeler’s reporter’s hat doubtless comes in handy. The strength of his research and confidence in the city are what make this novel what it is.

Wheeler struggles in more turgid waters. His descriptions of the city vice district venture into the lurid and moralistic, like a graphic description of an aging sex worker in the opening few chapters. All too similarly, the sex scenes are blue without being particularly fun or interesting. These passages are clumsy foibles in an otherwise well-crafted work.

Kings of Broken Things is a highly evocative read, with its portrayal of the historical city of Omaha and its winsome young protagonists. It reminds us where we came from, all of us, and the forces that still run deep underneath our society. Many of us, like the young Karel, are immigrants or descendents of immigrants, and we face similar choices in our own lives. Imperfect like its subject, Kings nonetheless manages to capture this spirit and these messages in a way that leaves an impression, and leaves us anticipating Wheeler’s follow-up.

Kings of Broken Things
By Theodore Wheeler
Published 8.01.17
Little A
322 pages

Creative Writing + Nonfiction

By: Madison Larimore

My mom gets nervous at the thought of my concentration, creative nonfiction.

“Are you going to write about me? What are you going to say? Does the creative part mean you get to lie?” she asked, when I explained my degree to her for the fifth time.

I don’t blame my mom for having so many questions. I even find it difficult to answer those questions as a student who has studied the craft for three years. But creative nonfiction is not unfamiliar to us, no matter how hard to define the term may be.

The last time my mom asked me about it, I mentioned that the way we communicate on social media is a form of creative nonfiction: we use creative tools to best represent the nonfiction elements of our own personal lives.

In the craft of creative nonfiction, the creative tools are generally literary devices commonly found in fiction and poetry to tell the story well by crafting a scene, establishing character, etc. Of course, in creative nonfiction, the subject matter is true.

Creative nonfiction is not an oxymoron.

In other words, nonfiction, or the truth, does not have to be told boring and lifeless, and good writing does not have to be made up or imagined to be creative. Creative nonfiction can have literary merit, and those pieces that do represent the truth in a way that allows the reader to experience it in the most realistic, purposeful way possible. Creative nonfiction gives you an opportunity to directly expand your perspective through experiencing a piece of someone else’s.

In creative nonfiction, instead of the imagination, our main tool is memory. That’s where we get the term memoir, which is one of the largest sub-genres within the autobiography category. Another popular sub-genre is the personal essay, which commonly explores a question in the writer’s life. Sometimes you will hear both creative nonfiction and fiction referred to as prose, as opposed to poetry.

At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, students are lucky to have two departments with programs in creative nonfiction: the Writer’s Workshop in CFAM and the English department in ASH. Both of these departments are great resources to learn more. And of course, 13th Floor magazine, our campus literary magazine, publishes creative nonfiction. If you have any questions, please email me, the Lead Creative Nonfiction editor, at mlarimore@unomaha.edu.

Fall 2017 Issue is Now Available!

Fall Cover

The Fall 2017 issue is here!

Check out some amazing pieces of writing and art for free via Amazon.com. This free edition is only available as an ebook. Make sure to download the Fall 2017 issue before September 1st. Click here to get your free copy.

Print versions of the Fall 2017 issue will also be available on blurb.com for only $11! Get yours here. Hurry, this sale will only last until September 1st!

We will also be selling print issues (while supplies last) at every Writer’s Workshop Reading Series event, starting Tuesday, September 20, from 7:30-8:30 p.m., at the University of Nebraska Omaha Art Gallery or Milo Bail Student Center, depending on where the reading takes place. You can see a list of the reading series dates and locations here.

5 Books To Read This Summer

Have you finished your summer reading list? Are you looking for something new to read? If so, check out these five books you should read this summer.

1. Hunger: A Memoir of  (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is a New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist. Her latest book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, was just released this June 2017! This memoir tackles vulnerable subjects such as body weight, food, and self-image. This powerful book is definitely worth checking out!


2. When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz, a Mojave American poet, published her debut poetry collection in 2012. When My Brother Was an Aztec gives readers a glimpse into life in and out of the Mojave Reservation. If you are interested in exploring family-narrative poetry, take a look at Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec.


3. Enigma by Tonya Kuper

Tonya Kuper is a part-time instructor at UNO. Her debut novel, Anomaly, is the first book to the Schrodinger’s Consortium duology. Enigma, the second book, was just released on July 3rd of this year.

This young-adult fiction series follows a “nerdy” teenage girl named Josie, who discovers she is unlike most other teenagers. She is an anomaly and can make objects appear and disappear using her own mind. If you like young-adult fiction or want to follow Josie on her epic journey, read Tonya Kuper’s Anomaly and Enigma.


4. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Look familiar? Gene Luen Yang visited UNO in Spring 2016! Yang was also recently named the fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress.

Have a look at Gene Luen Yang’s award-winning graphic novel, American Born Chinese. The story’s protagonist, Jin, is a teenager faced with racial struggles and stereotypes. Like most teenagers, he is also trying to figure out who he is. This graphic novel is sprinkled with humor and culture throughout. It certainly is worth a read!


5. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is an award-winning writer of books like, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Flight, and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven to name a few.

His memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, was just published this June. This book allows you to see into Alexie’s life through verse and prose as he experiences grief, from his mother’s passing, and memories from a complicated childhood. If you are a fan of Alexie’s writing, consider adding You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me to your summer reading list!

Poetry – Titling Your Poem

The poem floats on the page, an amalgam of your hard work, love of language, and intense feeling. You feel serene and somewhat spent, ready to share your creation with someone – almost. The poem is complete, except for one thing – the title. For many poets (including myself), this is one of the hardest parts of writing a poem. How do you choose the right title? How do you know what kind of title would work best for your poem? Here are a few kinds of titles that I always consider when I’m stuck for what to name a piece:

 

  1. A title taken from inside the poem

One simple way to title a poem is to take something from inside the poem itself. This kind of title is often thematic, in that it reflects the poem’s central image or idea. Many poems are named in this way, and examples are thick on the ground. One such poem is “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath. (You can read it here.) These kind of titles are effective and efficient – they get tie in with the poem and give the reader a taste of what is to come.

  1. An explanatory/contextual title

A title like this can be extremely useful, particularly if you fear that the poem itself could use a bit of context. Try for a title that can give the reader some insight into how they should read and understand your poem. Consider Geoffrey Hill’s poem “In Memory of Jane Fraser.” (You can read it here.) Jane’s name is nowhere inside the poem, but by giving it that title the reader is aware not only that it is an elegy, but that it is an elegy to a specific person. An explanatory title can be a great way to add just a touch of much-needed context without having to add it into the poem itself. It needn’t be overly explicit or too informative, of course,

  1. A lead-in title

Sometimes, you have a title, but it feels like a brick, sitting heavy on top of your poem. Other times, you can’t find a title that doesn’t interfere with the musicality or lessen the impact of the first line(s). In these instances, a lead-in title may be just the thing, because they let you get to the heart of the matter right off the bat. A good example of a lead-in title is Robert Duncan’s poem “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow.” (Read the poem here.) The title sets the scene, but also pulls you right into the body of the poem. There is no disconnect or space between title and poem, which creates an immediacy that serves the piece well.

  1. A refrain title

If your poem has a refrain, you may consider that for a possible title. Though you want to be careful about overdoing it, just as you have to be careful when using refrains inside the poem, a refrain title can be the best topper for a musical poem. For a good example of the refrain title, check out Walt Whitman’s famous poem, “O Captain, My Captain.” (You can view the poem here.)

  1. A sensory title

Sometimes, you don’t want to use language that is in the body of the poem, nor do you want to try something that explains too much. Perhaps your poem doesn’t need any extra context, but it needs something before you dive into the body of the piece. In these cases, you may consider an image or association that can grab the reader’s attention without exposing too much of the poem’s intent right off the bat. Look at Audre Lorde’s poem, “Coal.” (You can read it here.) In this poem, the title is a concrete image that ties in with the poem, but isn’t necessarily directly related to it. Rather, it adds to the visual detail of the piece, and brings with it the connotative weight of the word to bear on the reader’s interpretation of the poem.

  1. The dreaded “Untitled”

There are times when a title of any kind feels like a streak of spray paint on the Mona Lisa. Of course, many writing professors won’t allow an untitled poem in the classroom, but when you are writing your own work, you may decide to ditch the title altogether. Untitled poems can be effective if the non-titledness fits with the poem’s atmosphere (unless you happen to be Emily Dickinson , in which case you need never title anything). Tracy K. Smith eschews the title to great effect in her Terza Rima which begins “What happens when the body goes slack?” In this poem (which unfortunately isn’t available to view online but can be found in her collection Life on Mars, available here.), the lack of title adds to the sorrow and confusion of the poem, which deals with death and the yawning gap of loss. A title on such a poem would be too pat, too solid. The words need to drift, much as the speaker of the poem does. If you have a poem where a title would only hurt the piece, you may consider simply leaving it off.

 

Hopefully these ideas will get the gears churning when you’re confronted with that blank space above your piece. If you need more inspiration, here are some other articles that might help:

http://magmapoetry.com/archive/magma-51/articles/working-titles/

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/69116

http://canuwrite.com/article_titles_poems.php