Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Writers Recommend: Caleb J Ross and The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel

Time to bring in a new series, freshen this blog up a bit, don't you think? Our latest is called Writers Recommend. And we'll be asking writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like a LSA -Literary Service Announcement. Your welcome. 

Caleb J Ross Recommends The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel

My first thought when tasked for recommendations was to wonder, does it have to be a book? Given those literally limitless limitations there are so, so many wonderful things I could recommend: Wondershowzen, The Video Game Years, peanut butter (nope, there’s no missing hyperlink there; I just can’t recommend peanut butter enough). But a book it is, so a book it shall be.

Every writer needs to read Amy Hempel. Why? Read this sentence, picked at random by flipping through the pages of The Collected Stories:

“Then you take a deep breath, and slide your head under, and listen for the playfulness of your heart.” (pg 4)

That sentence by itself sprouts so many possibilities. As a writer, it’s a seed like this that I live for. The juxtaposed imagery (playfulness vs. suicide), the rhythm of the syllables (…listen for the playfulness…), the implied relationships (what is causing this person to possibly kill herself?), the sentence packs in so much that I am satisfied as a reader, willing to accept this single line as an entire story while simultaneously eager to read the next sentence (in the case of this story, “Tub,” it’s the last sentence of the story). Of course this is not to denigrate the complete story that Hempel builds around this sentence—the story is as phenomenal as that one sentence implies—but rather my appreciation of her brevity is an appreciation of Hempel as a storyteller and an inspiration.

How could you not read this sentence and immediately be compelled to write?

“Today, when a blind man walked into the bank, we handed him along to the front of the line where he ordered a BLT.” (pg 153, from “And Lead us Not into Penn Station”)

Caleb J. Ross has a BA in English Literature and creative writing from Emporia State University. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared widely, both online and in print. He is the author of five books of fiction and is the creator of The Book Burning Channel, a YouTube channel featuring humorous book reviews, literary skits, writing advice, and rants. Visit his official page at http://www.calebjross.com. A group novel written with Caleb, Nik Korpon, Axel Taiari, and Richard Thomas will be published by Dzanc in 2015.

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