POLINA SIMAKOVA AKA AGRIPPINA DOMANSKI
When I was sixteen, I would watch movies and read and explode with jealousy for the authors. It’s quite absurd—if I watched something I felt was bad, I’d criticize it to death. If I liked what I’d seen, I’d spend weeks miserable, dreaming of being able to do the same and hating my own ideas. For a short period of time I tried to fix my head, hang out with people, stop writing for a bit. But then I thought I wasn’t doing myself any favours, and quit trying.
I started writing four to six hours a day, every day, no matter what. It felt like that wasn’t working, either—I hated everything I wrote. Every morning I wanted to wipe the files off my laptop. By the time I was eighteen I only had one short story.
I spent three months thinking it was a piece of trash, frankly, and reluctantly submitted it to only one short story competition. I only did that because I felt I had to move forward with my career. I’d forced myself to submit the piece, at the same time disgusted with the thought that I’d even show it to someone. I couldn’t imagine it would be published.
In fact, when the piece, titled Marshes, won the 2016 Audia Arcadia short story competition, I wasn’t even happy. I guess I was shocked into stupor for the first few hours after receiving the notification email. But then, being me, I became upset. All my dedication suddenly felt pointless.
Later, I published two philosophy articles titled On Religion. I didn’t care for that very much; but again, I felt I had to move forward.
I’d grown up with the Bond films, and as my mind became more analytical, I sort of hated myself for being disappointed with them. I thought I’d write my first long non-fiction piece on something I used to love; maybe, it would be easier.
I still worship Daniel Craig in Casino Royale—he is a talented actor in whatever he does – but as I’m writing this, I’m particularly sad to realize that the predictions I’d made in my piece weren’t as silly as I’d thought. Hiddleston won’t be Bond, this much is certain. I guess I’m also using the franchise to express my dissatisfaction with the entertainment world as a whole (which I don’t deny is silly). It seems that ‘intention’ or ‘message’ is replacing substance; works are said to be ‘good’ based on what they promote, on whether they’re progressive enough. Nothing is said of their objective value. Placing ‘style’ above ‘substance’ sometimes works; placing ‘message’ above it does not.
I’ve found myself writing more and more incessantly, from no real reason. There’s not a lot of deeper meaning to my work, or at least I hope not. What I try to capture and relate are situations that, given the specific context the reader brings to my work, sound and feel meaningful and personal. I write because I read, and because I have an intense need to create, and this is the quickest way to build something because I can do it on my phone while I ride the subway.
I am a Writing Major at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to a hispanic father and white mother, and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio in both the city and suburbs I have developed an acute perception for class disparity.
Just stick with writing. Put your blinders on and press forward every day. If you’re having no success, then make the story better. Edit it again, cut it down, rewrite it, or whatever it takes. Like many of the stories I’ve had published, Belonging took years of rejection and rewriting before I finally found a home for it. There’s no better rush than having a story accepted for publication. To me, that feeling never gets old.
I guess being from a small town, in Southwest Louisiana, made me want to live in a big city, because I’ve lived in several big cities since. It wasn’t long after moving away that I found myself writing more and more stories set in my home town and about Cajun culture. It’s like I had to remove myself from it to see it in a way I never had before. But some of my stories, like Belonging, are set in the city. In this story, two well-meaning men, who feel they’re on a noble mission, venture into a strange neighborhood outside their comfort zone. Feeling threatened by the unfamiliar, it isn’t long before their insecurities are exposed. The first emotion many feel when faced with the unknown is fear, whether justified or not.
My work has appeared in South Dakota Review, Saint Ann’s Review, Los Angeles Review, Prick of the Spindle, Dos Passos Review, Big Muddy, The MacGuffin, Raleigh Review, and more than 20 others. My short story collection Duck Thief and Other Stories (UL-Lafayette Press) was 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award’s honorable mention.
Image by Danny Fulgencio
I decided in high school that I would like to try to be a writer, and enrolled as an English major at SUNY Buffalo. But I allowed a combination of my own self-doubts, my parents’ gently spoken concern that I needed a “real job” to fall back on, and a terrifying poetry-writing class, to discourage me. In my sophomore year I became instead an only slightly more practical Russian major.
As I found a job, peripherally related to my major, married, had two daughters, and generally got very busy with life, I set writing aside. Every once in a while, a poem would arise out of the murky deep, and I would write it down, and promptly forget about it.
Then three years ago I began attending classes in meditation and yoga philosophy. As I explored the practices and ideas, I began to change. I became much happier, more confident and comfortable in my own skin, and my long-sleeping creative spirit rolled over, stretched, and rubbed her eyes, ready to explore the new world she woke up to. This time I shared the pieces I wrote with family and friends, which inspired my daughters to gift me a writing class.
Cara Benson was as far as you could get from the bitter, chain-smoking professor of my freshman poetry class and her nurturing and joyful approach to writing helped me a great deal.
Writing is now for me a source of tremendous joy, I think of it as an act of worship and an expression of the creative force that makes up all of life. I now believe that simply being absorbed in the act of creation is valuable in and of itself. Where will it all lead? Who knows? Who cares? I am trying to let go of the need for a goal, a practical outcome. I love to write and if others enjoy reading it, I am happy to share. The sheer joy of creation is enough.
KAREN BREMER MASUDA
Many of life’s relationships are not as infallible as we’d like them to be. When it comes to family this can be accompanied by a lot of pain. The most reliable relationships are often surprising in their origin. One never knows who will matter to them until they start to matter to them!
In my story work titles are important. We learn the standing of a person from their work title. This holds true all over the world, but I think work titles are more important in Asian societies, especially in Japan, where the group is more important than the individual. Throughout this story I never use a single person’s name except for one character, a low-ranking worker at the company, and only her last name. First names are rarely used in public in Japan. Even in a casual setting people go by last names or work titles. Being on a first-name basis in Japan often invokes too much familiarity for comfort. This is a fascinating cultural norm, interesting in the least, and I like to include such cultural behavior in my stories.
I live on the top floor of a ten-storey apartment building from where I have a view of Mt Fuji. I love to photograph it in all its many moods.
This is the third time I have been published in the 34thParallel Magazine. I have also had short stories published in two defunct periodicals, and two electronic magazines. My first novel Backbones and Pillars was self-published in 2003. I continue to work on getting the other three published.
This story grew out of tennis fandom. In recent years, I’ve noticed a pattern on the women’s tour, that young players often achieve sudden, early success but struggle in the seasons that follow. That the players in question differ in nationality, race, temperament, and personality suggested to me that this has less to do with the individual players and more to do with the common pressures of overnight fame. I wanted to explore this in my story, the early successes and the subsequent struggles.
How do you translate into words the kinetic energy that makes tennis so captivating? How do you explain tactics in a way relatable to fans and non-fans alike? My first attempts were clunky and heavy-handed. A friend suggested I revisit the tennis scenes from Infinite Jest to see how David Foster Wallace tackled it. That helped.
This story took several months to complete. I’m a slow writer—I edit as I write and struggle to move to the next sentence if I’m not fully satisfied. While I try to devote time each day to writing, I’ll often end a day with little more than a single sentence to show for my efforts. Oh well—I love to write and if, on some days, one sentence is all I can muster I know it’s a sentence borne of hard work and determination.
I work full-time as Director of Strategy for Heineken USA, a demanding (and rewarding) role requiring tremendous focus and concentration.