Archive | February, 2014

WIPs Conversation: Kate Bullard Adams on Her Work in Progress

Kate Bullard AdamsKate Bullard Adams leads a very pedestrian life in Charleston, South Carolina, and depends on her writing to liven things up. Right now, her fictional cast of pre-Great Recession investment bankers on Wall Street is giving her all the excitement she can handle. Her short stories have appeared in Chautauqua, Harpur Palate, turnrow, The Portland Review, and elsewhere, and both her short and long fiction have reached the final rounds for various awards, including Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, the A.E. Coppard Prize (Coffee House Press), and the Faulkner/Wisdom Prizes.  Just last week, she learned that her only unpublished story is a finalist for december’s Curt Johnson Prose Award in Fiction. Wish her luck.

Kate, chapter four of Bailout revisits an earlier period in Alex’s life, during the early days of her investment banking career, as a floor trader well before she became a candidate to become Wall Street’s first woman CEO. How does the chapter fit into the greater context of the novel in explaining her character? Does the loss of her stillborn child ultimately enable her professional success, either in practical terms or as form of motivation?

This chapter ties in with the theme of risk, which is central to the novel and to Alex’s character. For a trader, like Alex, risk is a necessary evil. Any trade entails a certain amount of risk, and the greater the risk, the greater the potential rewards as well as the potential losses. When a market is booming and rewarding increased risk, as was the case with real estate and related securities leading up to the recent crisis, it’s easy for a trader to forget the possible downside. For Alex, however, the inexplicable loss of the child that she had carried to term, and expected to deliver successfully, taught her the devastating lesson that “there was no way of ever knowing the worst that could happen until it was too late.” To escape the pain of that loss and the attendant demise of her marriage, Alex threw herself into her career at Grady Cole. There, her single-minded focus along with her intimate knowledge of unforeseen risks and their incalculable dangers propelled her career and positioned her to become the first female CEO on Wall Street.

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Kate Bullard Adams: an Excerpt from Bailout, a Novel in Progress


  Chapter IV

Alex’s pregnancy had been an accident. As with the few other missteps she’d ever made, her first reaction was to hide it, in this case by having an abortion. She couldn’t imagine that Drew would welcome the news any more than she did. He was in the fourth year of his residency and working around the clock; she was putting in just as many hours in hopes of being promoted to principal. They often went for days without seeing each other, and hurried phone calls and scribbled notes were the closest they came to conversation. On the rare occasions when they were home together, they were too exhausted to do more than open a bottle of wine, order takeout, swap condensed versions of complicated work lives they didn’t have the energy to explain to each other, and fall asleep. They rarely had sex, which was why Alex had gotten careless with her birth control pills, which was why she immediately knew when the baby had been conceived. It was Valentine’s Day, two months earlier.

Drew had told her he’d be at the hospital that night, that they’d celebrate over the weekend. She’d thought she was okay with the idea. But when the day came and her alarm clock went off at five, and the only traces of Drew in the cold dark of their West Village walkup were an empty cereal bowl and a banana peel, all she’d wanted to do was go back to bed. Shivering in the blue-and-green plaid of his bathrobe, she’d looked at the counter, its black granite bare except for the coffee pot. The knife block and the cutting board, the pots and pans and the spice rack, all were still hidden in the moving boxes that, after three months, they’d yet to open. Drew’s guitar case lay on top, a silent reminder of the music he never played anymore.

Once she got to work, Alex didn’t have time to think about Drew. It was 1989, and financial crises were the norm. The ’86 collapse of the mortgage markets, the ’87 stock market crash, the unfolding junk bond scandal, all had played out against the debilitating backdrop of the savings-and-loan crisis. More than one successful trader had blown up along the way, and Alex lived in fear that she would be next. But just as great a danger as blowing up was the danger of being laid off. The issuance of mortgage debt had slowed to a trickle, and the ranks of its traders had thinned accordingly. She knew the only way to survive was to keep making money, and the only way to do that in a shrinking market was to take risk. So even while all her inner alarms flashed red, Alex forced herself out on limbs that she hoped could hold her weight.

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WIPs Conversation: Justin Nicholes on His Work in Progress

Justin NicholesJustin Nicholes is the author of the novels River Dragon Sky (2012) and Ash Dogs (2008). His stories have appeared in The Saint Ann’s Review, Slice, Prick of the Spindle, Cleaver Magazine, Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, The Summerset Review, Stickman Review, The Medulla Review, and elsewhere. He is the chief editor of The Pavilion literary magazine for expat writing and lives in Xinzheng City, China.

Justin, “The Writer,” a prologue to your story collection, is an interesting work of metafiction. Here, the writer conjures the character of Turtle, a 400-pound man who, because of a car accident, is mentally deficient and carries a titanium plate in his head. He represents life as art. The writer herself, originally from Ohio has come to China to teach English, and takes the reader through the process of her work, and the joys and hardships she’s had in terms of getting published. As an Ohioan writer now teaching in China, yourself, how closely does the writer as portrayed in the story resemble your own thoughts on writing in general, as well as your particular interests in creating fiction based on the lives of Chinese men?

The writer in the story mostly resembles an attitude (or a mood or phase) rather than my overall thoughts on writing. She’s a dedicated writer who’s gone through an MFA and published a little, but she’s starting to become cynical. A lot of writers go through this, I think. At first, when we start nailing down the basics, it seems like we’re close to reaching the point where we can finally get published, where an editor we’ve never met looks at our writing and affirms it with acceptance. But we can’t always be at this point yet. Our fiction isn’t ready. We’re not ready. To quote my former writing teacher Richard Spilman, “Beginners often write as if they were landscape painters trying to get the leaves right”. What Richard means is that, with time, writing day after day makes a writer able to cultivate serious thought or surprise in writing, when what the details were trying to murmur finally gets through to us, and we feel our way through the writing process by placing ourselves in the work.

At the beginning, the writer in this story resembles this landscape painter, not writing as if her life is also at stake, not writing as if getting the story right means at some level life or death. By the end of this short piece, though, she comes to an understanding. The writer’s understanding, yes, does resemble mine when creating fiction. The writing process for me always starts with trying to get the details, then letting those details tell me what the meaning and purpose of the work may be, after I read through it a hundred times and revise.

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Justin Nicholes: “Prologue: The Writer” from a Story Collection in Progress

The man was large and startling. Not old, maybe thirty-five. He carried four hundred pounds, mostly around his stomach and hips, and wore oversized t-shirts and sweats that must’ve been tailored or imported from the West. His neck jutted from the doughy lump of his shoulders, nearly straight out. It made it seem he was always peeking around corners.

His head, the shape of it, reminded you of a boxer’s. He’d lived through some kind of damage. If you asked his mother or anybody around town, or if you knew the story from the driver himself, you’d know that pearly scar wormed around the place where surgeons had inserted a wedge of titanium. People knew he couldn’t think the way they did. Whereas everyone was aware of everyday commonplaces, one hand firmly reading vibrations on the social train tracks, he walked along a precise, prescribed route, seeming to have no thoughts to spare on anything except the turns he needed to take, the paths he needed to follow.

He couldn’t say himself what happened to make him this way. He didn’t know a snowstorm had distracted a driver last year on the highway. Zero visibility, the police had said, and the driver had pled guilty to a minor charge, paid the right people, and since laws barred walkers on the highway to begin with, the case closed.

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