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Catch Up on Simon Jacobs' Exclusive Series: MASTERWORKS

Simon Jacobs had an idea for a recurring series: flash fiction pieces in which the characters reenact famous works of art. Being a home for art and lit to meet and clash and mix, Paper Darts couldn't say no.

Welcome to MASTERWORKS. This serialized content is delivered exclusively to Paper Darts e-news subscribers each month. If you don't want to miss out on the next one, sign up for the Paper Darts e-news.

Reading time: 3 minutes
Recommended for: Pseudo-witches 

I am doing something lewd with a grape. You've created two enormous papier-mâché blueberries molded on oversized party balloons that we're meant to put over our heads and stumble blindly around in—there are no eye-holes and absolutely no light gets in.

We don the giant fruit heads and try to have sex on the kitchen table. In addition to being blind, I can barely breathe and sweat horribly, and our spherical shells knock dumbly against each other, forcing our necks into awkward and unfortunate angles. By the time our relevant naked parts find each other, we're long past feeling amorous. We carry it out with a kind of vague artistic stoicism—hardly a match for the old Flemish master—and when we're both depleted I rip my fruit head off with a strong whiff of glue and craft-hour and say something grandiose like, "The world's first couple," but you can't hear anything through the papier-mâché. You cock your blueberry to one side (the paint is flaking off where mine kept colliding with it) like, "What?"

Keep reading…


Reading time: 4 minutes
Recommended for: Spookmeisters 

Samhain is drawing near. You find the photos I have hidden on the computer. "I see you're into group stuff now," you say, the disgust evident in your voice. "This is certainly…a discovery."

 I don't have even a glimmer of response—sometimes, things just get rude—but you don't mention it again, and I spend a quiet forty-eight hours listening to the Suspiriasoundtrack and working on my woolly bats and arcane twig constructions in my room; it's harmless spookmeister stuff, not everything needs to be canonical.

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Reading time: 2 minutes
Recommended for: Ritualists 

I am stately as fuck.

I stand absolutely still, the way most inanimate objects do, bracing myself for something to happen while praying that it won't. My new confines fit me like a second skin, and my eyes strain constantly to resolve the darkness into anything concrete. Dust settles over me.

They are moving down the hallway. Inches away from my precious temple, spike heels and combat boots creak across the floor, a search party combing the depths of the inverted tower where I once lived.

Keep reading…


Gluttony Week: Recommended Reading

Tis the season to get your om nom on. Whether you're reheating Thanksgiving leftovers or planning what to cook for your upcoming holiday party, you've got food on the brain and (hopefully) in your tummy. Here's some food-focused literature to snack on between meals.

Poetry: Kaitlyn Tiffany

It's hard out there for a Vitamin C deficient smoker.

Reading time: 1 minute
Recommended for: Spores

Poetry: Lauren Shimulunas

Batman has been feeling a little down lately. Chinese food helps.

Reading time: 1 minute
Recommended for: Heroes

Poetry: Christianna Fritz

After all, it might taste like chicken. It might taste better than chicken.

Reading time: 1 minute
Recommended for: Cat people

Poetry: Gina Keicher

Ever get the feeling there's an anvil in your chest? Or is that just this gal?

Reading time: 1 minute
Recommended for: Churchgoers

Poetry: John Sierpinksi

The upside of a plain supper is that it probably won't make you sick.

Reading time: 1 minute
Recommended for: Sorters


Ghost Stories Week: Recommended Reading

If you're looking for bone-chilling tales of horror, you…won't find them here. You will find stories ranging from funny to creepy, though, and they do all feature ghosts. We didn't make that part up.

Poetry: Ben Clark and Colin Winnette

"Don’t let them out." When has anyone ever listened to that? 

Reading time: 1 minute
Recommended for: Grandfathers

Fiction: Wendy Wimmer

Some believed the whole island was haunted, stem to stern.

Reading time: 4 minutes
Recommended for: Skeletons

Fiction: Mark Manner

I ain't a ghost, said the ghost. I'm here to rob you, you dumb motherfucker.

Reading time: 10 minutes
Recommended for: Spiders

Poetry: Molly Jean Bennett

The sisters are afraid of men, but not ghosts. #yesallwomen

Reading time: 1 minute
Recommended for: Boogeymen

Fiction: Ryan Bradford

This story contains numerous, unintelligible sounds. Thankfully, there's a guide at the beginning. COOOWOOSHAROOAGH!

Reading time: 3 minutes
Recommended for: Severed heads


Darkness Thrashing Into Light: Interview with Carl Dimitri

Maria Anderson

Axial Age

Carl Dimitri is a painter living in Providence.

Maria Anderson: How would you describe your process at the moment? Has it changed over the years?

Carl Dimitri: It was always like a suicide mission in the early days. I've had to learn patience over the years. Lately I've gotten better at waiting and seeing. 

Objet Petite A

MA: What is most important to you in your work? Where do you make compromises, and where do you adhere to instinct without shifting?

CD: I'm always aiming to be true. I figure if I can be true then I'm making no compromises. But every once in a while I find myself seeking to please some imaginary audience. I am secretly asking myself, will they like this? At that point I'm appealing to an external authority and I'm dead.

I feel like I run on instinct at all times in the studio. If the rational mind enters into it, I am dead.

Cosmic Fox

MA: Your work has a lot to do with repetition and multiplicity. You said you were trying to represent in some way the global deaths that are occurring. How would you frame the work you're doing now?

CD: I've been occupied with climate change and mass extinction of species on the one hand, and the possibility of a mass awakening on the other. An awakening of this kind would take place at the level of consciousness. All things are connected at this level. This is where the light enters, yes? It seems like all the work right now revolves around these ideas.


MA: You also mentioned you were going to spend the summer trying to reach another level, or a different level, in your work. How do you go about doing this?

CD: Most of it depends on just showing up and being there as much as possible. I have to be tough and a lunatic. I need a kind of faith and I have to be fearless. I can't go in there and be tentative. 

Ellington Live in London

MA: You work out of a really interesting place in Providence. Do you happen to know the history of the building or that group of buildings? What is it like working in your studio in the summer? What's the feel that you get from this place, and how do you think it fits in to the painting you're doing?

CD: It's incredibly hot in there in the summer and incredibly cold in the winter. They used to make helicopters in there in the 1940s and '50s. There's a perpetual gas leak in there now. I like the people there and there are dogs and wild cats. It's a filthy monastery. A train rolls by every few hours. Sometimes the heat and cold stop you in your tracks, but mostly it's just right.

Colony Collapse

MA: Could you explain the thing you were telling me about the changing of the pole star? And the point in time we're at right now, that some believe means we're about to enter a Golden Age?

CD: From what I understand, Polaris, or the North Star, is our present pole star, and we may be transitioning to a new pole star called Vega. There is also talk that we are moving out of the Age of Pisces and into the Age of Aquarius. This is all bad science, but I'm just interested in the idea that we may be stumbling upon a new world age.

There are traditions in Eastern and Greek philosophy that speak of world ages, which run from the golden to the silver, bronze and iron. The last Golden Age would have existed in pre-history. We have no record of it, only the myths that reflect it. It's cyclical. So if we are now at the end of an Iron Age, with darkness thrashing about and the planet in ecological crisis, then we are also on the brink of a Golden Age. All of this is bound up in myth. But I feel like there's some wisdom in it that transcends politics and organized money. 


MA: Which contemporary artists are you most excited about? What about old masters you continue returning to? 

CD: For living artists, I like Bjarne Melgaard, Rosson Crow, Julie Mehretu, and Scooter LaForge. And I love nearly all of the old greats: e.g., Beuys, Warhol, Twombly, Matisse, Cezanne, etc. I've recently been looking at Giotto and Piero della Francesca, and am kind of amazed at their rawness. 


Normcore Week: Recommended Reading

This New York Fashion Week, let's imitate the masses to show how unlike the masses we are. Even with five years of Paper Darts content to draw on, it's almost impossible to find pieces that accurately reflect the self-aware irony needed to be truly normcore. What we have here are stories of average people in average attire. And if you think about it, is there anything more enviably normal than not quite getting it?


On being tested by poorly socialized children while wearing a safari vest.

Reading time: 2 minutes
Recommended for: Snooze abusers


Longing for a life with an unbroken family, free from a stupid half-sister.

Reading time: 4 minutes
Recommended for: Healers


A Hawaiian shirt communicates a strong interest in partying.

Reading time: 4 minutes
Recommended for: Narcissists


A roller rink ties together the stories of lovers, dreamers, and creeps.

Reading time: 6 minutes
Recommended for: Nostalgists


Allen does it more for the girls he supervises and less for his wife.

Reading time: 2 minutes
Recommended for: Schmoozers


Free Ideas: Literary Roller Derby Names

Margaret Splatwood

Malice Walker

hell hooks

Zadie Smithereens

Cockamamie Tan

Sylvia Wrath

Judy Kablume

Danielle Steel*

Thumpa Lahiri

Stony Morrison

*If it's already hardcore, don't fix it.

See also: Actual registered roller derby names that are literary puns


The Essential Not-Writing: Interview with Rebekah Bergman

Maria Anderson

Rebekah Bergman

Rebekah Bergman writes fiction and poetry. She is a recent recipient of a fellowship from Tent and a residency at Art Farm in Marquette, Nebraska. She is pursuing an MFA in fiction at The New School and works as an editorial intern at Tin House. Her work is published or forthcoming form Spittoon and Banango Street.  

Maria Anderson: What objects are central to your process? I've been lighting a candle while I write lately to try to create a sense of festivity. Do you do these types of things?

Rebekah Bergman: Does peanut butter count as an object? I sit down to write most mornings with a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I've conditioned myself at this point to associate the taste and smell of chunky peanut butter with my writing process. 

MA: Do you have certain writing rituals or superstitions that you adhere to?

RB: Something new I've been trying is to go for a run when I stop being productive at my desk. I'm not much of a runner, but it helps to get my body outside and moving through space and then to sit it back down with new energy and try again. 

Also, I never thought of this as related before, but I have been taking really long showers where I think and plan out revisions and writing lately too.  

MA: Who have you been reading lately?

RB: Jenny Offill's Dept. of SpeculationElena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, and (I'm a little late to the party, but…) Maggie Nelson's Bluets

I am forever re-reading The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel and also have rediscovered the amazing Gary Lutz

MA: I'm reading Amy Hempel at the moment too. I find her first sentences so good. 

RB: "Tell me things I won't mind forgetting," she said. "Make it useless stuff or skip it."

The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me.

"Bye-bye," the baby said, his voice a little bell. "Bye-bye," he waved, as we arrived for the party at the lake.

After the dog's cremation, I lie in my husband's bed and watch the Academy Awards for animals.

MA: What about these draws you in? What do you think is interesting about them? What kind of a contract do you think she makes with the reader?

RB: I read a review of Hempel's work once where she was insultingly called a "writer's writer." I found this just completely off base. To me, she is far more of a "reader's writer." Almost all of the pleasures and delights I can get through reading, I experience while reading her work. Hempel's stories do not play out like movies for readers to just sit back and enjoy. They demand attention and action and they reward re-reading (which is why I feel I am forever re-reading her). In terms of contract with the reader, she maybe takes for granted that readers are willing to do that, but why shouldn't she? I find her writing surprising on a sentence and on a plot-level. And she is a master at saying the un-sayable. She has this tiny, maybe 300-word story called San Francisco that breaks my heart in the way it deals with loss—that is, by never fully dealing with it. A reader has to be willing to discover what is not being said and what becomes more powerful in the silences to fully appreciate that kind of writing. 

Hempel's stories do not play out like movies for readers to just sit back and enjoy. They demand attention and action and they reward re-reading (which is why I feel I am forever re-reading her). In terms of contract with the reader, she maybe takes for granted that readers are willing to do that, but why shouldn't she?

MA: Is this contract similar to what you see in Gary Lutz's writing? Who do you think crafts stronger stories?

RB: Similar but different in significant ways. Lutz also demands attention and re-reading (and re-re-reading infinitely). If pushed to pick a winner, Lutz wins in sentences but Hempel takes the prize in stories. I think he promises more delight in the language and less in the narrative. Some might say that makes him a "writer's writer," but everyone uses language so that's not a great title for him either. 

MA: Is what Kevin Sampsell calls "The Lutz Sentence Test," where you pick any sentence at random and it is amazing, something you think about in your writing?

RB: I do think my experience reading these two writers, among many others like them, has shaped my attention to sentences, rhythm, and sound. Sometimes my writing blurs the line between what some would call prose poetry and others would call flash fiction. The distinction doesn't matter to me but I think poetry is a label often ascribed to writing that is concerned with language as much as (or more than) plot. Gary Lutz definitely disrupts that definition though. He clearly writes prose but is very concerned with language at the same time. As an aside, on The Believer's website you can read a lecture Lutz gave at Columbia in 2008. It's called The Sentence Is a Lonely Place, and I strongly recommend all writers read it. 

The distinction [between poetry and prose] doesn't matter to me but I think poetry is a label often ascribed to writing that is concerned with language as much as (or more than) plot.

MA: What are you working on right now?

RB: I am just starting a new project. I had been working on a bunch of disjointed flash fiction pieces when a professor suggested that these pieces might all interconnect if I let them. So now I am writing more of them, revising them, and trying to craft a whole that might be larger than the sum of its parts. Really, I'm just beginning this endeavor so I am not at all sure what will come of it, but it's a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle—challenging and fun until it gets completely frustrating and I want to throw a tantrum.

MA: Can you talk about the work you've done with Tin House? How would you characterize the magazine as a publication?

RB: I think Tin House strives to showcase a diversity of voices. I am always bragging about their longstanding VIDA count numbers, which measure gender representation on the page. In terms of literary aesthetics as well, they don't privilege any one type of writing over any another. In my experience, the editors are most concerned with authorial control. They are on the lookout for a writer who knows what s/he wants to do to a reader and does it with precision and power. Those are the writers you will find in the magazine. 

Tin House is a bicoastal publication with the majority of the staff based in Portland. In Brooklyn there are two editors and an intern (me!). As part of such a small staff, my work is pretty varied. It does include a lot of treasure hunting through the slush pile, though.

…it's a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle—challenging and fun until it gets completely frustrating and I want to throw a tantrum.

MA: Which literary magazines do you read regularly? What about other publications? Nonfiction? How has working at Tin House changed how you read?

RB: Electric Literature's Recommended Reading has been my most consistent source for amazing new fiction finds. Full disclosure, I used to be a reader for them. But I came to them because I loved the site already. They invite guest editors from other publications to recommend works they've recently published. It's given me exposure to a whole slew of literary magazines I never knew of or had heard of but never read myself. Also, every month, Electric Literature's own staff chooses an original piece to showcase so it's a great way to find and enjoy new voices as well. 

Embarrassingly, I do not read nearly as much nonfiction as I know I should. I try to keep up with poetry to some extent because I do write poetry myself and because poetry helps in my fiction writing. I find I have little time in my reading life for nonfiction after that though. It's something I should definitely work on.

After a day spent reading submissions, most of the time I go home eager to start working on my own writing.

As for the last part of that question, I was slightly worried initially that after reading through submissions for Tin House, I'd have little energy to read or work on my own writing. But it has definitely had the opposite effect on my work. After a day spent reading submissions, most of the time I go home eager to start working on my own writing. In terms of its impact on my reading, it's made me slow down a lot. I try to see the potential in every story to be great. After all, sometimes all it takes is one more revision. Finding how to unlock the story to crack it open is a skill that takes patience and time. I'd like to think being there has made me a more careful reader of other writers' work. 

MA: Where do you think you are on the spectrum of productivity in grad school, the lowest point being writing nothing at all, and the highest being pulling fever-dream all-nighters? 

RB: Ugh. I hate this question for forcing some honest self-assessment. My knee jerk answer is NOTHING AT ALL. I'M A FRAUD! but that's not true; I am writing. But not all of what I'm writing feels good enough or done enough to count. Let's be real though, does any writer ever feel like s/he has enough of anything in the writing process—time, pages, stamina? We could all be writing more right? 

A professor recently taught me to think about all the not-writing we do as essential to the writing we will eventually do. This is something I try to keep in mind whenever I feel guilty about not writing. The true answer to your question is that I write and when I'm not writing, I am aware of my writing in a way I was not before starting grad school. On some level, I am conscious of how whatever not-writing I'm engaged in might serve the writing later on if I let it (and if there's peanut butter left in the jar). 

Not all of what I'm writing feels good enough or done enough to count.

MA: What single activity/thing do you spend the most time on outside of writing?

RB: Probably reading followed by watching episodes of Broad City and/or aimlessly loitering around the internet.